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Maryland libraries are beefing up their maker offerings with this Baltimore startup’s help

Library patrons around the state will get access to Workbench's platform, providing a new way to learn about drones, robots and other tech.

Chris Sleat of Workbench pitches investors at Beta City 2016. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)
A Port Covington-based startup’s maker education platform is set to be used in public libraries across Maryland. The partnership between Workbench and Maryland Public Libraries will add an online community component to maker offerings at libraries around the state.

“Public libraries in Maryland have been offering maker programs and spaces, technology education, and other STEM classes for years,” Liz Sundermann-Zinger, the Data, Communication, and Services Coordinator
for MPL’s Division of Library Development & Services, said via email. “An online makerspace provides the ability for that experience to be shared by people at home and in other education settings.”
Workbench partners with companies and organizations like robotics company Sphero (makers of BB-8, Star Wars fans) to create online communities to share ideas or maker lessons. Library staff from around the state will be able to share those lesson ideas with library patrons.
“If you give four different librarians a Sphero and show them how it works, they would each be able to easily come up with several curriculum ideas,” Sundermann-Zinger said. “But if they’re able to share their ideas they’ll adapt each other’s content and each walk away with a multitude of readily-executable program plans.”
Library customers will also be able to access the platform at home, where they can use it with tech items that were checked out.
It’s another tech step for the state’s libraries, which helped facilitate a VR trial at Prince George’s County branches last year. Providing access to tech that everyone can use is at the heart of its mission, Sundermann-Zinger said.
The platform will likely roll out for beta testing this winter at a few libraries before being available the whole system, she said.
Workbench CEO Chris Sleat said it’ll be the first time the platform is used in libraries, but the company is interested in more such partnerships, calling them a “perfect fit.”
“Our job is to scale and make it a simple effort to have very custom, broad-reaching content in all of the libraries throughout a state,” he said.
Workbench moved to City Garage last year, and now has 12 employees, Sleat said.


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