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La Grange library to broaden its digital scope

Tribune reporter

A media lab coming to the La Grange Public Library basement will give cardholders new tools to navigate an increasingly digital world.

Preliminary plans for the "digital media lab" include equipment and space to record music, make videos and arrange photo shoots, along with new software and courses in how to use all of the equipment, Library Director Jeannie Dilger said.

The library began developing plans for the lab after holding community discussions about what to do with a $50,000 Legislative Initiative Grant that state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford funneled to the library to help implement technology, Dilger said.

"What we're really hearing is the need for digital media production," she said.

An approximately 500-square-foot space will likely include an electronic drum set and keyboard, high-end digital cameras, studio lighting and other tools, she said. Students told library staff they could use the equipment to work on school video projects and could use it to record high-quality audition tapes for colleges. Local business owners said they could use the space to make short promotional videos.

The proposed lab is similar to others that have sprung up in libraries in the greater Chicago area in recent years, as the venerable institution moves from its role as a repository of information to a place where people seek to collaborate with one another and create content.

"First it was fax machines, and then it was computers and internet," said Jeffrey Fisher, studio services manager at Bolingbrook's Fountaindale Public Library. "So to have people be digital content creators is a natural extension of the library."

Fountaindale built a $3 million digital media space that opened last year. The 7,000-square=foot space, called "Studio 300," includes six soundproofed audio booths, two video suites, high-definition cameras, 18 iMac computers running the latest digital media software, musical equipment and television rooms, Fisher said.

"You can sit in the library and look like you're on a million-dollar set," he said.

Fisher and six part-time staff help cardholders use the equipment. Over 1,000 cardholders per month use the studio, he said. The library has about 49,000 cardholders, a spokeswoman said in an email.

The $3 million cost of the studio included installing a costly ventilation system, Fisher said. The equipment itself was closer to $300,000, he estimated. The money for the studio came from a $39.5 million referendum to rebuild Fountaindale.

Smaller digital media labs in the area have also been popular. Arlington Heights Memorial Library spent about $30,000 on an 875-square-foot space that opened near the beginning of 2013, library staffers said. Five studios in the space are equipped with instruments, including turntables and microphones, as well as software and audio and video recording equipment.

"The word has spread," Digital Services Manager Amy Pelman said. "People have definitely come, and we're seeing a greater demand of people looking for things like (the editing program) Photoshop and stuff like that."

The library, with about 47,000 cardholders, averages 200 to 300 reservations per month for its digital media studios, Pelman said.

The La Grange library has begun working with an architecture firm on possible designs for the space, which will likely be located in a space that is now a storage room on the library's lower level. Dilger said she expects the Library Board to select a final design this summer and bid the project around September, after which construction would start.

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