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Maker Day: Thinking in 3D
Chattanooga Public Library, TNGo to Website
Innovation SummaryThe library transformed a storage floor into The 4th Floor, a public laboratory and educational facility focused on information, design, technology, and the applied arts. The 4th Floor hosted Chattanooga’s first 3D printing event which also served as a launch party for The 4th Floor’s free public 3D printing services.
As the first city in the nation to offer 1-Gbps internet speeds to its community, Chattanooga, Tennessee is experiencing a renaissance. Chattanooga’s high tech and creative economies are expanding and its downtown is experiencing a revival. The public library is located right in the heart of Chattanooga’s downtown, yet it was neglected and mismanaged for many years. With so much change going on in the Chattanooga community, the public library requires a new image, new services, and a complete makeover for it to become a downtown hub in the hip, evolving local scene. The challenge: how to resurrect this beloved institution, build new audiences, and recapture the attention of the audience who had forgotten the library was there at all?
In July of 2012, the library emptied 30 years of storage from the 14,000 square foot top floor of its building and rebranded it as The 4th Floor. The 4th floor is a public laboratory and educational facility focused on information, design, technology, and the applied arts. With wireless 1-Gbps connectivity, open source computing stations, and vast polished concrete floors that make folks nostalgic for roller arenas (we get this all the time), The 4th Floor is a generous space to prototype library services and rethink library activities. Numerous activities on The 4th Floor would qualify as innovations in library programs, but this application focuses specifically on Maker Day: a 3D printing expo that absolutely knocked the socks off of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The 4th Floor, in partnership with CO.LAB, a state funded startup accelerator and business incubator, hosted Chattanooga’s first 3D printing event which also served as a launch party for The 4th Floor’s free public 3D printing services. Our partnership with CO.LAB has been successful as their connection to local industry and contributions to the entrepreneurial scene give them credibility with the new audiences the library wished to capture. The Maker Day event was an enormous success, bringing over 1800 people in the library on a day that typically draws less than 800. A display of Chattanooga’s first 3D model of Downtown was featured. Twelve individual stations were set up where printed models and trinkets for children and families could be printed. NovaCopy and ASTEC displayed a $200,000 model of a wood pellet manufacturing plant made entirely of pieces printed by a 3D printer, and Virginia Tech’s DREAMS Lab gave demonstrations on additive manufacturing.
Maker Day was a success because it 1) introduced a diverse group to a revolutionary new technology, 2) illustrated that this technology could be leveraged by hobbyists but it can also become a career opportunity for young enthusiasts, and 3) it centered the downtown library as an innovation space where people can expect to learn, explore, and discover new ideas that might change their lives. This final point is a particularly powerful outcome; prior to recent events the Chattanooga Public Library was not perceived this way and usage was dwindling. The public library’s 3D printing lab opened the week after the event, and since then customers are consistently designing, building, and hacking 3D objects on The 4th Floor. Staff is currently working with this emergent, self-organizing community to follow up on the success with related courses and other ventures in electronics and computer programming.