A small robot inched its way along the floor of the Nan Boothby Memorial Library last week, following its electronic nose through a maze after a few simple touches of a button by a child.
And while the little girl may have thought she was just playing with the coolest new toy, engaging with the tiny tech-gadget is actually a pre-cursor to a career in computer programming when she grows up.
“It’s amazing how technology helps kids,” said retired teacher Gord Toombs, as he demonstrated how to manoeuvre the robot around. “It’s not super advanced, but it’s enough to get kids interested. They learn how to do it at an early age.”
The robotics equipment – six Lego Mindstorm kits and six laptop computers – is just some of several interactive tools now available at the library as part of its new Learning Lab, which was unveiled to the public last Thursday.
The Nan raised $6,600 from its annual summer book sale and another $8,800 from the Rotary Club of Cochrane to fund the collection of cool gizmos. Anyone with a library card can sign out materials for use while in the building.
In addition to programming robots, patrons can also design and print intricate cards with the Cricket paper cutting machine, make their own jewelry, hem a pair of pants with a sewing machine, and play a piano with their feet – among many other things.
The various accoutrements can also be paired with books from the library’s collection to help learn the tricks of each trade.
Executive director Jeri Maitland said the lab has been designed specifically to make learning fun for Cochrane’s community of library users.
“We really, really want to focus on the educational component of it,” she said. “We want people to come in, use it – be creative, be inspired … It’s really meant for you to figure it out and learn.”
Maitland said staff are planning events and programs involving the new lab equipment for the new year – including a robotics club, to run for up to 10 weeks for children ages eight to 14.
Toombs said he’s excited to see these types of unique – and accessible – educational opportunities opening up for area youth.
“It’s a neat thing because not every school, not every community, has these available,” said Toombs. “I think it will help their education. For these kids, (it) can do so much.”
Anyone with a library card has access to a slew of interactive educational tools as part of the Nan Boothby Memorial Library’s new Learning Lab:
The Cricket Paper Cutter
Scrapbooking and Cardmaking Materials
Make Your Own Jewelry
Go Pro action camera
Graphic Novel Making Software
Green Screen Technology
Mini Lab for Young Children (coding and music games, step piano, loom)