The Central Rappahannock Regional Library System recently opened a satellite branch at 1616 Princess Anne Street in Fredericksburg called IdeaSpace, and it is far beyond a place to keep a few extra books.
I took a tour of the establishment and saw a glimpse of how libraries could not only survive but prosper in the coming years.
IdeaSpace was supposed to open in April 2020 but was pushed to December because of the pandemic.
Many concerns have been made about the future of libraries and the fear that they could become a relic in a world that has turned to the internet, with its streaming and cloud storage. But libraries have been keeping up, digitizing their inventories and making them available online. However, if IdeaSpace proves anything it’s that libraries can evolve into something so much more than just a repository for information.
On my tour, I was introduced to the mascot of IdeaSpace, a robot called Pepper. It’s programmed to greet people at the door but because visitors wear face masks these days due to the pandemic her ability to recognize human faces. Pepper’s programming can be updated and according to my tour guide Simon Watts, it may be possible to overcome this issue in the future.
Another device available in the IdeaSpace is 3D printers, which can be used to create various objects from figure to basic medical equipment. During the pandemic, the IdeaSpace used these printers to make masks, stethoscopes, and other medical equipment for Westmoreland County. Some examples of those products are exhibited on the walls.
Then it was onto the blow forge laser cutter which can be used to create engravings similar to wood or metalworking. Those who want to learn how to use this and the 3D printers can get training through online and video courses on how to use these devices.
Once the courses have been completed and receive their completion badge people who come to IdeaSpace are free to use the equipment.
“We don’t want to do things for you, we want to show you how to do them. And then we trust you to handle it,” said Watts
They also have equipment for audio-visual production such as digital drawing tablets as well as a small production studio equipped with microphones and cameras so someone can come in and create music or produce a video whether for a class or to post on a platform like YouTube.
Also among the AV equipment is a video conversion station that can be used to transfer VHS and DVDs into digital formats which is a good thing to have if one wants to preserve grandma’s old home movies.
While space is currently limited, IdeaSpace would like to add more seating in the future to accommodate growing interest. Most of the offerings would also appeal to a younger audience of children grades six and up.
It was also mentioned that IdeaSpace would like to add coding as an offering in the future and that something like IdeaSpace could be used as something to help students who may rely on online schooling.
IdeaSpace is currently allowing people in on an appointment basis due to the coronavirus pandemic and is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m. They are also open on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.