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Public libraries have long been in the business of lifelong learning for people of all ages.  

As different modes of learning have evolved for the community, so have the ways that libraries support residents’ learning aspirations.  

No longer just a repository for books, or even just a place to attend events or activities, libraries have become places for collaborative learning and shared experiences that build community while enhancing the knowledge and skills of visitors. 

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The most recent example of this shift at Redwood City Public Library is the recent opening of its Makerspace, which provides opportunities for people of all ages to create, experiment and collaborate in a self-directed hands-on learning environment.  

The Makerspace is designed to provide the community inclusive and equitable access to technology and other tools that might not be readily accessible or affordable for individuals.  

The driving mantra of the space is “making is for everyone.”  

Sewing is currently the most popular program, with an 8-year-old as our youngest sewist.  

Redwood City community members take advantage of the “Open Sewing” program at the new Makerspace at the local library. (Photo courtesy Jenny Barnes/Redwood City Public Library)

Amateurs to expert-level sewists create and learn new skills on our sewing machines. The flexible design of the space allows individuals to use as much space as they need, and participants are encouraged to walk the room to see what others are creating. Inspiration can also be found within the library’s extensive book collection and online resources. 

In the El Portal de Creatividad Spanish language classes, participants learn to use hand tools for crafting and digital tools such as online practice for the citizenship exam.  

A college student recently wanted to learn how to repair clothes. He said he did not have the funds to buy new clothes but wanted to learn how to use the sewing machine to make himself more presentable.  

Children learn how to make buttons at the “Open Makers Button Making Program” at the new Makerspace in Redwood City Public Library (Photo courtesy Sarah La Torra/Redwood City Public Library)

A woman in her 40s was also excited to use the sewing machines to extend the life of her couch by repairing the fabric endcaps. Participants said they want to use sewing machines for embroidery to start their own businesses. The library plans to add a serger to aid those professional finishes. 

Fix-it clinics, offered through a partnership with the San Mateo County Office of Sustainability, encourage community members to bring their broken, non-functioning items (electronic gadgets, appliances, computers, toys, bicycles, fabrics and more) to an event where the library provides workspace, specialty tools and guidance. Community members will learn to disassemble, troubleshoot and repair broken items. People of all economic levels gain valuable knowledge on how to prolong the life of their beloved items and reduce waste. 

Kids study objects made by 3D printers at the Makerspace Open House in Redwood City Public Library. (Photo courtesy Jenny Barnes/Redwood City Public Library)

Programs build upon each other. From developing a small business idea (like acrylic earrings) to the necessary tools for creation (cutting and engraving on a laser cutter) to marketing (digital photography for an online store) to expansion (learning how to build your online presence), makers will develop the knowledge and resources to turn their ideas into reality. 

An upcoming five-week series on financial literacy in partnership with Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center will enable the community to engage on topics such as money mindfulness, saving money and borrowing money. 

The space also includes several 3D printers, with formal workshops and drop-in times for makers to create 3D-printed objects. A new podcasting studio space will provide opportunities for people who like to create new content in the form of ideas rather than just physical objects.  

As we listen to our community about their needs and desires to be inspired in the future, the library is delighted to provide a space for creativity and collaboration to flourish. 

Sarah La Torra, division manager at Redwood City Public Library (Photo courtesy Lisa Johnson)

Sarah La Torra has served as the division manager of customer experience at the Redwood City Public Library since 2016 and has worked with RCPL since 2007. In her role, she oversees collection development, IT, the library’s website, customer service and the new Makerspace. Prior to her role as division manager, La Torra was the teen services coordinator. La Torra spearheaded the creation of the new Makerspace and has a background in community development, project management and programming. La Torra holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a master’s in library and information science from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).