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Getting Sparked Up

The 4th Floor leadership visited SparkFun Electronics in Bolder, Colorado

Recently, the 4th Floor leadership team, Nate Hill and Meg Backus, took a trip out to Bolder, Colorado to be hackers-in-residence at SparkFun Electronics. They were joined by our library colleagues Jason Griffey and Bo Baker from the Lupton Library at UT Chattanooga

SparkFun is much more than an electronics retailer. They are also true believers that using electronics as a creative medium and learning platform builds foundational 21st century skills and have the potential to increase any student's ownership in their education experiences while "planting the seeds of inventorship."

You know how much we dig that! Thus the road trip and residency. 

Nate told SparkFun blogger, Chelsea The Destroyer, one of his goals for the residency was to begin prototyping a few open hardware solutions to library problems. "Open systems facilitate innovation. SparkFun gets this. Libraries get this, and they are getting better at behaving this way.... On a practical note, we’ve recently gained access to our catalog API, and there’s an opportunity to use open hardware to build very inexpensive things like self-checkout stations," Hill wrote.

Other experiments include using the catalog API to drive wacky user experiences: "...when someone returns a book about Python programming, for example, we could trigger some kind of physical event like a siren or a flashing light."

Meg also has some pretty creative ideas to make use of electronics to animate library customer service.  "Fun current projects include (but are not limited to!) an apron uniform for the 4th Floor that doubles as a help system capable of alerting staff to service needs, an installation of needle-felted fireflies that simulates a specific species of Tennessee lightning bug (Photinus carolinus–they are the kind that synchronize), and the Awesome Box, a special return bin for library materials that lets people declare and share an item’s awesomeness."

Another goal for Nate and Meg was to gain more knowledge about Processing and Arduino so that they could come back to Chattanooga and help build a community around these skills. The trip has already resulted in a new weekly program on the 4th Floor, Arduino Hack Night. "Books are very effective containers for information," Meg said, "So is Arduino. Arduino can unlock an enormous amount of knowledge — Electronics! Physics! Computer science! Art! — it’s so obvious that Arduino and Arduino’s friends belong in a library."  From the response to our first week of Arduino class, we're pretty confident this is something the creators and technologists in Chattanooga are going to support. 

Read the full interview to catch more of Meg and Nate's ideas for the 4th Floor and some thoughts on what libraries can do to evolve and adapt to the changing needs of their communities. 

Photo Credit: Bo Baker, UTC's Lupton Library Studio Librarian and UC Foundation Assistant Professor at UT Chattanooga.