Trying to remain relevant in the digital age has led the Beaufort County library system to create a place where people can explore the realms of 3-D and robotics.
Starting at 1 p.m. Friday, the St. Helena library will open its CreationStation to visitors of all ages. The station will house a variety of gadgets, from 3-D printers to small robots, to teach both kids and adults about electronics, robotics and technology. It will eventually go on the road to other libraries and to schools in the county.
"In the past, libraries have always been content providers. ... We are still going to do that, but we are going one step further and becoming content producers," said Jan O'Rourke, assistant director of the Beaufort County library system.
The library system received a $25,000 federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to create the station.
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Among the new tools are two 3-D printers that can build solid objects out of plastic in colors of blue, green, red, yellow and orange. The library also has a digital scanner to scan and replicate 3-D objects.
To test the new technology, St. Helena library computer lab instructor Melanie Florencio said the library staff printed a 5-inch-tall, 8-inch-long replica of a cow figurine. She said it took about two hours to build.
Florencio said the CreationStation also has BristleBots and Little Bits robotics, Arduino boards for people to create circuits, and Raspberry Pi computers for learning about coding and computer science.
"The intent of this station is to really give teens and others the opportunity to take a look at the 21st century learning skills they will need," O'Rourke said. "This is an ambitious project, but it's one that is really exciting and offers immense potential for people who get involved in it."
While the CreationStation's home will be at the library, it will visit other libraries throughout the county.
Visitors will be able to use the tools in informal play sessions or take formal classes to learn specific skills, such as computer programming or 3-D design.
The CreationStation will also travel to Beaufort County schools, said school district's director of educational technology, Chrissy Robinson.
The library system and school district are still working out the details, but Robinson said all school media specialists will be trained to use the various tools.
"A lot of our schools already have robotics teams, so (the robot toys) will be a good way to extend the work they've done," she said. "With the station, the students will have things they created at school and then can actually see it brought to life."
O'Rourke said the library system will allot money each year for the station when creating its annual budgets so it can be a permanent fixture at the St. Helena branch.
The system also is considering opening a CreationStation at one of the libraries in southern Beaufort County, she said.
"We have faced a very tight budget reality for the past several years. ... There is a sense that libraries may no longer be relevant because of technology," O'Rourke said. "But we really believe this is the future for libraries and is going to make us a necessity for the community."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.