For years, the St. Helens Public Library has gradually expanded its offering of science, technology, engineering, art, and math (STEAM) programs to the community.
This has allowed hundreds of kids, teens, and adults the chance to use their creativity and problem-solving abilities in hands-on projects to make something and learn new skills.
The St. Helens Public Library's latest such project, a dedicated makerspace that is free for all ages, will be presented from 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 9, during a St. Helens Public Library Makerspace grand opening celebration at the Library, 375 S. 18th Street, St. Helens.
Attendees will have the opportunity to tour the new space, see the equipment in action, and enjoy a hands-on activity for themselves.
In 2017, the St. Helens Public Library began offering afterschool STEM and maker programs to youth. These programs have been recognized as innovative in the St. Helens tri-county region and used as a model for other organizations to launch their own programming, according to the library staff. Building on this success, in 2019 the library launched its 'Library of Things' to allow borrowers the opportunity to take home maker equipment and continue their educational and creative pursuits outside the library.
“All along, we also wanted to offer more advanced maker opportunities to a broader range of ages in a more open-ended way and make deeper community connections to other learning and making organizations,” St. Helens Librarian Gretchen Kolderup, who is leading the St. Helens Public Library Makerspace with the assistance of fellow Library staff and outside organizations.
With the dream of a dedicated space for the entire community to create and connect, the library staff drafted a proposal that was presented to the St. Helens City Council and approved in January 2020. According to Kolderup, along with acceptance from the Columbia Learning Center Board, the library staff began the hard work to develop the new space. Columbia Learning Center offices were consolidated, including the former computer lab space from when the Center first opened, to make the Makerspace possible.
“Twenty-five years ago, innovative thinkers inspired the construction of the Columbia Center which provided a library, computers, and internet service,” St. Helens Public Library Director Margaret Jeffries said. “Today, the Makerspace also provides a similar opportunity to support knowledge creation in the community. It is thrilling to see this proposal come to fruition.”
The City of St. Helens provided $40,000 in funding to refurbish the space. New flooring was installed, data and electrical upgrades were made, furniture was purchased, and a sink, sidewalk, and door upgrades were made to allow Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) access.
“Having the Makerspace in a newly available part of the building lets us offer the community high-end, permanently installed equipment,” Kolderup said. “A dedicated space also makes it easier for us to build a multigenerational community of creative learners.”
The Makerspace is for all ages and open to anyone. Visitors do not have to have a Library card or live in St. Helens to use the Makerspace, according to library staff. The space is free to use, although some projects will require users to pay for the cost of materials, such as filament for the 3D printer. Children under 10 must be accompanied and supervised by an adult at all times. Minors ages 11 to 17 may use the space independently with a signed waiver by a guardian.
While STEAM and maker programs in the past have largely focused on youth, Kolderup said the new Makerspace has truly been created for all ages to use.
Equipment includes a laser cutter, 3D printers, digital cutter, heat press, sewing machine, laminator, a printer, scanner, copier combo, computers and tablets with stop motion and coding apps and Adobe Creative Cloud products (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, etc.), hand tools such as wire strippers, soldering station, and bike repair kit, die cut machines with assorted dies, photo scanner, drawing tablet and pen, light boxes, 3D pens, sticker and button makers, rotary cutter and mat, ring lights, comb binding machines, saddle stapler, hot glue guns, and a folding lighted studio box.
The library is currently in the process of hiring a library technician through City of St. Helens American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds distributed by the federal government. The library technician will assist with expanding open hours for the Makerspace, conducting equipment training, and leading classes.
Anyone who would like to use the Makerspace before then can call the library at 503-397-4544, email SHPLmakerspace@sthelensoregon.gov, or visit the library’s circulation desk in-person to make arrangements.
The St. Helens Public Library Makerspace was made possible thanks to generous donations, grants, and partnerships with various organizations. In addition to $40,000 from the City of St. Helens and allocated ARPA funding, the St. Helens Public Library received $20,000 from the Columbia Community Foundation, a $20,000 grant from Northwest STEM Hub along with an additional $9,500 in smaller grants from the same organization, a $3,000 grant from the Friends of the St. Helens Public Library, and a $2,500 private donation of equipment and money.
The project was also made possible through non-monetary support from the Columbia Community Foundation, Northwest STEM Hub, the Friends of the St. Helens Public Library, the St. Helens Library Board, St. Helens Public Works Department, Columbia Learning Center Board, and St. Helens City Council.
Initial partnerships for the Makerspace include Portland Community College’s OMIC Training Center, OMIC R&D, and the St. Helens School District. Kolderup said the library will work with these groups to create future projects and offerings.
The St. Helens Public Library is located at 375 S.18th Street in St. Helens and may be reach at 503-397-45344.