Not everyone has a 3D printer, a laser cutter, vinyl cutter or even a sewing machine in their home. But the East Lansing Public Library (ELPL) has made all of these devices available to the community. As part of the library’s Maker Studio, community members are welcome to tinker with technologies and gadgets they might otherwise not have the chance to try.
STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math) Educator Eric Berling has been with ELPL for a little over a year. Part of Berling’s task since coming to the position has been to refresh and restore the Maker Studio for the community after it was shuttered during the pandemic. The space itself is a large, open room, with rolling tables and chairs. A fleet of 3D printers adorn the walls, next to a vinyl cutter, laser cutter and sewing machines.
Berling plans, preps and administers STEAM programming for all ages, something that has really taken off in popularity with patrons.
“In March 2022, we had a grand reopening event, and celebration of getting that space back in operation and welcoming the public back into it,” Berling said. “Since then, I’ve run 161 programs, and we’ve had a total of 2,877 attendees come out and participate with us. It’s been wonderful to see the community hungry and excited for STEAM programming and learning new skills like design and building things.”
The studio itself is one of the features that makes ELPL distinctive, Berling said.
“There are not a lot of libraries that have dedicated maker studios or spaces where communities can have access to these really cool, cutting-edge technologies,” he said. “In terms of the laser printer and 3D printers, these are devices that aren’t necessarily practical or affordable to own in one’s home. But it’s really nice we can make these things available for the community to use for fun, to develop their own design skills or solve practical problems.”
STEAM programming is offered daily, with some segments geared towards different age groups. Maker Monday is specialized for elementary-aged kids and families and is held every Monday from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
“They have a chance to use a lot of recycled materials like box board, cardboard and things like that,” Berling said. “We construct, design and build some sort of craft. They get to work on putting things together, do some design work, look at putting together components and assemble them to meet a challenge or goal. They test it, modify it and remodify it again.”
Another popular STEAM program is LEGO Thursdays from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Within the studio, 25 people can typically fit within the space. But LEGO Thursday often fills overflow spaces with patrons.
ELPL also works with local partners and organizations to bring in area experts for specific programming, like speakers discussing how to set up a worm compost. Berling also coordinates the Spartan Science Seminar Series, typically catered to adult learners. The series invites researchers and faculty from MSU to share their knowledge with the general public in a community setting.
“A lot of folks are interested or curious about science and things like that,” Berling said. ”But sometimes campus, even though it’s just a couple of blocks away from the library, might seem like a foreign place. People might not like to drive through it because of the parking situation. It’s nice to bring researchers from that world into here, and let people meet our friends and neighbors who are doing really cool, world-class research just down the road.”
Since reopening the Maker Studio, Berling said the community’s response has been very positive. He has had library patrons tell him that the STEAM programming has encouraged their children in discovery, play and learning, even outside of the library.
By word of mouth and outreach at local events like the East Lansing Art Festival and surrounding public school science nights, ELPL has been able to expand STEAM programming even more.
Back in November, the library hosted a Dinovember event featuring dinosaurs, science and paleontology. Professors and students from MSU brought fossils for the event. Coupled with science and crafts, Berling said 190 people stopped into the library for the open-house style event.
The Maker Studio is available to the entire community, not just library card holders.
“You don’t have to be a resident of East Lansing, and you don’t have to have a library card to come out and enjoy the programming,” Berling said.
Looking ahead, Berling hopes to offer programs that are catered to the community’s requests and subjects they’re enthusiastic about.
“I want to inspire the community’s curiosity, nurture their creativity,” he said. ”And make sure that we’re able to keep delivering them a space, resources, technology and programming that keeps them excited, curious and thinking of how they can create, build things, and learn more about the wonderful world around us.”