The Cedar Rapids Public Library (CRPL) will bring a variety of technology to neighborhood parks around the city this summer using its new mobile technology van.
CRPL’s programming manager Kevin Delecki told Little Village the technology van is the backbone of a broader initiative exposing the community to different technologies that can help them in their day-to-day lives, spark a new interest or lead to discovering a future career.
The van allows the library to reach more residents and make their resources more accessible to individuals who might not be able to come to the CRPL building, Delecki said.
“This is our opportunity to really democratize that access and bring it out into our community to places that are historically underserved … and work to kind of bridge that gap between the home access that a select number of people in our community can have and that broader access that we need to really offer those opportunities equitably across the community,” Delecki said.
“We want to get kids that are young enough to still not have a lot of opportunity for exposure with these technologies, but we also want to get to adults and seniors who are finding more and more of a need to have to use these in their day-to-day life.”
The van will be at four parks Monday through Thursday and at Ladd Library on Fridays. The first visit to Ladd Library will be on Friday, June 4. The park visits will start the week of Monday, June 7.
• Mondays: Jacolyn Park, 198 Jacolyn Dr. NW, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. (except for July 5)
• Tuesdays: Hayes Park, 1924 D St. SW, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
• Wednesdays: Cleveland Park, 1600 8th Ave. SW, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
• Thursdays: Greene Square Park, 400 4th Ave. SE, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
• Fridays: Ladd Library parking lot, 3750 Williams Blvd SW, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
There will be a range of technologies available for kids and adults to explore, from laptops and tablets to soldering iron kits to Cricut machines.
There will also be microphones and headphones so individuals can learn the basis of podcasting, and a number of tools to get experience in coding and programming, such as Ozobots and Makey Makey circuits.
In addition to the different technologies, the van will also have registration for the library’s summer reading program, as well as books available for checkout.
“This is really our first opportunity to engage with the public in like 15 months,” Delecki said. “ … One of the things we’re really hoping to do this summer is rekindle the joy around reading, especially with kids.”
“These are all just different literacies that we want to help with the library. There’s reading literacy, there’s technological literacy, there’s all of these different things that we want to kind of build into our community. We’re hoping that these park visits really let us kind of hit across a broad domain of those.”
Work on the van began about two years ago, Delecki said, adding that the library was looking at ways to engage the community that were unexpected. There was also a goal of taking what the library has done in this physical building and bringing it out into the community to make the resources more accessible to everyone.
“The timing of this [work] really coincided with the library’s new strategic plan, which also launched a couple of years ago, in which we really focus on equity and inclusion and access,” Delecki said. “That made us take a really hard look at the services that we offered and provided and who we were missing by requiring physical presence in our buildings in order to participate.”
Funding from the Giacoletto Foundation allowed CRPL to purchase the van, as well as add shelving and other modifications. Additional support came from Collins Aerospace, the Alliant Energy Foundation, ITC Midwest and the CRPL Foundation.
Delecki said the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the initiative, as well as acquiring the actual van due to disruptions to the supply chain.
“We received the van back in February, … so we’ve really spent the last four months or so intensively diving into how we plan on using it, developing specific programs and activities, pulling together the equipment and materials that we need, which came through funding from the other organizations,” Delecki said.
There are also discussions ongoing about how to expand the program beyond the summer. Currently, the park visits are expected to run through mid-August, Delecki said.
One of the longer-term goals is to work with curriculum developers at schools, Delecki said. This would allow the library to create programs that align with what students are learning. Then the library could bring in its technology and materials to “go a step beyond” what might be available to students in the classroom, he added.
“We know that we’re not going to be the expert on all of these different technologies and next steps, and we also know that we’re not going to be able to train someone for a job that uses these. We don’t expect to be, and we don’t want to try to be. We’re really hoping that people can walk away having engaged with something that sparked their interest.”
If someone does become interested in a particular technology and wants to learn more, the library will work with community partners to point the person in the right direction of classes they can take or other next steps. Some of the partners include Kirkwood Community College, Iowa Workforce Development, IowaWORKS, New BoCo and the DeltaV Code School.
“We can’t offer a full semester-long class on computer-controlled welding,” Delecki said. “But if we get them to understand how to think in X, Y, and Z axes with a 3D printer or a laser cutter, and they find they enjoy that, then we can pass them along to Kirkwood, who does offer semester-long classes in that and really get them kind of rolling on that next piece of things.”
Delecki said the library will have someone from AmeriCorps VISTA starting in the fall, and their position will be based on expanding capacity of the technology initiative and give “their full attention on how we can best impact the community with the resources that we’ve been given.”
“We’re really thrilled and things are coming together really well,” Delecki said. “We’re just excited to get out into the community.”