Digital Frontier

Garrison library to add innovation, technology lab

By Alison Rooney

The Desmond-Fish Library in Garrison has hired a new digital services coordinator and plans by March to open an innovative technology lab on its lower level.

Ryan Biracree (Photo provided)

The library’s new hire, Ryan Biracree, 32, succeeds Pam McCluskey, who left in August to join the Technical Education Department at BOCES Putnam/Westchester, which serves school districts.

McCluskey, who held the title of cybrarian, was a force in bringing computer education to the library. She taught classes and labs, offered weekly tech support to patrons, and founded a robotics club and Project Code Spring, an afterschool program that became so popular it had to stop accepting participants for lack of computers and data capacity, said library Director Jen McCreery.

The momentum from these programs led to the Innovation and Learning Center, under construction in a space formerly used by the Friends of the Desmond-Fish to store used books for its annual sale.

The center was funded through donations, state grants and contributions from NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital, the Cold Spring Lions Club and the library’s trustees, McCreery said. More than $175,000 has been raised, with another $10,000 to go and a matching grant in place through Dec. 31.

Biracree envisions the space serving not just Garrison but the region, with the goal of making digital and cultural literacy more than “a privilege for people who can afford to be a part of it,” he says. “There’ll be all sorts of instruction, from how to use those new devices you got during the holidays to password management, along with weekly meetings for adults to introduce technology — everything from Snapchat to learning what exactly Russian hackers are. We’ll also have a weekly work-from-home coffee house.

A design by Janko Rasic Inc. of the new technology center at the Desmond-Fish Library (Image provided)

“It’s a space that’s for the community, so the community can have a lot of say in what’s offered,” he says.

Project Code Spring will continue and, if there’s a demand, a session specifically for girls will be offered, he says.

Biracree sees the Innovation and Learning Center compelling children and teenagers to interact with not just machines but each other.

“Space like this won’t leave kids enslaved to social media or video games,” he says. “Most people will be working on projects and opening ways of thinking that they never had before. We’ll take a toy apart, do circuit-bending and work with kits.

“Kids now are using video games to make things and explore new worlds. They’re not always fighting zombies — they’re building simple machines and they’re networking, working together. It can look like fiddling around but it’s actually designing, building and problem-solving.”

Inside the Center

Here is a sampling of what the Innovation and Learning Center at the Desmond-Fish Library in Garrison plans to offer:

An Oculus virtual-reality headset

3-D printers, printing services and a 3-D scanner
A recycler that turns plastics into 3-D printer raw material
High-end digital equipment for drawing and moviemaking
High-end video and photo software
A recording studio
Three green screens, including one for stop-motion
A robotics studio and flooring in a pattern easily recognized by robots
Two walls to display panel-light programming
An interactive whiteboard for videoconferencing
A head-mounted Google Glass
An Oculus virtual-reality headset

Biracree, who lives in Beacon with his wife and their 2-year-old daughter, is a graduate of Bennington College, where he double majored in poetry and computer music. “There was a lot of production work involved,” he says of the latter. “We built a big machine out of old toys soldered together and used mathematics to create music.”

Before attending Sarah Lawrence to earn a master’s in poetry, Biracree was employed at the American Academy of Poets, where he helped maintain its website and directed an audio archives built from 75 years of reel-to-reel tapes.

Pam McCluskey during a Project Code Spring session at the former “ad hoc” corner used for computer education in the library’s basement. (Photo provided)

Before coming to Desmond-Fish, Biracree taught literature at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx, where he says he observed students using technology in ways that were “inner extensions of their thoughts and selves,” he says, although they didn’t always seem to realize it.

For more on the plans, see The Innovation and Learning Center will have the same hours as the library.

9 thoughts on “Digital Frontier

  1. Sorry to go all negative on this, but I am not impressed with this project and, in fact, I think it is mostly a waste of money. Just a few things off the top of my head that are troublesome:

    We are already paying millions of dollars every year in school taxes to do pretty much the same things that this tech center proposes to do. I have no problem with how people want to spend their money, but it should be noted that this is a duplication of services that are already being provided by our school districts.

    Also, if the goal is “making digital and cultural literacy” more than “a privilege for people who can afford to be a part of it,” how about promoting a little bit of plain, old-fashioned literacy and culture instead of another visit to the Short Attention Span Theater?

    Even the so-called cutting edge technology is old hat: Google Glass was long ago discredited and has gone by the wayside.

    Finally, I would like to point out that Screen Addiction is a very real problem in our community and all over the world, especially with our young people. If you go to any coffee shop in our area, you will see the kids sitting together at a table, not talking to each other but clicking and swiping their screens. That is what passes for socialization these days. We do not need more “virtual” reality in our lives, we need more reality and human contact that is unfiltered by some device that is designed to take away our intelligence and humanity.

    • I entirely agree with your comments about “promoting a little bit of plain, old-fashioned literacy and culture instead of another visit to the Short Attention Span Theater” and screen addiction.

      So much that passes under the rubric of “social media” and “technology” is in fact little more than social and cultural manipulation. This is not to say that earlier modern communication methods such as print, radio, film and television were not or do not remain as well primarily methods of manipulating reality, typically deployed by society’s elites, owners, and rulers in their interests alone. And certainly the industry of manipulation is enormous, perhaps the largest of all industries in the world, and which offers and will continue to offer thousands if not millions of good paying jobs. These fields of employment would be better and more honestly described by terms like “manipulation, propaganda, and artificial reality” as opposed to more commonly used and plain vanilla designations like “media, technology, and advertising.”

      It will be equally important if not more so to train everyone in the techniques of detecting manipulation than in techniques of creating or propagating it. That might require more wisdom than is currently available.

      • Glad that you got the point I was trying to make. I have nothing against teaching people all the latest computer and electronic stuff, but it should come after our children have a good grasp of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Sounds old fashioned, right? But what’s wrong with that? We are in uncharted territory when one of the founders of Facebook now comes out and says that he feels guilty for unleashing it on society, claiming that it tears families apart, etc. etc.

        I have seven grandchildren and can tell you firsthand that even the younger ones are getting many hours of screen time every single day in their schools as well as whatever else they do at home. By definition this is an addiction when you can’t go a few hours, let alone a day without getting your “fix.” I think that every chance we get, we as adults should be doing what we can to bring our families back into the real world and out of the matrix.

  2. You’re really stretching to find a negative here. The demand for technology help is huge and continues to grow. Project CodeSpring introduced a lot of kids to coding and several of them are well on their way to great careers based on some of the things they learned from Pam. As this article says, they had to turn kids away it became so popular. I wish the library well with this and applaud their effort. Remember, non-students can’t just walk into Haldane and ask to use the tech equipment the kids are learning on. Providing a space that adults can go to, for free, and get technology help is a great service to the community. I can’t wait to check it out.

  3. Teaching children technology and how to be fluent in coding is a version of literacy that we must provide. Let’s say they want to grow up and have two Etsy stores to sell jewelry? This library even taught a class on Etsy! Having a background and a public library to assist them in their dreams and aspirations is invaluable.

    This library even has holiday events for them to help locals succeed in translating online sales to local ones. Hanging on to old-fashioned ways of communication is never going to help kids. We don’t etch things in stone anymore. We can trust this careful, beautiful library to make sound decisions with our tax money. Can’t wait to see this new space and bring my children there.

  4. I just saw these comments. I worked for seven years to help bring a computer lab to the library. Here’s a short list of services I provided to adults and small business owners for free the last year I worked at the library:

    * 5 websites created in either Wix or WordPress
    * 9 Etsy shops opened
    * Taught a dog groomer how to post before and after photos on Instagram and Facebook
    * Replaced the RAM on a computer that was “dead” and then backing up all the data
    * Recovered the contacts and photos from a crushed phone
    * Held two different classes on cybersecurity
    * Ran a workshop on fake news and the tools to stop it

    But I am going to address your legitimate concern of too much screen time for kids and tech addiction. It is a serious problem. You are both right that it needs to be addressed and I did that at Project Code Spring. My focus with many kids was the difference between screen use and screen time. Screen use means you are collaborating and communicating with others, through technology, to create something new or to improve someone’s life. Screen time is drooling in front of device and forgetting the world around you.

    I helped countless parents learn how to lock their WiFi routers and also how to use K9 Web-protection (free software) to create time limits and to block sites. I then sat down with kids and parents to create screen-use “contracts” between them. We would outline specifically what the screen use would be in their home and what sanctions would be implemented (with K9) if rules were broken. Rewards would be outlined too. For instance, if a child got off the screen five minutes before the K9 timer went off, they would earn five minutes of extra Minecraft time on their permitted hour on Saturday morning. Learning to “bank” the time helped kids learn time-management skills in a meaningful and positive way. Parents would then use K9 to set the Saturday timer to reflect the extra minutes.

    Lastly, the contract would outline screen-free rooms and days. Sundays would be the screen-free day, or kitchen table and bedrooms would be screen-free zones.

    The contract was not all about the kids, either. Kids learn what they see. It was outlined that parents also could not use their screens in those rooms or on the screen-free day. They promised to model good screen use in the contract. I told them they had to get a real alarm clock. Using the phone as an alarm clock, shows the kids you look at your screen first thing in the morning and then last thing in the evening. I told the parents they had to stop using Facebook, Instagram or commenting online for a week to reflect on their own overuse of screens. Again, kids model what they see.

    The contracts we drew up at the library were successful in stopping and preventing screen addiction because I could teach parents how to use the K9 software and kids saw their parents had the ability to control and protect them online. I really believe both kids and parents are nervous about being online. Parents feel they have no control and kids felt pushed by peers to go to uncomfortable places online. The contracts relieved much stress for both parties so they could create with technology and not just consume technology.

    The above was not something covered in the schools and we did it at the library.

    I have moved on to a different job, but still love my Library and this community. Any parent who needs help with screen addiction, can just email me at [email protected] or pop into the library and see Ryan. I will never waiver from my commitment to digital literacy.

    • Thank you very much for your thoughtful comments and information. I am pleasantly surprised to know that you share our concerns about “screen addiction” and kids spending too much time in the virtual world. I am also impressed that you helped with setting up the Wix websites and Etsy shops as well as the other things you did in your time at the library.

      One thing that caught my eye was your statement that you “ran a workshop on fake news and the tools to stop it.” It seems to me that “fake news” is in the eyes of the beholder and I would be curious as to what you consider to be “fake news” as opposed to “real news.” Also, what tools did you recommend to stop someone from getting “fake news?”