A Love Letter to MACH1 at the Phoenix Public Library

Burton Barry Library Image Credit: Modular

On Saturday, July 15th, 2017, a powerful monsoon powered microburst hit downtown Phoenix, and severely damaged Phoenix’s Burton Barr library, resulting in an indefinite closure while repairs are underway. The MACH1 maker space took much of the damage, and will be closed for longer, possibly for months as repairs to the building and replenishing of hundreds of thousands of dollars in STEM and high tech maker space supplies are assessed and replaced. This has left the science community reeling, as parents and kids all around the valley were left with canceling of summer STEM programming (including our own Atomic Adventures!) and left without their home of science, innovation, creativity, and maker space fun.

At Hacker Haven, kids build and used their own iPhone microscopes

The Burton Barr Library has long been a beacon of science, art, literature, and technology for our city, as this beautiful building has housed architectural wonder, rare historical artifacts and documents (including documents from the city’s founding, and ancient clay tablets used on the Guttenberg Press!), support for arts and humanities, and of course, the expansive shelves filled with doors to worlds unknown, as the books within hold an infinite world of imagination for hearts that wander.

Much of the discussion following the storm has centered around the rare books, historical documents, and of course the expansive floors of knowledge within the library. But today, I’d like to take a look at that MACH1 room, on the fourth floor that is filled with science, opportunity, empowerment, innovation, and creativity for kids, teens, and adults in the Phoenix Community. The fourth floor has become a center of science and innovation with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of robotics equipment, Google and NASA funded space, programming, engineering, biology, and lab supplies. In the walls of our library, our community could find itself transported into an epic lab space, where curiosity reigned, and kids were empowered to use the tools of science to create and experiment with whatever their heart desires.

At Burton Barr, kids program their way through virtual reality!

Consider this a letter of love for our great maker space, and all that it stands for to this beautiful city in the sun, dedicated to the team of incredible science and childhood extraordinaires who have worked tirelessly over the years  to make this a place of magic, creativity, curiosity, and fun, for people of all walks of life.

Five years ago, I caught wind that a maker space would be opening in Phoenix, at the Burton Barr Central Library. Excited to see what opportunities for creativity awaited us, I stepped through the doors of the library, and into what would become a second home for my family, and a central place for science and joy in my community. In these walls, we found a bustling room filled with 3D printers, robots, drones, computers for programming, sewing machines, soldering irons, snap circuits galore, lego engineering sets, green screens and video labs, 3D animation and rendering programming, and so much more!

Our first day at MACH1 brought us to soldering circuits with Heat Sync Lab tech Alyson Zepeda

Our first forays into science here brought us into paper circuits and electrical engineering, where my daughter and kids just like her learned to use soldering irons to connect circuits, create their own Arduino programs, and make their own electronic creations come alive with the brilliance of light and electricity. Not only did the kids empower themselves with tools of the trade, but they had a blast too! I always thought of a library as a place where you went to read and research, and yet here, we were launching robots, flying quad helicopter drones, and having robot battles right in the library!

The Cyborg Mustangs with their Roboception Robot! Image: Cyborg Mustangs

After attending MACH1’s Hacker Haven for a few months, the director of the Maker Space, Terry Lawler, and I became great friends. Sharing a joy of science, and pure enthusiasm for sharing real science with kids, and high tech concepts, we would regularly burst with excitement over various ideas for new projects, activities, camps, workshops, and things the library could get to share with the kids. Terry Lawler and her staff took this space to the moon and back with hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant funded equipment from the likes of Google, NASA, and ASU. Partnerships and support brought high tech science to kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds, from all walks of life, from all schools, and from all situations. Soon, programs that would normally cost hundreds of dollars for kids to have access to through schools and private companies, were readily available for all the kids of Phoenix, for FREE!

My daughter and I became regular attendees at Phoenix’s amazing maker space, and soon we started bringing our own science experiments and explorations to MACH1! We explored chemistry, biology, electricity, magnetism, and engineering with hands on experiments that kids could really dive into. Soon, these weekly activities started shaping up into summer programs, and we looked forward to blasting forth through every summer with months of amazing science programming for kids!

Hacker Haven is a maker space, a place where kids can invent and create using tools of science and engineering, and the staff is absolutely encouraging of that mindset. In fact, one year, we started building a robot rocket car that would be powered by Mentos and Diet Coke. After working on it at Hacker Haven, the kids got super excited about it and asked if they could help too. The staff turned this into a month long engineering program, where kids exploded mentos and diet coke at the library and built their own race cars powered by Mentos and diet coke! Using cardboard, mentos, diet coke, and any wheel they wanted, they came up with some of the most creative car designs! There were race cars, Minecraft cars, unicorn cars, spaceships, and more! Then, the kids took them to the park behind the library, with library staff in tow, and we raced them for the rest of the evening!

We’ve even started taking our monthly Arizona Midday experiments to the library, we’ve followed up every episode with a trip to the library to share what we’ve experimented with, with the kids in our community. We’ve crushed cans with air pressure, caused brilliant color changes with chemistry, experimented with liquid metal and Gallium, made copious amounts of slime, held egg races and engineering challenges, raced aluminum cans with the power of static electricity, and more!

MACH1 has brought engineering to the kids of Phoenix. It has brought chemistry, biology, astronomy, exploration, and most importantly, the tools of exploration and curiosity that kids can use to empower themselves to their own discoveries.  They’ve hosted chemistry camps where kids extracted DNA from strawberries and made jewelry with them, explored acids and bases through color changing indicators and foaming fountains, experimented with the properties of polymers with slime of all kinds, built and launched rockets INSIDE THE LIBRARY, and we’ve explored the science of climate change, ocean acidification, currents and erosion, renewable energy, and astrophysics and astrobiology, with the kids in the MACH1 Maker Space!

The library isn’t just a place to go and read. The world of wonder isn’t confined to the shelves of the library spaces. The library is a place to find joy, excitement, creativity, crafting, science and engineering, tinkering, building, exploring, and the thrill of discovery. Our library is a place where kids are empowered by a staff that lifts them up with sincere enthusiasm and lets them shine with their own creativity and innovation. In our maker space, kids can do anything, and they do it with passion!

In fact, our MACH1 maker space at the Burton Barr Library, has become a shining example for libraries all around the country. It’s programs, equipment, supplies, and setup, have all become part of a template used for libraries to build their own maker spaces of creativity and innovation. It is in places like these, where kids from all walks of life are not held back by anything, but instead lifted up for them to reach their own great heights and see how much farther they can go. Libraries like ours are an institution of wonder, a celebration of life. Just as they celebrate the humanities, arts, culture, and worlds unknown within the pages of their books, they celebrate the life, excitement, curiosity, and wonder of experimentation, innovation, ingenuity, and growth. The growth of minds of all walks of life, through love, joy, community, and opportunity.

Phoenix Public Library, your community loves you so much. Your community is here for you, and is rallying behind you with offers of support, supplies, programming, and so much love. You’ve impacted so much onto the community, and it’s our turn to try to lift you up in the ways you’ve empowered us. We’re left reeling as our beloved library is closed due to damage. But while we wait for your doors to open, and your amazing programming to resume, at least we can look fondly at all we’ve accomplished in these walls, and the dreams that have come alive because of the support of your community and staff, that have brought this bustling place of wonder and science to life.

And in the meantime, we’ll be checking out the other wonderful libraries in our city to see what opportunities of science and creativity lie within their walls too!

Thanks for everything Burton Barr. We’ll see you soon.


Author’s Note: If you’d like to support the libraries restorative efforts, and contribute to the incredible funding this library has to offer the kids in our beautiful city, please consider donating to the Friends of the Phoenix Library! The friends is a non-profit, run by volunteers, whose sole passion is the Phoenix Public Library. Most of the funding for these programs comes directly from them. When you donate to the friends, you don’t pay for overhead or promotional costs. Every penny goes directly to the library and its supplies, equipment, and programming! 

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