Hang out. Mess around. Geek out. At Rockwood Library

January 20, 2016

Local teens attend a DJ camp at Rockwood Library.

Rockwood Library is planning a grand opening this spring for its innovative teen technology lab, or “makerspace.”

Based on the philosophy of cultural anthropologist Mizuko Ito, who wrote about the power of “Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out,” the space will allow young people to explore and invent at their own pace alongside expert mentors.

This week painters are coating its walls, and soon staff will plug in 3D printers, a laser cutter, and powerful gaming laptops, Library Director Vailey Oehlke told the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in a briefing Tuesday.

The makerspace will open in February with a tentative grand opening event scheduled for Saturday, March 5.

But the staff didn’t wait to launch the classes that will fill the space. Local middle and high school students have already visited Rockwood Library more than 1,300 times to learn to code, build robots, design video games and record hip hop tracks.

Funded in part through a grant from the Mount Hood Cable Regulatory Commission and private funds through The Library Foundation, the space was designed with creative input from OMSI, Pixel Arts, Portland Metro STEM Partnership and Portland Community College.

Multnomah County Library's Lyndsey Runyan addresses the board at Tuesday's meeting.
Multnomah County Library's Lyndsey Runyan addresses the board at Tuesday's meeting.

The library’s creative learning spaces coordinator, Lyndsey Runyan, said they hope to work with 400 teenagers the first year, and 800 in the second and third years of the grant.

The program pairs teens with expert volunteers and mentors for free drop-in classes, workshops and week-long camps. The teams will explore and invent, while teenagers work individually toward a certification in science, technology, engineering, arts or math.

The space is intended to give teens who don’t have access to computers of their own, particularly girls, a chance to work with cutting edge technology.

Rockwood Library serves the most culturally-diverse neighborhood in Multnomah County, where more than 50 percent of school-age kids speak a language other than English at home. The neighborhood is one of the region’s youngest, and its population is growing at nearly twice the rate as the rest of Multnomah County.

Rockwood Library reflects that change; 12 of its 14 employees speak a language other than English. Its free daily English classes tallied 2,277 visits last year. And its computer bays logged more than 39,000 sessions - many by kids playing a simply designed game, Tanki Online.

But soon those teens will have more advanced applications to play with; they can even build their own.