Drones, 3D printers, robots invade Witherle Library this weekend



CASTINE — In today’s world of Google and Wikipedia, some might question the usefulness of libraries and librarians. Why leave your home or office when there’s plenty of information online a few keystrokes away?

Staff and speakers at the Witherle Memorial Library will address that question Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. at their free public event “An Overdue Open House.”

Over the past few weeks, the library has been posting placards on its Facebook page from the American Library Association’s public awareness campaign, “Libraries Transform.” The campaign features “because” statements, such as “Because the best search engine in the library is the librarian,” and “Because students can’t afford scholarly journals on a Ramen noodle budget.”

Jessica Rollerson, children’s librarian at Witherle, said Google is a useful place to start for finding information but it should not be one’s only source. After all, there are plenty of useful resources that might not show up in the first few pages of a Google search.

“I like Google but it’s the librarian’s duty to continue to use other sources,” Rollerson said.

Some of those sources include books, scholarly journals or the MARVEL! database, which is Maine’s virtual library. Rollerson said part of why libraries exist is to help people navigate those sources to get the information they need.

“Now we have all kinds of new ways to get the information you want,” Rollerson said. “So if you walk through the door and want to access that information through a book or a computer or anything, it’s our job to make sure you do that as easily as possible and at as little cost as possible.”

Still, Rollerson said the role of libraries in the internet age is a topic that requires conversation, and she wants the conversation to begin on Saturday.

“People don’t always talk to us about it, so we’re hoping people will ask us questions,” she said. “We have all kinds of thoughts and ideas, but we need the conversation to start. So we hope this will do that.”

The open house will kick off with a speech by Maine State Librarian James Ritter, who will talk about his vision of modern libraries, set to a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack. Participants can then break off into groups where other Maine state library staff will lead demonstrations of 3D printers, virtual reality goggles, drones and robots.

Rollerson said that the purpose of these demonstrations is to spark children’s interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or art fields.

“When a kid sees a 3D printer print out a Minecraft figurine their first question is ‘How?’” Rollerson said, referring to the popular computer game Minecraft. “They see the coding and might take an interest in coding, which is a language kids need.”

Or, Rollerson said, they might take the technology in a different direction and use it to build new machines or works of art. Either way, Rollerson said, “Whenever you get someone wondering you get them thinking about how, and that’s curiosity, which is something we’re all about here.”

It’s not just the kids who might benefit from seeing the new technology up close.

“Even if it just informs the grandmother’s vocabulary when she talks about 3D printing with her grandkids, then that’s worth it,” Rollerson said.

Chris Dorman, the STEM/Emerging technologies statewide specialist for the Maine State Library, is leading a demonstration of Dash and Dot, which are tiny, blue, bubble-shaped wheeled robots whose behaviors can be coded by kids. With the right use of code, the robots can be taught to sing, dance, explore and more.

Rollerson said, “She guides them through the problem solving with humor and curiosity.”

The reason why the open house is called “Overdue” is because the library hasn’t had a celebration within its walls for some time. Specifically, this event will honor the library’s Friends & Trustees, which raises funds for the library through membership fees and book sales.

Those funds are used for the library’s programs, such as its summer reading program and after-school snack program. Rollerson said 100 kids signed up for the summer reading program last year, and on average 10 kids show up every day for after-school snacks. Other programs include concerts in the library and arts supplies in the children’s area.

“We don’t have any programming without friends,” Rollerson said. “We’ve just in general found that the library would be much less rich without their support and influence.”

Rollerson also hopes that the event this Saturday will help increase membership for the Friends of the library, which she said has been running a little thin lately.

“The ones that are there are few and mighty, but we would love to have a wide and rich pool,” she said.

David Roza

David Roza

David grew up in Washington County, Maryland, has reported in Washington County, Oregon, and now covers news in Hancock County and Washington County, Maine for The American and Out & About.