Building the library of the future: Ilsley’s Media Lab is a modern-day secret passage

DANA HART, ILSLEY Public Library Director

A few weeks ago, a young library patron, perhaps five or six years old, asked to speak with me. He knew that a Project Team had been tasked with addressing the library’s facilities issues, and he had a suggestion; he told me quite seriously that the new library should have a secret passage. I assured him that we would do the best we could. Many children think of the library as a magical and exciting place, and I wasn’t surprised by this charming suggestion.

The more I thought about it, however, the more I warmed to the idea of the library as a kind of portal. In fact, I realized, the library already does have a secret passage of sorts: our Digital Media Lab. The Digital Media Lab is a sound baffled room tucked away in a corner of the library; you may have walked past it many times and not even known it is there. But this small room is a hidden gem in our community, and all you need to get inside is your library card.

Several years ago, Ilsley Public Library partnered with Middlebury Community Television to create the Digital Media Lab with the goal of increasing community access to technology. The lab features an iMac workstation with full Adobe Creative Cloud suite, studio grade audio recording capability, turntable, cassette player, VCR/DVD deck, and scanner. Patrons can receive free training on the equipment specific to their needs.

Community members use this room for an unbelievably wide variety of purposes. Many people use the lab to digitize archival materials. For example, lots of people have old family VHS tapes, but don’t want to purchase expensive conversion technology for a project that they could finish in a few hours. The Digital Media Lab enables the community to share these resources. Another popular use for the lab’s technology is for creative pursuits, such as recording a podcast, or producing music, or working on graphic design.

During the pandemic, the use of the Digital Media Lab for remote meetings has increased significantly. As it becomes more common to attend important events remotely, such as job interviews or conference presentations, reliable spaces with high-speed internet and high-quality sound and video equipment are absolutely essential. Because the lab is a private space and has sound baffling, community members can engage in telehealth appointments, a growing need in our community. As far as I know, it is the only free space in the entire community that supports telehealth.

The opportunities to grow the Digital Media Lab are limited only by the size of the facilities available, an issue we hope to address in the coming years. What new technology would spark your creativity? What resources would enable you to take the next step in your remote work? Libraries are in the business of managing shared resources, and we are here to support you in all of your digital endeavors.

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