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Making it on the 4th Floor

Making it on the 4th Floor of the Chattanooga Public Library

Guest blogger: 4th Floor Library Assistant, Geoff Millener:

I started working as an assistant on the 4th Floor a little over a month ago, bringing with me six years of library experience: I spent four years working in Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College while I was in school there, and two more at the Baylor School Hedges Library here in Chattanooga. It’s with at least some authority that I can say that the 4th Floor is like no other library I’ve ever seen, and it’s not just because of the 3D printers.

If you’ve been up to see us, you know the 4th Floor adopted an open office model – we all sit at the same table, from the newest assistant (me!) to our assistant director. It makes for a collaborative atmosphere, one that translates well to creative problem-solving for ideas that roll out across the library, not just in the hacker lounge. 

Take Mary, whose much anticipated feature exhibit from the Local History archives capturing a century of summer memories premiered on the library’s Local History webpage this month. Inspired by the new DPLA website, she curated the exhibit from the library's permanent collection while sitting a seat away from our web developer, Dan. Dan custom built a platform to display the archive and a dynamic content management system so the librarians in that department can build their own exhibits in the future. Just another example of how projects and services incubate on the 4th Floor then deploy across the library. 

In a way, actually, that’s how I think of the 4th Floor: We solve problems. And, more than just doing it by ourselves at a long table, we’re working with the public, solving them out in the open. It can be messy sometimes (I had to take a hacksaw to one of our 3D printers just last week), but the transparency’s often as valuable as the solution itself. It allows for constant input not just from brilliant 4th Floor staffers, but from the equally amazing patrons – the whole reason we’re up there in the first place.

The open-source, pull-it-apart-and-figure-out-how-it-works philosophy behind a lot of the technology on the 4th Floor is one I feel like we’ve ourselves adopted. Part or program you need doesn’t exist? Make it. Doesn’t work exactly how you’d like? Make it better. Making, in fact, is a big part of what happens on the 4th Floor, whether using the Adobe suite to create vinyl decals, printing a TinkerCAD project or experimenting with Thingiverse designs. It’s another thing setting us apart from the library stereotype – well, that and that our only books are old Readers Digests being fed to the new laser cutter.

I’ll leave you with one my favorite moments working here, watching a young man 3D-print a figure with fully articulated joints he designed himself. If somebody not yet in high school, someone who’ll be part of the next generation of engineers, artists and designers, can create something so amazing – and if his public library can help him with not just the knowhow, but the doing itself – then I think we’re onto something big.