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#OnTheRoadULC: Featuring Howard County Library System // Two Librarians & A Microphone Podcast

By combining a wide array of tools with lessons and demonstrations, Howard County Library System is offering new learning experiences for the community.

Looking for a way to build on its educational mission, Howard County Library System saw an opportunity with the upcoming renovation and expansion of its Elkridge branch. The dark, drab building was transformed into the DIY Education Center, offering a collection of tools such as baking pans, home improvement tools, and hiking poles. The program also included participatory classes for members of the community to gain experience and see professionals use the tools needed to build a wall, change a bike tire, construct a salad table and more.


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Jim Heuer [00:00:16] Hi, everybody, this is Jim Heuer, host of the Ingram Library Services podcast, Two Librarians and a Microphone. I'm here with librarian number two, Donna George. We're excited to come to you live from the Urban Library Council Annual Forum in Baltimore, Maryland. Ingram Library Services is a proud sponsor of the Innovation Awards that the ULC bestows upon their member librarians. Today, we are joined by one of the top innovators from Howard County, Tonya Kennon. Tonya, welcome, thank you for being with us.

Tonya Kennon [00:00:49] Thank you so much.

Jim Heuer [00:00:50] So you all were given an honorable mention in the Customer Experience category for your DIY education center. Could you tell us a little bit about that and how it came to be?

Tonya Kennon [00:01:00] Absolutely, I will first give a very well-deserved shout out to the entire team at Howard County for this innovation, it is really their great work along with our community. We were kind of in line just with the keeping of libraries as leading innovators and educational leaders in our communities, looking for a way to kind of expand and build on our educational mission as an educator in Howard County. Our team saw an opportunity with the planned renovation and expansion of our Elkridge branch, which was a 15,000 square foot, 23-year-old building, dark, drab, really needing some love. We had the opportunity to expand and renovate that to a 35,000 square foot, bright and inviting community gathering space. And we thought, what unique element can we bring to this space, and really engaged our staff and community around that idea of another educational element, and were really inspired by the Tool Lending Library at Berkeley Public Library in California, and paid them a visit, and decided to have a tool lending collection, but then really looked at our community and thought about the items that we could include in that collection. We do lend tools for home improvement and yard maintenance, but also cake pans, hiking poles, all kinds of things, and then really built in a space, designed a space, in the library, dedicated space for demonstration, right? So not just lending the items, but actually having demonstration classes, and hands-on participatory classes where people can get the use, right, the experience using those tools, and see professionals use those tools.

Tonya Kennon [00:02:47] Sometimes overcome the intimidation around a certain tool, and see if that's the tool for them. That was really the impetus for this, and it's just exciting to offer education in this new realm.

Donna George [00:03:02] Tonya, when I read the little writeup about your award and what you're doing there, the note I wrote on this piece of paper that I'm looking at is, makerspace on steroids.

Tonya Kennon [00:03:11] Yes, yes!

Donna George [00:03:12] It really is kind of the next level of this makerspace trend, and I'm wondering, how has the community reacted, and are you seeing attendance by certain ages or types of people, and who's this resonating with in your community?

Tonya Kennon [00:03:28] Sure, absolutely, so it's definitely resonating with our adult community, whereas the traditional makerspace, maybe, really, the teens and younger adults. So we are seeing a way to bring in our working adult community and even our seniors around making and creating, and maybe using an item that you've never even thought or had interest in using before. Then the collaboration that organic learning that happens when you get people in a room with different perspectives and different levels of knowledge around an idea. It's just been enthusiastic. We've seen the community just have a resounding appreciation to our team for keeping their learning experiences fresh and finding ways to offer them something that they can't get anywhere else.

Jim Heuer [00:04:20] So you've talked about some pretty eclectic, different things from cake pans to hiking poles, to constructing a salad table, or changing your bike tire. So it seems like this would be a fun thing for your team to think, what can we do next?

Tonya Kennon [00:04:36] They are a very talented bunch, and we actually in the planning stages of this wanted to make sure that we had the right people in place, to really take this thing to its highest peak. That involved hiring on some new staff. It did assessment of what skillsets do we have in-house and what skill sets do we need to go fishing for, so to speak, and bring in-house. In doing that, we brought in some folks who really know about carpentry, who really know about building, who really know about utilizing some of these tools. Tthen I've had some training, obviously, for our staff, existing staff. But they're just amazing, I mean, they are posting these short Facebook videos on things of the day, something new, a new tool that you can do, and how fun it can be in using that. They are always inspired by what they hear from the community, needs that they may see in the community, and just feedback that they receive in building that salad table or constructing a wall or a laminate floor or whatever it is, things that you wouldn't traditionally do in a library, and just continuing to build on that, it's amazing.

Jim Heuer [00:05:39] So it seems that some timing came together, so that you were fortunate, you were building a branch. If you didn't have that same opportunity, do you think you could have made that go at one of your existing branches? So I'm thinking if somebody's listening, and says, hey, we want to do something like that, but I don't have the luxury of building a new branch, could you have retrofitted one of your existing branches to do that?

Tonya Kennon [00:05:58] I do, I do. I think if there is any way... We are all very flexible and creative in libraries and know how to work within tight means, whether that's tight spaces, tight funding, tight staffing. So absolutely, even if you do not have this new space that you're going to build from scratch, if you've got a way to utilize an auditorium, to scheduling in time, if you've got a way to move some of the stacks to create a space where you can do some demonstration, any sort of thing like that. If you have to use the story time space, right, when it's not in use for that. So I definitely think there are ways to do that. Then, if you don't have the in-house staff with the expertise, we are masters at collaboration, libraries, right, and bringing other partners to the table around a good idea, and finding those resources in your community for people that may be able to come in and be willing to do that. I'm certain they are out there. Your local Home Depot offers a lot of those classes and may become a good partner for you, or things like that, retired workers in the community that would share their expertise. So I would not say anyone would need to shy away from it just because they're not embarking on a new building project, but rather look for the opportunities in the community to make this happen.

Jim Heuer [00:07:13] Did you have to shift money in your budget to cover any of the somewhat different material that you might have had in the library, or was that difficult to do, or not really?

Tonya Kennon [00:07:22] Not so much for the construction piece, but definitely in looking how we go forward, because a lot of these items are consumables, right? When we're talking about demonstration, and definitely when we're doing classes and there's a takeaway, they're building something they're going to take with them, and we do a lot of upcycling. We get a lot of leftover pieces from Home Depot and lumberyards and things like that. Sometimes we have people that may be willing to bring things in, so yes, I think taking advantage of everything at your fingertips, and not being afraid to just kind of do that assessment and leap out there and say, where can we go with this? How can we make this work, rather than, we're already strapped for collection budget, we can't take this on. I would say, look at it optimistically and find a way to make it happen.

Jim Heuer [00:08:06] So when you think back on it, what was the most interesting or unique or fun class, or demonstration or thing that you guys have done there?

Tonya Kennon [00:08:13] I think it might have been the salad table. The team had a lot of fun with that, but I don't know. I mean, that would be it for me. I think if you asked, you might get something on everything that they've done just because the comments. They do a brief survey, an assessment at the end of each class, again, they've just been so overwhelmingly positive from our community, and excited about this opportunity to learn whatever thing that is that's happening that day or in that moment, and so, it's very gratifying to know that. Also challenging for us to continue to seek opportunity and seek what next thing we're going to be offering.

Jim Heuer [00:08:51] For me, I love the fact that the folks from Berkeley were here this week. There's a good idea, across the country, right, but it's an idea that would work in Howard County, Maryland as well. This is what the library world is about, right? So we're going to bring that in, let our citizens, patrons, experience the same thing, and I think that's perfect summation of what this whole event is, right?

Tonya Kennon [00:09:14] I agree, and ULC is one of those places where thought leaders and libraries come together for that purpose of rejuvenating and sharing information and drawing from the collective wisdom in the room, right? And I know we all definitely got our fill and feel so overwhelmed, we're just overflowing with great ideas and good information to take back to our teams. That's something that libraries do continually and it's just great to have so many wonderful colleagues. Berkeley was very open to us coming to visit, so thank you to them as well.

Jim Heuer [00:09:49] Well, we offer our congratulations. It sounds great, and you're really doing some wonderful stuff there.

Tonya Kennon [00:09:54] Thank you, and just one more thank you to the Howard County Library team, and especially Phil Lord, who is the branch manager out at Elkridge.

Jim Heuer [00:10:00] We'll give a shout out to Phil, good job, Phil.

Tonya Kennon [00:10:02] Great job, Phil.

Jim Heuer [00:10:02] Excellent, thank you.

Tonya Kennon [00:10:04] Thank you.

Jim Heuer [00:10:05] Two Librarians and a Microphone is brought to you by Ingram Library Services, a division of Ingram Content Group. Our producer/director is Rachel Cope, sound engineering by Craig Simpson, special assistance by Essence Brisco and Elizabeth Wilcox. The research done by our librarians, Tricia Bengel and Donna George. I'm Jim Heuer, thanks most of all to you for listening. Please follow us on Instagram at @thelibrarylife. Tag us in your library life moments, 'cause we got some cool stuff going on on that social media platform. We're going to be giving away some exclusive books, ARCs, perhaps a signed copy, so in order to make sure that you're staying tuned to this podcast, we'd love for you to go to, but most importantly, the best way you can show your support for us, we'd love some reviews on Apple iTunes. If you could go in there, leave us a positive review, that would really help, so we will see you in your libraries. Thanks, everybody.