Rethinking the library in Baltimore County - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Sep. 18, 2015 12:52 pm

Rethinking the library in Baltimore County

Under the leadership of Paula Miller, the Baltimore County Public Library system is embracing devices and makerspaces as new ways of helping people hatch ideas.

BCPL's Rocking Chair Flash Mob.

(Courtesy photo)

You can borrow devices instead of books these days, but that doesn’t mean the library is abandoning its long-held mission to be a place of discovery and ideas.

“What we want is for people to not just come in and check out our resources and leave, but use those resources to make or create something,” said Paula Miller, director of the Baltimore County Public Library system.

To do that, Miller said the libraries embrace technology on two levels. The first is as an “instrument of democracy” where the library provides hardware, software and digital resources for people, so everyone can have access.

At the same time, the library also provides a place to explore new ways to use technology by bringing in their own devices and using the space the library offers to create. It’s an issue that libraries across the country are grappling with as technology renders the space required to store printed books less and less useful. In Baltimore city, a renovation project is set to transform the stately Enoch Pratt Central Library into a collection of creation stations and learning labs.

“Technology is just a huge part of what we do in libraries today,” said Miller, who is the Baltimore County Public Library’s first female director.

This week, the Baltimore County Public Library has been looking to get the word out on their technological offerings with “rocking chair flash mobs” at various library branches. They’re calling the campaign “Rock, Read, Reimagine.” The image of the rocking chair brings to mind people sitting on their porch and talking.

It’s reflective of a “new way of public libraries being a great place to connect with others in the community,” said Miller, who is the first female director of Baltimore County’s libraries.

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While publicly-funded budgets remain tight, Miller said the Baltimore County libraries have been able to win grants for pilot programs that bring in new technology. During the beta, the library also gets the chance to test whether something is a hit with people, Miller said.

The libraries have found kids to be some of their most eager early adapters.

In June, the Baltimore County launched a pilot with Playaway. The company makes tablets that come pre-loaded with 10 learning-focused apps for multiple grade levels. Kids were able to check the devices out for seven days, just like a book.

The library has also partnered with local technology education organizations like FutureMakers and the Digital Harbor Foundation.

At the library’s Woodlawn branch, staff from the Digital Harbor Foundation showed librarians how to integrate maker education into their programming. DHF’s Center of Excellence doesn’t provide the education programs itself, but rather provides trainings, guides and starter kits to help other organizations run the program themselves.

“DHF staff has really empowered the library to run their own maker programs and do a whole variety of different things benefitting from our work, and taking it even further,” said DHF Executive Director Andrew Coy.
The maker education efforts resulted in a maker studio at the Woodlawn library. Now that those librarians have their program up and running, Miller hopes it can be replicated at other branches.

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Stephen Babcock

Stephen Babcock is the lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. A graduate of Northeastern University, he moved to Baltimore following a stint in New Orleans, where he served as managing editor of online news and culture publication NOLA Defender. While there, he also wrote for NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. He was previously a reporter for the Rio Grande Sun of Northern New Mexico.

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