Arlington Heights Library's 8,000-square-foot makerspace will be one of a kind nationwide
Public libraries have come a long way from the reading rooms of the past, where the librarian's "Shhhh!" followed any utterance above a whisper.
In fact, they're noisy places today -- modern community gathering centers where you're just as likely to find someone using a laser cutter, 3-D printer or CNC milling machine as reading a book.
Most of those hands-on activities are relegated to rooms at the local library branch, in what have become known as "makerspaces."
But it's rare to have a stand-alone library building dedicated to just those amenities -- let alone one as large as two stories and 8,000 square feet. And with a fully equipped commercial kitchen, to boot.
In Arlington Heights, construction crews are finishing the build-out of what will be known as the Arlington Heights Memorial Library Makerplace, a series of do-it-yourself collaborative workspaces under one roof for anyone 12 and older.
They've completed framing and hung drywall for a half-dozen rooms: a kitchen that will host culinary programs, a fabrication room with high-tech equipment, two flex rooms with movable tables and furniture to accommodate different activities and events, and lower-level creative arts and sewing/quilting spaces.
"This is the largest self-standing makerspace in the country, and people I don't think understand from a public library standpoint what an incredible feat that is for our community and how proud they should be," said Debbie Smart, a longtime Arlington Heights library board trustee, who, as the former board president, inspired the planning for the $1.4 million project.
Just blocks from the main library on Dunton Avenue, the new Belmont Avenue branch serves as a homecoming of sorts: the brick building across from Recreation Park was the first stand-alone village library in 1952.
After the library quickly outgrew the building amid suburban sprawl, it changed hands over the decades among different owners and users. It's been used by the village government and the elementary school district, as a recording studio and as a teen center.
When the village sought to get rid of the property in 2017, library officials expressed interest.
Though a panel with the new Makerplace logo and branding is being installed on the current monument sign, the original "Memorial Library" lettering etched above the entry doors will remain. The juxtaposition is a reminder of how libraries have evolved over the years.
"It's a place where you learn different design technologies, or traditional creative arts, and make things," said Mary Hastings, the library's director of communications and marketing, who helped develop the makerspace's branding, logo and website unveiled last week. "It's a place for trying new things or honing a craft. It's a place for art, design, crafting, creating, learning, sharing ideas and -- unique to our makerspace -- cooking and baking."
"And what do all of those things have in common? Making," Hastings said. "It's a place for making. And so that evolved into the Arlington Heights Memorial Library Makerplace -- a place for makers."
Library officials had been talking about creating a makerspace for years -- whether within the confines of the library building or somewhere else, including at a proposed north branch, which was taken off the table in 2017. As they evaluated other suburban library makerspaces -- including at Indian Trails in Wheeling, Northbrook and Winnetka-Northfield -- they came to favor the concept of a separate, distinct makerspace, as noise and odors that might come from such a space could be disruptive to other library areas.
Work crews have installed a grease trap and hood needed for the commercial-grade kitchen, and the noisier machines are in a contained room with additional ventilation.
Libraries across the country face common challenges as they look to find and retrofit spaces big enough for a makerspace within their older branches, said Michelle Jeske, president of the Public Library Association. And while it's rare to find one in its own building, the makerspace concept has been increasing in popularity over the last decade, she said. "It's a different way for people to learn," said Jeske, who as Denver City Librarian oversees six makerspaces within the city's 26-branch system. "You can learn through a book. You can learn online. You can learn through doing. This is just a different twist."
Despite construction delays amid the pandemic -- and extra sewer, roof, and electrical and plumbing renovations to get the old building in working order -- the Arlington Heights makerspace is set to open in August. Tours begin the week of Aug. 1, and classes begin the following week.