By Jerome R. Stockfisch Tampa Tribune, Fla.
Nancy Munce takes her cookie decorating seriously. When she wanted to bake a batch in the shape of the University of Florida gator-head logo for a friend who graduated from veterinary school there, she wasn't looking forward to hand-cutting a few dozen intricate shapes.
A solution stood in the library at the Seminole campus of St. Petersburg College, where Munce is an instructional technologist: a 3D printer that will anchor the college's new Innovation Lab.
With the help of information services librarian Chad Mairn, she designed and printed her cookie cutter, and her Gator cookies were a success.
Now, Mairn turns the 3D device and a roomful of other gadgets and tools over to students and members of the public who want to create, innovate, tinker or just hang out with like-minded folks.
The lab opened Tuesday. The school likens the space to an advanced version of your dad's garage -- but this garage has the Raspberry Pi, the Arduino Genuine Mega 2560 Circuit Board and the ProtoSnap LilyPad Development Board on the workbench.
"It's going to be an incubator for ideas," said Mairn, who received a $3,500 grant from the college's foundation to open the lab.
"It's going to be neat to see what's going to happen, what people are going to do. That's the fun part."
There is a podcasting station, computers running various operating systems including Linux, open source software applications for 3D printing and design, a kit to teach circuit board soldering, and a host of other tools, projects and instructional materials.
"It'll be great once we start getting people who are really into something to teach other people," said Jennifer Gregor, library program director.
"There is great potential for entrepreneurs as well, to learn how to do things and use some of the tools that they may not have had available to them."
The trend is spreading at college campuses and municipal libraries. The University of South Florida opened a student innovation incubator last fall, and a Community Innovation Center is slated to open this summer on the third floor of the John F. Germany Public Library in downtown Tampa.
"A lot of libraries are looking at becoming more like collaborative learning centers," said Megan Danak, senior librarian at the Germany library. They'll still provide the traditional books and periodicals, but "we're trying to sort of shape them to what the community wants them to be," she said.
Mairn said he may seek additional grants or set up a Kickstarter campaign to provide even more equipment. "Libraries are in this trend now where it's a place of discovery," he said. "It's a whole different do-it-yourself ethos that we have now."
Chris Demmons, a mass communications student at SPC, said he's taken tech classes, but they typically don't encourage risk-taking.
At the lab, he envisions "trying something different, trying something weird, trying to take your time."
He enjoys programming and does it at home, but said, "I think it would be fun to play around with that, being able to work with other people, being able to collaborate a little more."
The lab is on the second floor of the Dennis Jones Library on the SPC-Seminole campus. It is also open to non-students who hold a library card.