Beyond the bookcase

This column is from The MagPi issue 49. You can download a PDF of the full issue for free or subscribe to receive the print edition in your mailbox or the digital edition on your tablet. All proceeds from the print and digital editions help the Raspberry Pi Foundation achieve its charitable goals.

Seattle Central Library (photo by Bobak Ha'Eri)

Seattle Central Library (photo by Bobak Ha’Eri)

Before I became a part of the maker movement, my impression of a library was mostly formed by my childhood experiences there. Both my school and local public library were places for books, magazines, newspapers, and research. In short, it was a place for quiet reading. Libraries today look and sound a lot different than I remember. Many now include makerspaces, tools for connected learning, and spaces for community gathering.

But if you take a closer look at what these institutions set out to accomplish in the first place, then the reason they’ve transformed becomes clear. Take, for instance, the mission of the Seattle Public Library, which is to “[bring] people, information, and ideas together to enrich lives and build community.” The mission of the library isn’t directly related to reading, even though reading can be a big part of achieving that mission.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the central branch of the Seattle Public Library. The fifth floor is called ‘The Mixing Chamber’ and is a designated location where people, information, and ideas can come together. Of course, there’s plenty of material to read at the main branch of the Seattle Public Library, but this building in particular makes it very clear that they’re about more than just reading.

As another indication of this, we see a lot of interest in Raspberry Pi from librarians. A group of us recently visited the annual conference of the American Library Association in Orlando, and the reaction to our presence there was incredibly positive. Not only have many librarians heard of Raspberry Pi, but they also use it in so many ways.

Of course, library makerspaces use Raspberry Pi just like any other makerspace would: as a platform for DIY projects. There are even many libraries that create Raspberry Pi checkout kits so that their patrons can experiment with Raspberry Pi in their own time, either in the library or at home.

And just as Raspberry Pi is used in the classroom to learn about computing, it’s also being used in the library for the very same reason. We’ve had many librarians come to our Picademy educator professional development programme to learn about teaching people with digital making and computing. These librarians have gone on to share their knowledge and our learning resources with their patrons. Librarians especially love that our content, including The MagPi, is available online entirely for free, and is Creative Commons licensed.

Multitasking

What I particularly like about the librarians I’ve encountered is that they don’t just put Raspberry Pi in the hands of their patrons, but they use our computers as a tool for their own work. For instance, I recently met Richard Loomis from the Somerset County Library System in New Jersey. He uses Raspberry Pis for networked digital signage across a few different branches. And John Jakobsen from the Palos Verdes Library District recently shared how he set up Raspberry Pis as terminals for their public access catalogue, replacing old and expensive computers. So librarians don’t just talk the talk: they also walk the walk.

I’m optimistic that libraries will continue to thrive as technology changes. At the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we’re delighted to see that libraries all over the world use our computers for digital making, education, and utility. Our organisation’s connection with libraries will always be rich and meaningful, not only because of the way they use Raspberry Pi, but because we have something critical in common with them: we deeply value accessibility and community.