Tampa Library Transforms To Meet Demands Of New Economy

The John F. Germany Library, the flagship of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System since its doors opened to the public in 1968, is repurposing 10,000 square feet into a new "Community Innovation Center.''

The new public maker space in the 140,000-square-feet historic building at 900 Ashley Drive in Downtown Tampa is designed to provide tech resources, community classes and interactive workshops to meet the demands of a changing workforce and help shape learning for what's next in the new economy.

"Public libraries have always leveled the playing field, offering access to resources, technology, classes and spaces where the community can come together -- the CIC just brings this to another level,'' explains Hillsborough County Senior Librarian Megan Danak.
Envisioning portions of public libraries as reinvented portals to the digital world is a growing trend in major U.S. cities.

As the "maker space'' society spreads from garage tinkerers to a mainstream movement, public libraries are experiencing a shift in purpose from storing knowledge to sharing it.

From Reading Literature To Interactive Doing

Three Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh locations host teen-only learning labs, where students in grades 6-12 can participate in informal weekly workshops, work in a digital media lab to create music and videos and interact with mentors.

The Cleveland Public Library is home to TechCentral, a maker space that offers laser engraving, 3D printing and scanning, digital media design, public meeting space, and workshops to all members of the library six days a week.

Denver, Colorado's innovation hub, targets teens with the ideaLAB, a free digital media lab for kids ages 12-19. The Denver Central Library also offers a Community Technology Center, where the public can access classes, equipment, and one-on-one info sessions.

The Detriot Public Library houses HYPE Makerspace, where teens are invited to explore makerspace workshops, design, DIY crafting, robotics and hands-on technical skills.

Making It New Again

The transformation for Tampa's downtown library is in response to Hillsborough County's growing startup community and tech-related meetups throughout the Tampa Bay region. Since 2013, dozens of new startups, work spaces and small businesses have launched in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and in local cities from Tampa to St. Petersburg to  Sarasota to Lakeland to New Port Richey.
The Community Innovation Center will offer individuals, families and groups a new way to interact with other enterprising members of the greater community. Potential uses for the public gathering space in terms of classes, workshops and events are limited only by imagination and planning.

"There are so many possibilities -- that is the most exciting part!'' Danak says. "From teaching people to use the recording studio and the digital media lab to art classes and a space for robotics teams … and we can't wait to fire up the 3-d printers. But we are probably most excited to see what the community will create in the CIC. That's really what it's all about -- giving people the resources to learn, explore and create.''

Set to open in early summer 2014, the Community Innovation Center aims to host weekly sessions that cover an array of topics and attract a diversity of people to engage in creative activities from open maker sessions to a "repair cafe'' to "TinkerTots'' for kids.

"The CIC is beneficial for individuals interested in developing their own ideas and skills,'' says Danak, "and benefits the community at large by fostering a creative, collaborative learning environment in Tampa.''
CIC visitors can expect to explore activities such as film making, web development, robotics, mechanical and electrical design, 3D printing, game making, graphic arts, business development, and more.

The space is arranged into eight easily definable sections:

    •    TechMasters Center
    •    Entrepreneurial Center
    •    Robotics Centers
    •    Hands-On Workshop
    •    Machine Shop
    •    Media Lab & Studio
    •    Arts Center
    •    Computer Lab

Established groups like the FIRST in Central Florida robotics team plan to use the space for meetings.

Many classes ranging from DIY art and printing to basic electronics and circuitry will be taught by volunteers. Community members are encouraged to request specific workshops, specialized classes, training sessions or meeting space.

Community Funded, Community Focused
The Community Innovation Center space is largely funded by $25,000 from the first round of Hillsborough County's Economic Development Innovation Initiative.

Hillsborough County's EDI2 program provides funding for community programs as varied as University of Tampa and University of South Florida student entrepreneurship events, Startup Weekends and biotech conferences at Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute.

Learning is for Everyone, Inc. is the lead Community Innovation Center partner for the CIC. The local nonprofit organization described the project in its EDI2 application as a "shared resource-rich space that will provide economic development opportunities for entrepreneurs and the business community, and empower individuals through hands-on academic and workforce readiness learning opportunities.

"The Community Innovation Center will provide area residents of all ages with the shared training and resources to become active and empowered creators of their futures instead of passive consumers.''

Membership is open to those ages 18 and up, and is slated to start at $10/month or $100/year for an individual basic membership. Individual day passes are available.

Justine Benstead is a freelance writer who spends her days walking her dog Chloe in her South Tampa neighborhood, drinking far too much coffee, tweeting, and taking photos with her trusty Nikon. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.