Encore: In Omaha, A Library Without Books Offers Access To Technology
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Imagine a library without books. Instead, it's jammed with high-end technology that's free to the public. Well, that's happening in Omaha, and other libraries are paying attention. And we first heard about this earlier this year from Bill Kelly of NET News.
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BILL KELLY, BYLINE: On the corner of Omaha's busiest intersection, there's a square cement building wrapped on two sides with a flashing LED billboard promoting the high-tech equipment and classes inside.
FRANK FU: I thought it was a 3-D printer sales place.
KELLY: Earlier this year, high school student Frank Fu stumbled upon Do Space, a technology library providing free access to powerful PCs loaded with software used by businesses and artists. There are 3-D printers and laser cutters.
FU: It was exactly what I was looking for, and I never knew there was a place in - anywhere like it. And it turns out there's not.
KELLY: There are no books in this library. But as director Rebecca Stavick tells visitors, it's a logical evolution from traditional libraries.
REBECCA STAVICK: I've always thought of libraries as places full of tools. Books are tools. Scrolls are tools. Computers are tools. This vision of bringing technology to everyone in the community - it just gets people very excited.
KELLY: This library was not funded by taxpayers, but by a coalition of Omaha philanthropists who donated $7 million to pay for computers, 3-D printers and bandwidth. Sue Morris speaks for the donors.
SUE MORRIS: With one gig minimum to go up to 10 gig - to have that in a public building that's free, that's really amazing. That is unheard of anywhere.
KELLY: That computing power also makes it a launch pad for entrepreneurs.
MORRIS: Frankly, we know people run businesses out of this building, and we're OK with that.
HANS BEKALE: This is probably the biggest dream of any developer, anybody in this space, to have a place like this - right? - because this is our modern-day office.
KELLY: Hans Bekale manages his small multimedia business from here. He says technology attracted him, as well as the informal community of creative people who hang out here.
BEKALE: I would be locked into my office just sort of myself - right? - not hearing fresh ideas or just - some of the simplest and the most innovative things that I've thought of just happened through conversation.
KELLY: Across the country, other libraries are expanding their tech options. From 3-D printers to video equipment, Susan Benton of the Urban Libraries Council says the Omaha experiment takes the concept to a new level.
SUSAN BENTON: Yeah, to be sure. Other public libraries are looking at this. The density of the technology and the scope and the ability for a variety of programming to be going on at the same time in one space is unique.
KELLY: It can be loud here, and the range of activity under way is a little disorienting, from enthusiastic little kids gaming in front of a giant flat screen...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Go.
KELLY: ...To classes for the blind on using home computers.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Louis, do you mind if I ask, like, what...
KELLY: High school student Frank Fu uses the laser cutter and 3-D printer to design jewelry he sells online.
FU: The people that you meet at the Do Space - it's diverse. You never know if they're going to become your next business partner or your next best friend.
KELLY: Traditional libraries with books evolved slowly. Fast-changing technology and trends will require this library to adapt quickly, and that appears to be just part of the experiment. For NPR News, I'm Bill Kelly in Omaha.
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