West Hartford’s Noah Webster Library Opens New Tech Lab

WEST HARTFORD — The Noah Webster Library has opened its new technology lab, Studio 20 South.

In development since last year, the lab offers customers a new way to use the library, staff said, and is a much-needed technology upgrade for the facility.

“We had very outdated technology that we used to teach classes and host webinars,” said Jae Douglas, Collection Services Librarian. “We had a really old Smart Board and some old hardware. We decided we needed all the upgraded gear, so we might as well get some other gear we didn’t have and dedicate the whole room to offer a whole host of technological services.

During the pandemic, the library emptied its computer lab, distributing computers throughout the library to accommodate social distancing. This opened up the space that has now become Studio 20 South.

“We moved the computers from here to the floor,” said Andrew Piro, the adult services librarian. “We had this large space to use as a good footprint and location in the library. We wanted to see something unique here while still offering the services we embraced during the pandemic, with the computers scattered around.

The tech lab features a variety of equipment including a 3D printer, audio production hardware and software, a Cricut machine, conversion machines capable of turning VHS tapes and vinyl records into digital files, production equipment video and virtual reality headsets.

Carol Waxman, the director of children’s services, was the acting director of the library during the planning phase of the technology lab. She said it was something that was overdue for the library, and they just needed space to do it.

“We listened to the audience to see what they were asking for,” Waxman said. “We also looked at what other libraries were offering. We wanted to try to meet those needs. This can bring a new dimension to learning. Instead of just using a computer, they will learn something new.

Laura Irmscher started in January as the new library director as the lab came together. She said it’s another way for a library to redefine itself.

“When I got on board, I was so excited to learn more about this space and all the work the team had done to plan this,” Irmscher said. “One of the big opportunities here is that people struggle to have individual access to the kinds of things that we have. It takes a lot of time, knowledge, or resources to be able to use some of the software that we have. You you just need access to things. It really aligns with our goals and our mission to provide access to new and innovative things.”

Irmscher said she and the rest of the staff are thrilled now that the lab setup is complete. Now, they said, it’s up to customers how they want to use it.

“We’re excited to see what the community is doing with it,” Irmscher said. “We set it up, and we’re kind of flipping it. We’re curious to see what things we didn’t think they might see here and have ideas or what interest it might spark in them.

The library has also seen the recent addition of a study pod, a private soundproof booth that sits on the floor of the library and can accommodate up to four people. The booth gave the library much-needed private study and tutoring space, Waxman said.

The new technology has also spread to the Bishops Corner branch of the library with the addition of smart lockers outside the building that allow patrons to retrieve reserved books at any time.

Karen Polmatier, branch operations manager, said the lockers made sense to them since the branch has more limited hours and because they’ve seen an increase in curbside pickup during the pandemic.

“That’s why we started this project here,” Polmatier said. “That’s because we have more limited hours and when we were closed during COVID the sidewalk stats were through the roof. We have a real readership on this side of town, so we wanted a way to try to continue this curbside service even after the library reopens without having to leave a table full of books outside at all moment. It was the perfect solution.

The lockers have been in use since October, and Polmatier said its 21 lockers are generally in use, but the fast turnaround time for customers allows them to continue taking requests and refilling lockers for the next user.

“We will usually end each day with between two and five lockers available,” Polmatier said. “People pick themselves up very quickly. We arrive the next day and more than half have already been collected.

The tech lab has been open so far on a trial basis, with set hours and required appointments. This will be the model going forward, the library said. Lab schedules and appointment information can be found online.

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