Located 15 miles from the nearest employment office, residents of Independence, Ore., rely on Independence Public Library for access to career building resources and employment opportunities. “Local residents have always looked to the library for basic access to services, such as printing and access to job search sites,” said Robin Puccetti, who has served as the library’s director since 1986.
In recent years, emerging technologies and key partnerships have created opportunities for the city to attract and foster a more high-tech workforce. One critical asset to Independence’s workers is access to ultra-high-speed internet provided by the MINET network, which Independence developed cooperatively with its sister city Monmouth.
“Our community is becoming known as a smart rural community, and the library plays an important role in that endeavor,” said Puccetti.
In 2014, Puccetti decided to have IPL take the Edge Assessment to help identify how the library could best leverage its assets and opportunities to support the increasingly tech-forward local workforce. Using Edge, IPL discovered that it could have the greatest impact in its community in the area of early tech exposure and training, which was not available from any other local institution.
With that insight, IPL implemented several changes to its policies to support tech education and employment services, including allowing meeting rooms to be used for job interviews and training. IPL also began to take a more active role in joining community conversations around tech development and pursuing partnerships to enhance the library’s impact on Independence’s evolution into a smart city.
Maker Space to Go
Focusing on the library’s unique potential to introduce and familiarize residents with new technologies, and prepare them for the increasingly tech dependent workforce, IPL pursued a bold initiative to create Maker Space to Go kits that would help community members of all ages develop high-tech skills. Using Edge data and resources, IPL wrote an application for, and received, a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant to fund the project.
In the project’s first year, the library built and tested eight Maker Space to Go kits, which included interactive learning devices such as Squishy Circuits, Makey Makey and Raspberry Pi. IPL used the kits to provide tech exposure and training at the library, and also sent them to other libraries in the area as well as local schools.
The library’s outreach with the kits helped set IPL apart as an important STREAM (Science, Tech, Reading, Engineering, Art and Math) learning center, and key player in fostering a tech-ready workforce. “I now get invited to all the area tech discussions — I don’t have to invite myself anymore,” said Puccetti.
Having established its role in leading community tech education, the library began to connect with partners in the community to build programming around the Maker Space to Go kits. These partners have included the city’s Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Department, as well as the Community Services Consortium, which works with at-risk youth on job skills training and completion of their GEDs. As a result of the new partnership, CSC students now help provide offsite tech training with the Maker Space to Go kits.
The library has also built partnerships around the kits to assist with a science camp for elementary students and the mobile tech trailer operated by Oregon State University’s School of Business.
Moving Forward as a Community
IPL found that the initiatives and partnerships it was building around technology were not only elevating the library’s role in serving the community, but were also inspiring city-wide efforts to address community technology readiness.
“With the success of the library’s Maker Space to Go project as well as the efforts of the city’s economic development department and the CSC, the community discussion turned to the development of a permanent makerspace to meet educational and entrepreneurial needs of area residents,” says Puccetti.
The library realized that it would need to take a leading role in creating the permanent makerspace, but lacked the resources to take on the project completely. Building on the partnerships it established for the Maker Space to Go program, IPL joined efforts with the school district, OSU School of Business and the CSC to prepare for the new permanent facility. The Central School District donated a space, the CSC received a grant for equipment, the OSU School of Business staff provided initial training and IPL is currently seeking grant funding with the goal of opening up the makerspace to the public.
Puccetti credits the Edge Assessment with helping the library define its niche in the community’s technology and workforce ecosystems. “There are going to be areas where others in the community were already providing services and doing a good job at it and it’s ok for them to take the lead and for us to publicize their services,” said Puccetti. “For us it’s all about partnerships and collaboration. It’s a small community, and we all need to work together if we want to have an impact.”