A critical component of breaking the cycle of violence in areas such as Atlantic City is providing youths with alternatives to the lure of drugs and gangs.
The Atlantic City Free Public Library - with offerings that go well beyond a library's traditional services - is proving to be an important player in that effort.
A program called Makerspace is the latest option at the library that makes learning attractive to local teens. It is part of a national movement to offer resources that help kids turn their ideas into something tangible.
In Atlantic City, Makerspace is targeted at youths 13 to 18 years old and includes a 3-D printer, a sewing machine, digital audio recording equipment, photography and video resources, and robotics and engineering kits. Officials tout it as a safe place to learn, create and explore. (We particularly like the idea of today's digitally focused teens learning to use a sewing machine.)
Teen services librarian Megan England, who will oversee the site in the library's Teen Lounge, deserves credit for writing the application for the $7,500 grant from the New Jersey State Library and LibraryLinkNJ, the program's primary source of funding. The Atlantic City library, which is headed by director Maureen Frank, is one of only 15 libraries in the state to get one of the grants.
For weeks as the Makerspace area was being prepared, England said students were asking what the equipment was, how it worked and if they could try it. That enthusiasm is part of what will make the hands-on program a success.
"Talent is also about having the opportunity," England says.
The dedication ceremony for the program last week included treats made with a New Jersey-shaped cookie cutter created by digital-services librarian Ben Saracco on the 3-D printer; "Make AC" buttons made on another machine; and plenty of interest from kids who did everything from learning how the sewing machine works to using a Snap Circuits board to send a plastic disc flying.
City and library officials have good reason to be proud of the Makerspace program and the educational - and social - value it and other programs at the library provide.