Innisfil Public Library receives the 2015 OLITA Project Award for 'Cultivating a Hacker Ethic'


Susan Downs, Chief Librarian/CEO of Innisfil Public Library, received the 2015 Ontario Library and Information Technology Association (OLITA) Project Award for the library's "Cultivating a Hacker Ethic" program. The award was presented on January 28, 2015, by Daniel Boivin, Executive Director, OCLC Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, during the Ontario Library Association's (OLA) Super Conference. The OLITA Project Award is sponsored by OCLC Canada.

As part of Innisfil Public Library's (IPL) 2012 strategic planning process, the library identified the need to evolve in order to remain relevant and continue to provide value to its community. Sound familiar? Having been temporarily displaced during renovations to IPL's main branch, staff members took over a vacant commercial space. Instead of simply replicating the old branch, IPL created the Innisfil ideaLab—a hacker lab where traditional library materials and maker equipment exist symbiotically.

"Community members can design and create unique projects using our 3D printers, vinyl and laser cutters," said Susan. "They can play, record and edit music or videos in the digital media lab; use a green screen for special effects, build a robot, or solder simple electronics projects, sculptures and jewelry. Local entrepreneurs have access to the equipment to develop and create marketing packages, websites, vinyl signs, promotional videos and business cards."

What made this project stand out for OLITA's Project Award Committee was that IPL adopted a hacker ethic. This cultural shift was embedded in every aspect of the library's daily operations, as well as in the creation of new initiatives:

  • Modified staff positions and responsibilities to reflect its new direction
  • Altered board and staff meetings to include hands-on training, including electronics and maker projects
  • Launched the "Check out a skill" program to enable community members to book one-on-one training in particular technologies
  • Integrated new technologies into after-school programs, including Hour of Code, Makey Makey, Leap Motion, LEGO Mindstorms
  • Hosted monthly Maker Meetups
  • Secured licensing permission from Make Magazine to host a Mini Maker Faire in 2015.

From left: Shelagh Paterson, Executive Director of Ontario Library Association, Dan Scott, President of OLITA, Susan Downs, Innisfil Public Library Chief Librarian/CEO, and Daniel Boivin, Executive Director, OCLC Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean

The response? One community member remarked: "Have you been to the Library recently? You should see it! They moved into an old Shoppers Drug Mart and you should see what they've done with the place! Just incredible! Amazing really! They've got laser cutters and 3D printers! And the staff is just so friendly!"

IPL has also developed many new partnerships and enhanced existing relationships. IPL has worked with the local school board to host 72 workshops on 3D Design and Printing, which drew nearly 2,000 students during 2013–2014. IPL also provided professional development training for the Simcoe County School Board in green screen technologies, and have connected with the Innisfil Chamber of Commerce, the Alcona Business Association, many local small businesses, and various community groups.

Another member of the community, James Hardie, commented, "The Innisfil Public Library has been boundless in their enthusiasm for the application and sharing of technology both with the residents of Innisfil and the businesses (like my own) that now count themselves as proud partners. I can't speak to what makes a library outstanding, but perhaps a community hub filled with dynamic individuals inspiring us and teaching us to explore and create with technologies found nowhere else in our region, might 'fit the bill.' And if it doesn't, it should."

IPL staff have actively shared their successes far beyond Ontario via blog posts, newspaper articles and radio interviews. They have presented across the country and provided tours to the library community. And in June 2015, Susan will give a presentation on "Cultivating a Hacker Ethic" as part of the Symposium on Innovation and Canadian Libraries at the Canadian Library Association's National Conference and Trade Show.