Innovation at the Anchorage Public Library

Paul Baker is the Innovation Lab Coordinator for the Anchorage (AK) Public Library. In this article, he tells us about his position and about the exciting things happening with the library and Makers and Hackers in the Anchorage community.

Anchorage Public Library (APL) is very involved with Makers and Hackers, with a lot of the involvement being driven by the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation. In 2010, APL did extensive community research in preparation for a remodel. From this research and from their awareness of a general trend in Anchorage towards more technology/software focused industries, the library saw a way to step in and help the community. When a large space in the library became available, library leaders obtained an Americorps grant to hire an Innovation Lab Coordinator, who would be tasked with creating an Innovation Lab.

Innovation Lab

Space recently opened up on one of the library’s floors that was perfectly suited for a forward-thinking purpose. It has been turned into the library's Innovation Lab. The mission for the Innovation Lab is to develop a community-driven space for technology education and exploration, paired with a curriculum that can be taught at any location of the Anchorage Public Library.

All of the library’s maker, hacker, digital literacy and work force development initiatives fall under Adult Services offerings and all are hosted (or will be hosted) in the library’s Innovation Lab. The Innovation Lab currently has a mobile laptop lab (provided by OWL) and will eventually have a computer lab classroom and multi-use meeting spaces that will include a Makerspace/Hackerspace. This will allow the library to offer tech courses from basic computing skills to advanced programming to 3D printing and Arduino programming. In addition to the technology topics, courses will be offered that cover job related skills, such as job seeking, resume building and interviewing. The library is partnering with outside organizations and is prioritizing digital literacy. Paul says,

Our digital literacy aspect focuses on everything from turning on the computer to programming a computer. We are beginning to develop/find curriculum that matches our equipment and will soon offer those, we already have an interested group of volunteers. Also, we hope to offer ‘next level’ computing classes such as workshops on the Adobe Suite, 3D modeling with Sketchup, web site development and Arduino, just to name a few….”

Innovation Lab Coordinator

Paul, the Innovation Lab Coordinator, is an Americorps VISTA Volunteer.  His position is part of a three year Americorps grant. For the next three years, APL will have one full time person dedicated to the Innovation Lab and to making the project self-sustainable. It is a new position that began February 1st of this year.

Paul’s academic credentials are not in library science, but he’s fallen in love with library work:

A few years ago my University (Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, MO) offered me a Graduate Assistant position to allow me to pursue a Masters of Business Administration in Marketing & Entrepreneurial Studies if I continued managing a program that I had founded (outside of the library) as well as to develop and manage social media programs for the University library and be an assistant circulation supervisor. Within one quarter I fell in love with the library and the atmosphere it had so I moved full time to working at the library and teaching courses while going to school. After this experience I knew I wanted to work in a library again. When the Innovation Lab Coordinator position was offered to me I was beyond stoked.”


Paul credits his dad with sparking his interest in “making”:

My dad was a big influence on this; we restored tractors together and I would spend hours watching him meticulously construct R/C planes, work on motorcycles and build a lot of stuff around the house. Although my making has moved towards the high tech side of the spectrum, it’s the mindset that was instilled in me at a young age that carries through today. I even like to look at my work with the Innovation Lab as making.”

There is a large and rapidly growing Maker group in Anchorage. Attendance at meetings and events averages around 20-30 individuals but sometimes there will be 40-50 individuals. There are sometimes multiple events happening in a single week. Paul serves on the Board of Directors for the Anchorage Makerspace. It is still a ‘virtual’ Makerspace. With high real estate costs in Anchorage, the group has not yet found a building that fits their budget and needs. Because the library’s Innovation Lab is so closely tied to the Makerspace, Paul felt it was important that he join the Anchorage Makerspace. Anchorage Makerspace operates under Icarus Interstellar, a non-profit interstellar travel engineering group (and will continue to operate under Icarus until they have established a physical location). Links to the Anchorage Makerspace: Meetup, Facebook, Website.

Paul is part of another virtual Makerspace that is meant to stay virtual. It is the Alaska Makers Group, which solely operates on Facebook. It is a way for Makers throughout Alaska to communicate about making and to hash out ideas.

Mini Maker Faire

APL will be hosting the first Anchorage Mini Maker Faire on July 27th. The Mini Maker Faire was inspired by the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation and the Anchorage Makerspace. Paul says the library is hosting because,

"...the library wants to get involved with more digital literacy initiatives (including some making) and we have a great space for the Faire, so we thought it was a great match. If you’re not familiar with what a Mini Maker Faire is, it is easy to describe but hard to understand just how cool it really is. As MAKE says 'It’s the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth—a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the Maker movement.' For more info, check this out:"


Arduino Nights

Starting in late July, APL will begin offering Arduino nights, during which they will be doing various small projects with Arduino. Many of the local Makers possess multiple Arduino boards, which allow the classes to include those who do not have their own board. In the future, the library hope to provide a few boards for use. The Arduino nights are led by different Makers, who lead participants, step-by-step, through projects of various sizes and ability levels.

Civic Hacking

APL has hosted one civic hacking event so far; a civic tech expo on the national day of civic hacking. It was called Reboot Alaska . A member of the community approached the library, asking them to participate they agreed. It was an open house format, during which developers of civic apps presented their developments and librarians presented on accessing library resources and data for future hacking events. There were 15 laptops set out for guests to test out apps. Approximately 45 local developers, Makers and library patrons attended the open house.

APL would like to host the next Hackathon in Anchorage, which is August 2nd-4th and part of Anchorage Economic Development Corporation’s “Entrepreneurship Week”. However, the library lacks sufficient bandwidth and does not have the ability to serve alcohol in the building! So, instead of hosting the event, the library will probably have a reference librarian presenting on how to access data that is relevant to the Hackathon theme.

Thank you to Paul Baker for sharing this story with TechSoup for Libraries. We will check in with Paul again in future months to see how things are progressing in Anchorage.