St. Helens makerspace still growing at six months
The makerspace at the St. Helens Library has been open for more than six months, gradually growing its inventory and visits.
"The thing that you'll see around here is that it's all about play and fun, and the secret is that it's also educational. It sneaks in, where you're having fun and you want to learn more, instead of somebody telling you that you have to learn," makerspace specialist Allen Hansen explained on a recent tour.
The makerspace opened in October 2021 in the Columbia Learning Center, following the success of STEM kits created by library staff and the Library of Things, which offers items ranging from 3D pens to knitting kits.
The makerspace offers a range of tools that visitors might not be able to use at home, either because of cost or not knowing how to use them.
The equipment ranges from analog tools like button-making supplies to higher-tech machines like 3D printers.
"You can walk in and walk out five minutes or an hour later with something in your hands that you had in your head just a short time ago," Hansen said. "I'm just as excited if a 5-year-old girl comes in here and stamps one of these out of paper, or if somebody comes in and learns a completely new skill or software."
The space offers classes and equipment for all ages, from music production software and sewing machines to zine-making kits.
Hansen hosts open hours and schedules appointments with makerspace visitors — who don't need to have a St. Helens library card or even live in the city. The space also hosts classes taught by community members.
Recent "Meet the Makerspace" classes have included making woven bookmarks, bracelets and others good with a laser-cut loom; creating a solar-powered fairy garden; making a dog collar with leatherworking tools; and 3D-printing a planter fit for a succulent.
Elsa Dye, a St. Helens resident and costume fabricator, first came to the makerspace for a class making a customized phone stand with a 3D laser printer.
"I really like fiber arts and making my own tools, and Allen introduced me to some software that I can draft things on," Dye explained.
Dye worked at LAIKA animation studios for six years and more recently worked as a costume fabricator on Guillermo del Toro's upcoming stop-motion-animated production of "Pinocchio." But the makerspace still offers access to equipment — and training to use it — to which Dye wouldn't otherwise have access.
In the makerspace, Dye has made an intricate laser-cut drop spindle, which is used for spinning thread or yarn. She hopes to teach a class to show others how to make and use drop spindles.
"People in the community are engaged enough to want to teach, and I can just support them," Hansen said.
Louis Barham is another regular in the makerspace, designing and making prototypes for projects in the cryptocurrency realm.
Before joining the makerspace, Hansen worked as an engineering technician supervisor at the University of Portland for 13 years.
Close to $100,000 was raised to start the makerspace, including $40,000 from the city government, $29,500 from the Northwest STEM Hub and $3,000 from Friends of the St. Helens Public Library.
St. Helens also allocated $200,000 of federal COVID-19 relief funds to the makerspace, most of which will be used to cover Hansen's salary for a two-year period ending December 2023.
In comparison, the library's operating expenses for the current fiscal year were budgeted at $890,000.
"It's just starting off which is fun and exciting, but it's really gone fast," Hansen said.
Outside of classes, visitors pay a small amount to cover the cost of materials for some tools, like 3D printer filament.
The library has also budgeted a few thousand dollars per year for makerspace equipment, but long-term funding to keep the center staffed isn't secure.
St. Helens spokesperson Crystal King said, "Moving forward and in anticipation of ARPA funding ending, the library and city will be exploring options such as grant funding for Allen's position."
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