Innovative library program emerges for the 21st century | KCLS

The King County Library System has long been committed to offering a wide range of programs and services for every age, ability and background. But as needs and interests – and technology – changes, KCLS must continually improve and innovate to keep up with the times.

The latest educational research shows that students who have strong skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) will be better prepared for academic and career success in a 21st century global economy. As KCLS focuses on the future, we are excited to unveil our newest program that incorporates the most recent advances in learning and technology.

KCLS opened its ideaX Makerspace last Saturday. The experiential lab is a nexus of tools and technologies that supports research on the benefits of STEM education. With ideaX, KCLS is taking innovation to the next level, offering patrons of all ages the opportunity to explore, create and test the limits of their imagination with hands-on activities ranging from virtual reality to artificial intelligence.

The concept for ideaX has been years in the making – quite literally. Around 2005, tech-influenced Do-It-Yourself (DIY) communities began to take shape around the world and soon became identified as the Maker Movement. Dale Dougherty, Founder and CEO of makermedia.com, described the Maker Movement as “a wide range of people, young and old, who are developing their talents and discovering new ways to solve interesting, everyday problems by working together on projects. Making is a meaningful form of personal expression that fosters creativity, builds community and encourages the collaborative practice of innovation.”

As the Maker Movement continued to grow, the King County Library System Foundation provided seed funding in 2016 to support a KCLS Mobile Services pilot program called ideaX. TechLab and Mobile Learning Lab vehicles were equipped with tools and equipment aimed at teaching digital literacy skills to teens and tweens, with classes on 3-D printing, digital music, electronics, robotics, coding, game design, and more. The program was a huge hit. Recognizing the impact of STEM-based programming, the KCLS Foundation has continued its fundraising efforts to help make this vital program available to a broader audience.

The ideaX Makerspace is at the Bellevue Library. As the largest of our 48 community libraries, it draws more than 600,000 visitors a year. Its proximity to a large public transit hub on the Eastside will make the lab accessible to patrons across KCLS’ service area. The ideaX Makerspace will take over the area on the first floor that was previously used for the children’s area, which in turn, will be relocated to a larger, more child-friendly space on the third floor.

It bears noting that the ideaX Makerspace doesn’t mean that KCLS is choosing screens over books. The new lab space augments, rather than displaces, other services offered at the Library, and is just one more way KCLS is delivering relevant programs and services that are responsive to the changing needs and interest of our patrons.

Lisa Rosenblum is director of the King County Library System.

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