Sparta Public Library: the next generation

'A creative learning space'

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  • A virtual museum photos by Liam Donovan

  • Local entrepreneurs create prototypes on the 3D printer

  • Sam Deeney, in the orange shirt, is playing Fruit Ninja in VR while brother Calvin watches the monitor

  • Calvin Deeney creating a tornado, or something

Liam Donovan

— This is no longer your grandparents’ library. There are still books, but they are surrounded with new neighbors — video games, Blu-Ray discs, a 3D printer, a virtual reality system. Walk in the door at 22 Woodport Road and you enter a new world.

“Cal, this must be a tornado,” young Sam Deeney, 8, said to his brother Calvin, 5, who was inside the Sparta Library’s HTC Vive virtual reality system.

A number of blue lines were appearing on the computer monitor from the two virtual reality ‘wands’ with which Calvin was drawing. Calvin himself had goggles and headphones on, deeply immersed in VR.

“It’s been about a week and a half since we’ve gotten it,” said Joseph Rossi, Sparta Library technology assistant referring to the virtual reality system. “It’s been a couple of years for the 3D printer.”

Sparta Library has made a number of other technological additions in the past few years. Collections of video games and Blu-Ray discs now accompany the collections of books and magazines.

“I think we have more to offer than other libraries technology-wise, with the 3D printer and virtual reality. We’re trying to get more active with new technology, so people will come in and use it,” Rossi said.

“We’re not afraid to go ahead with things early,” Sparta Library IT Supervisor David Costa said. “We’re starting to gain some popularity with the 3D printer, we’re going ahead with VR.”

Users must sign up to learn how to use the printer. After training, they can sign up for time to print designs.

“High school students print robot parts, entrepreneurs print prototypes, we’ve had custom design items… We’ve seen a large array of objects being printed with it,” Costa said.

Is Sparta Library unique in its technological developments, or are other libraries taking steps to offer services beyond physical books?

“I think what you are finding at the Sparta Library is typical for public libraries today. They are experimenting with new technology based on what they think the interests of their community are,” said Kay Cassell, an assistant professor of Library Science at Rutgers University.

Sparta’s Costa said many people are just not aware of what the library has to offer.

“I think most resources are under-utilized,” he said. “Not to say that they are not used because they are to a great extent. It is just that we have a number of services that I think the general public would use if they knew that they could get the items here,” Costa said.

Sparta Library’s website also offers a number of digital services for library patrons. Key features are Hoopla, a digital subscription service similar to Netflix that allows users to borrow ebooks, movies, music and audiobooks, and Rosetta Stone, the language-learning software.

“Rosetta Stone is very popular,” Costa said. “Electronic systems are easy and easy to use… That’s always a good first step, the website.”

There is also a surprising and almost comical list of non-traditional items the library has to loan, available at You can borrow physical objects from hot dog machines and canopies to video cameras and iPad minis.

“The steps your library is taking are forward-looking and of a piece with what many similar libraries are doing,” Marc Aron, another Rutgers assistant professor of Library Science, said. “Whether or not a library adds a 3-D printer, many are creating ‘Makerspaces’ where young people and adults can craft, build, engineer, record -- make use of their creative, scientific, innovative skills.

“America used to a be called a nation of tinkerers, people who experimented, tried out things in the homes, garages, backyards. We became passive, waiting for companies to sell us the latest product or app. But now more and more people of all ages want to get back to doing everything from knitting and throwing pots to creating their own apps and films.

Aron said libraries are playing a leading role in helping people explore their talents in creative ways.

“It looks like Sparta is joining in this exciting movement,” he said. “A library is not a warehouse for books. It is a creative learning space that features print and digital materials of all sorts.”

Just ask Calvin Deeney, the tornado maker.

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