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'Maker' culture takes off at Central Library's Launch Pad

The do-it-yourself ‘maker’ culture is in full swing at the Central Library in downtown Buffalo.

The library’s new “Launch Pad” maker-space brings together high-tech tools, toys, and applications, with low-tech hands-on arts and crafts. Library Director Mary Jean Jakubowski said “this isn’t your grandfather’s library, anymore.”

“We really are what people are looking for today,” said Jakubowski. “And how did we develop this? It was through feedback of our current users and library trends that really said to us, we need to develop a space like this, and now we are into the point where we need to grow and expand a space like this.”

Jakubowski said the library is going beyond the traditional role of being a place for discovery and learning, and taking it to the next level with “doing.”

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The 3-D printing center at The Launch Pad

The Launch Pad hums, buzzes and beeps with the sounds of active technology. A 3-D printer churns out the latest design chosen by a library patron who underwent the mandatory 1-hour training to use it. A small plastic helicopter whirls off a base of circuitry, as synthesized sounds are shouted out by a speaker connected to small electronics kit. They’re both part of Little Bits kits – a series of toys designed to teach basic circuitry to children. Across the room someone sits in the sound-egg which, from the outside, is silent. Inside, music can be heard playing from a tablet connected nearby.

Though the official debut was held Wednesday morning, the Launch Pad has been open since February, and has been building an active user base ever since.

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Guitars, Keyboards, Microphones, and computers stocked with advanced editing equipment are part of The Launch Pad's recording studio.

Along with high-tech toys, it boasts a state-of-the-art audio and video recording studio, with access to a green screen, cameras, musical instruments, and computers stocked with advanced editing software. Launch Pad Manager and Librarian Jordan Smith said it’s “quite a thing for a public library to have freely available.”

“This is stuff that patrons would have to pay hundreds of dollars, if not thousands of dollars to have access to in a normal situation,” said Smith.

Smith said some visitors are producing music and videos on a near daily basis. He estimates that if its popularity continues to grow in the way it has been, the Launch Pad may have to be moved to a larger space.

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A display of weaving, knitting, and other hand-crafts fills a corner of The Launch Pad.

“You know, when the people think ‘maker-space,’ a lot of people do think the high-tech,” said Jakubowski. “But it’s really about creating and using your hand, and using your mind, and putting those things together.” That’s why the Launch Pad also hosts classes on creating book art, weaving, knitting, and other crafts.

For the less familiar, there’s training available on all the activities the Launch Pad has to offer. Jakubowski said the aim is to help people “to understand that technology can be fun and it’s not so intimidating anymore.”

Education Coordinator Aitina Fareed Cooke, of Young Audiences of WNY, spent Wednesday Morning exploring the Launch Pad with her son, Isaac. She said it’s amazing that a space like this has been created for the public.

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Aitina Fareed Cooke and her son, Isaac, try out a Little Bits, a series of toys designed to teach children basic circuitry.

“It’s just another place to go that parents and youth can get to know each other and interact with each other. Something new,” said Fareed Cooke.

Funding for the Launch Pad came from the library itself. Jakubowski said resources were shifted because it’s what has been demanded by community members. She said the library is finding a great balance between the traditional library services, and the new services being asked for.

The launch pad is open Monday through Saturday at the Central Library. All it takes is a library card and a little time for visitors to learn how to make and do.

More information is available at the library’s Launch Pad website.