In February 2015, Rebecca Stavick was appointed executive director of Omaha’s first digital library, the newly-named Do Space, scheduled to launch in November. The new role is a logical bridge between Stavick’s previous five years as staff development specialist at Omaha Public Library (OPL) and her work as cofounder of Open Nebraska, which she describes as “a citizen-led civic hacking organization dedicated to solving community problems through civic application development, open data advocacy, and tech education.”
Do Space, which calls itself “a technology library, a digital workshop, and an innovation playground,” will be administered and operated by Community Information Trust, a nonprofit 501(c)3 created and funded by the local philanthropic group Heritage Services. While the project is in part the brain child of former OPL director Gary Wasdin, it is not part of the library system, although patrons will be able to use their OPL library card to access its resources. LJ caught up with Stavick as she gets ready for Do Space’s grand opening this fall.
How did you end up becoming Omaha’s first digital librarian?
It’s my dream job, for sure. I worked OPL for almost 5 years. My last position there was in staff development, leadership development, and I also worked on outreach into the tech and startup communities. In addition to that I’m a cofounder of Open Nebraska. I’m one of the leaders of that organization. It all came together with my background in tech and in libraries—it was just sort of a perfect fit. I started about mid-February, and I’ve been doing this ever since.
It’s at OPL that I developed a real passion for serving the community and a passion for doing so with technology. Even if you’re just answering a very simple technology question, the impact that has on a person’s life is so powerful, there’s nothing like it. What motivates me is knowing that this project is going to have an incredible impact on the community here. I find that really inspiring.
How would you describe Do Space?
Essentially Do Space is a public technology library and an innovation space for everyone in the community, and it’s totally free. The goal is to really empower the community with the guidance and education they need to learn and create using technology. We’re looking at developing interesting and unique programs to serve everyone, from total beginners who might be using a computer for the very first time all the way through more advanced folks who may want to come in and use AutoCAD to design something, or want to use a 3-D printer to prototype the next big thing.
What are some of the features you have planned?
Inside the facility we’re going to have a variety of Macs and PCs available for everyone, including all the basic types of software that you might find in a normal public library. But in addition to that we’ll have more advanced software, like the Adobe Suite and AutoCAD-type design tools. We’re also going to have a central production station with printers, including a large-format printer. Also we’ll have a bunch of e-readers and an ebook kiosk—we’re partnering with Omaha Public Library to insure that their existing collections are available in the space. In addition to that we’ll have some flexible conference and meeting rooms for group work, a dedicated children’s area, and a dedicated teen space with different kinds of resources.
Our 3-D lab, which is going to be on the first floor right when you walk in, is not so much of a full Maker space—we won’t have big saws or anything like that. We’re really focusing on 3-D technologies. Since we are challenged just like public libraries to serve everyone in the community, I’m looking at equipment and programming that helps facilitate learning among children, beginners, middle schoolers, teens, adults who are maybe approaching it for the very first time, and then for professionals as well. I’m looking at a few professional-level machines that would help facilitate architectural 3-D modeling, medical prototyping—appealing to that entrepreneur [who] might be coming in looking to build something that might launch their big idea.
What’s the space itself like?
We’ve got a landing page up with a few renderings of what the exterior of the building will look like, and a handful of interior renderings. The physical space is a former Borders bookstore, and we’ve completely gutted the inside. We’re redoing everything… the exterior as well. You won’t be able to tell it had ever been a Borders.
It’s a two-level building and it’s located at the busiest intersection in Omaha, 72nd Street and Dodge—that’s the very center of Omaha. It was a strategic decision to choose that location, because equitable access to the facility is really critical. That intersection serves as a transit hub for Omaha, so it’s easier to get to that intersection via the bus system than nearly anywhere else in the city.
How will you be pulling in community members?
Right now I’m creating partnerships with local organizations, community groups, universities. I’m partnering with Omaha public schools to see how we can help support their existing curriculum in terms of STEAM.
Who will your be working with?
I’ve just hired for two positions—they’ll be starting in the next few weeks. One is the director of community learning. That person is going to be focused on everything that happens in the space—programs, events, workshops. The other is the director of technology, who is in charge of helping the public answer tech questions—they’ll be in charge of the 3-D lab, and be the public face of IT troubleshooting in the space. And then each of those directors will be leading a team of folks to help support those missions. I will also be hiring for community technologists and community learning specialists in the coming month, and I’ll be looking for an operations manager, more of a traditional businessperson who has experience with facilities, work orders, and scheduling.
How is Do Space funded?
The funding is entirely through private donations. It’s all been set up through Heritage Services…. They spent a few years doing research on this topic, and saw that there’s a real need in Omaha for this type of project. Heritage Services then set up Community Information Trust, which is operating it through 2019.
Can you talk a bit about Open Nebraska?
We call it a civic volunteer organization, but essentially it’s a Code for America brigade. It’s a bunch of volunteers—mostly web developers, designers, community advocates, and librarians—and we all get together and use open data from the local area or from the state level to create web tools and apps so that the public can access it a little better. For instance, if you have a raw dataset of transportation data, let’s say from the city of Omaha or Lincoln, talented web designers and developers can take that data and create an interactive map. Really, the key part of that kind of volunteer work is tech for the social good. It’s about really talented technologists stepping up and saying, “I’ve got something to contribute to the community and I want to be able to help.”
Open Nebraska will probably be doing a rebrand in the next few months or so, but I think there’s definitely opportunity to do some initiative with volunteers at Do Space. One thing that we saw with Open Nebraska is that a lot of local nonprofits need help—they need people to give their websites a little bit of a makeover, or something like that. I could definitely see some designers or developers coming in to Do Space and working on those types of community projects on a volunteer basis.
What are you reading?
Over the weekend the Omaha Public Library Foundation had a fundraiser, and I got to meet Wally Lamb and bought his book, We Are Water. So that’s what I’m reading right now.