Photo: Courtesy Of HCPL LSC-Tomball Community Library
Free access to virtual reality, laser-cutting, and 3D printing technologies will soon be available to the public in northwest Harris County.
Harris County Public Library is in the process of transforming a computer lab at the LSC-Tomball branch into the Tomball Innovation Lab. In late August, equipment and furniture had already started arriving for the lab, which is scheduled to open in January 2020.
“This will be a 3D printer corner,” said Janna Hoglund, director of the LSC-Tomball Community Library. She pointed at two differently-sized machines, the larger of which was busy running a 3D test print.
The laser cutter corner will be on the other side of the room, she explained, where people can cut and etch designs in wood and various other materials.
What began as a small idea has quickly developed into a collaborative effort between a number of community partners. Hoglund said that HCPL director Edward Melton has been a huge supporter of the project, as well as LSC-Tomball president Lee Ann Nutt.
“It would be impossible to get where we are without her support,” Hoglund said.
LSC-Tomball, Harris County Pct. 4, HCA-Houston Healthcare Tomball, Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce, city of Tomball, Tomball ISD and the Tomball Economic Development Corporation came onboard to help HCPL bring the Tomball Innovation Lab to fruition.
Aside from the 3D printer, laser cutter, a few computers and special workplace tables, the remaining Innovation Lab area can be adapted to accommodate a variety of activities.
“Basically, this would be like an open space and we purchased a lot of foldable and mobile furniture because we want to be flexible depending on what class we want to offer, or innovation lab activity,” Hoglund said. “If we would like to do a Lego robotics class, we would like to set it up in a way that it will address Lego robotics.”
Another major feature to be among the Innovation Lab’s starter equipment are Oculus Go virtual reality headsets to immerse patrons in new and educational experiences.
“Experiences that will widen their world,” said Genova Boyd, assistant branch manager. “So, to be able to place them in different places, or have them do different things that they might not have access to elsewhere.”
Loyd Huhn, technology trainer at LSC-Tomball Community Library, was responsible for researching and writing a proposal for the Innovation Lab project. Hoglund said Huhn’s taken on the role of innovation lab coordinator.
“We see these at other branches, we see them within our own system, and the drive is far,” Loyd Huhn said.
Schools may have similar spaces that are restricted to student use, and makerspace-type businesses offer equipment use at a cost.
“So, it’d become a little bit prohibitive for people,” Huhn said. “It was like: well, why don’t we try?”
According to Hoglund, innovation labs have been established at the Clear Lake City-County Freeman Branch Library and Evelyn Meador Library in southeast Harris County.
“But this one, I think once it’s up and running and really got its kick start, it will be one of a kind in that the space will be bigger, the tools and equipment and services offered here will be bigger than those other places and also because this is a collaborative community project, so there’s a lot of partners involved, so that’s unique to this space as well,” Boyd said.
And this is merely the beginning. The library collected community feedback to determine what resources were wanted in the Innovation Lab. Hoglund said the suggestions were diverse — from machines for sewing classes to small-scale cooking demonstrations.
“When we open in January, this is not going to be the end of it,” Hogland said. “It’s going to be a growing project; where our community will take us, because our customers tell us, ‘We want to add this,’ then we will find ways of adding equipment. It’s great to have support, and with the support, we believe we will be able to accomplish what the community wants for the Innovation Lab.”
As a space driven by the community for community use, the library is asking for the community’s help designing a logo for the Tomball Innovation Lab.
Between Sept. 8 and Nov. 8, Tomball community members can submit logo designs that embody the phrase, “Your Destination for Innovation Experience.” The chosen logo will be featured on Innovation Lab materials for branding purposes.
For more information or to submit artwork, visit https://bit.ly/2kd8197.