Houstonians now have access to some of the hottest software and multimedia technology available and, believe it or not, it's completely free at the Houston Public Library.
For kids still trying to work out whether they want to grow up to become Paul Wall, Gina Gaston or a Studio Ghibli animator, HPL's TECHLink can serve as a crash course in music production, animation, 3D printing and broadcasting, but the take home is an actual completed project.
The answer to the age old question, "What did you do this summer?," just got way more interesting.
But don't for a second think that TECHLink is just for teens. Gramps can spend an afternoon converting his vinyl to MP3 while Granny burns those obsolete VHS movies onto CDs. The toddler set can explore letters, colors and animals on table-sized tablets while preteens hone their math and reading skills on award-winning games.
Or, if you're a professional musician like AndyRoo, you might be so inspired by TECHLink that you're ready to compose and record a song on the spot. Titled "Welcome to the Library," his lyrics remind us that the library is "a place where you can do almost anything" (except go swimming).
Roland Lemonius, TECHLink's senior manager, says this is just the first of 17 planned locations that will be spread throughout the region over the next three to four years. The Scenic Woods Regional Library, northeast of downtown near Little York, was shuttered for more than a year while the library was fitted with this new technology.
"It’s been very heartwarming to see parents with kids come on in and be astonished at what technology they find," says Lemonius, adding that HPL intentionally placed the first TECHLink in a disadvantaged area in hopes of paving the way towards careers in creativity.
"That was by design to give people ideas of creative pursuits that they can turn into a business. Someone can take a creative idea, a music video, and take it from conception to prototyping. They can walk away with a CD, MP3, edit their music video," says Lemonius.
"Technology today I believe is actually as important as information was in the early days of the library," says Lemonius, adding that providing equitable access across all regions is critical. "The name TECHLink is a take on the library’s mission, we’re linking customers to the technology."
The Houston Public Library also is committed to making sure the technology and software stay current in the years to come.
"We had a customer, Malcolm Smith, whose father was an artist and there were slides of his work that needed to be archived. Malcolm said he went to several professionals and camera stores but no one had the technology to digitize his slides," says Lemonius. Smith found that scanning technology at Scenic Woods and has already digitized his father's slides.
Patrons can attend a one-hour workshop or orientation before beginning their project, and staffers are on hand if there are questions about a piece of equipment. Lemonius says they're giving daily tours throughout the space and creators and makers can reserve the TECHLink equipment and studios online.
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Early reports are that visitors don't want to leave the stations, and it might be surprising to learn which area is getting the most traffic. "By and large the most popular item is the embroidery machine. It’s hugely popular," says Lemonius.
Houston Public Library's TECHLink:
Graphic Design & Art: paint and draw, graphic design, animations
Digital Creative Space: innovation (3D, VR, embroidery), preservation (photos, videos)
Music Studio: sound, amplifiers, microphones, instruments, mixers, monitors, effects, digital audio workstations, virtual instruments, effects software
Tiny Techs: games, learning, tablets, coding, art
Video Studio: sound, video recording equipment and accessories, video and photo creation and editing software
Workshops: artistic suites/embroidery design, TinkerCAD 3D design, CrazyTalk Animator 3
Houston Public Library's TECHLink is at Scenic Woods Regional Library, open noon to 8 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays, 10677 Homestead, 832-393-2407, houstonlibrary.org/techlink.