Today we’re thrilled to welcome Ann Schoenenberger, Digital Branch Librarian for the Kenton County Public Library in Kentucky. Ann is part of the visioning and implementing team for FORGE, a community makerspace and embedded library. Today Ann fills us in on the idea behind FORGE and shares some tips for librarians looking to facilitate responsive community-driven learning spaces.

Library as Incubator Project (LAIP): Can you give us the elevator speech about FORGE? What is it, what’s in it, what’s the mission/goal/vision?

Ann Schoenenberger (AS): FORGE is a community makerspace and an embedded library. The goal is to bring a site specific service point to an underserved area by collaborating with neighbors who are individuals living in the neighborhood and the businesses that serve them. Our library mission is to make sure everyone has access to technology, creative opportunities, tools and learning support that will prepare them for success in the 21st century and beyond. We are located in a recently renovated building called the Hellmann Creative Center in one of eight artist studios. Our neighbors are graphic designers, photographers, community arts organizations and even a theater scene shop. The goal is to use the power of proximity to make deeper connections and have a greater, more meaningful impact. When you see people every day as you do your coworkers or family, there are more natural and spontaneous opportunities for understanding, teamwork and organic partnerships.

LAIP: How did the idea for FORGE come to be?

AS: The initial idea came from a project based learning class that I did at one of our branches at Kenton County Public Library a couple years ago. I facilitated a introduction to computer programming class in Python and over the course of 3-6 months the group really bonded. As part of the learning process they decided to give back to the library by creating a website called BookUs which we are still using and developing.  The idea came from seeing that bonding process that was enabled by learning and facilitated in a library space. So the premise of FORGE is really that through working on difficult things together we can forge close connections and strengthen community ties. Each program and class that I plan, I am trying to recreate both the spirit of the class and the benefits it provided in terms of social connectedness and technical skills.  

I like operating in this space which holds together two seemingly opposing forces: technology and human connection. 

It also comes back to the 21st Century Skills where we need to in essence be able to problem solve (tell robots/computers what to do) for the benefit and with other people (teamwork, leadership, empathy).  I was also personally inspired and encouraged by my two friends Tara Z. Manicsic who founded the Women Who Code Cincinnati who is a developer by trade but is deeply engaged with the community and has endless energy and enthusiasm and Tiffany Vincent who is the ultimate maker and continues to give constant feedback, encouragement and technical assistance. She is currently teaching an open source robotics class at FORGE that has been really successful. Seven students are building working robot arms with claws to pick up objects, powered by servos and controlled by Arduinos. We will run another class hopefully in August and continue diving into the code and modifying the functionality of the arm. 

LAIP: Can you speak to partnerships either with community organizations or with individual community members that helped form FORGE?

AS: The project is made possible by The Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington. They provide $5,000 grants to artists and organizations for creative placemaking projects to engage residents. Working together is a natural fit. While they have the people or organizational connections we have the resources and staff. Together we can help individuals and groups achieve their goals. In this way, we are both people incubator organizations though we have a different approach and services. In addition to the grant, they are helping behind the scenes connecting us to people, providing advising and helping get the word out. We really appreciate the chance to work with them.

LAIP: How will FORGE be staffed / programmed?

AS: Right now our Digital Branch provides the staff and programs and we are working on ways to collaborate to expand open hours. We of course are looking at partnerships and grants in order to do this. I would like to explore other models like internships and volunteer staffing.

LAIP: What are you most excited about as FORGE gets off the ground?

AS: Just those moments when people have gathered and there is a buzz in the air that tells you that it’s working. You can see it in individual conversations too. In this world that seems to be moving in a direction where we never leave the house, isolation becomes a real threat. I want to fight that by creating new mechanisms for people to meet each other and feel part of the world. I also get excited to be part of or even just see people having success such as getting a job after learning to code or completing a project after learning a new skill.

LAIP: Do you have a couple of tips, ideas, suggestions for librarians that are looking in to doing something similar?

AS: There are a couple key ingredients for this project that are about having a support system. My library, Kenton County Public Library, and in particular my boss, Nicole Frilling, are extremely supportive of initiatives like this. They realize that we are changing with the times and reaching toward the future of libraries so they support employees who want to try for grants or do unique or personal projects. Secondly, by creating a really accessible grant, The Center for Great Neighborhoods is fueling experimentation and innovation. If librarians can find a grant from a similarly minded organization, they can worry less about failure and be more concerned with finding something that works. As we move forward with FORGE, we are trying to amplify what’s working and let the rest drop away. So far that has been family programs, working with schools, robotics and coding. In making your case to management or potential partners, focus on the benefits and eliminating redundancies in the larger community i.e. too many organizations doing the same thing without coordinating efforts. It has been interesting to do something where people aren’t sure what it is. It generates a curiosity and dissonance that makes for great conversations and creates an opening to invite people to bring in their ideas and hopefully get involved.

Pin It