Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Microcontrollers & Libraries: More Than Just Reading About MCUs

Libraries are places where people in a community go for information.

Some libraries are starting to provide more information about microcontrollers (MCUs) than just books for you to check out and take home with you to read. Around the USA, libraries in cities large and small are starting to offer hands on classes that involve working with MCUs, most often Arduinos.

Doing a search on Google News for libraries currently offering classes or workshop activities involving MCUs turned up eight libraries who recently had an article or a blurb about those MCU activities. The Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, IN, has 'maker spaces' at two of its libraries and the May 25 article about them mentioned an Arduino class, as well as two robotics classes and a circuit board class that likely involve MCUs. The Allen County Public Library got involved with MCUs and the maker movement with a mobile 'maker space' a few years ago:
"The library has also had a partnership with TekVenture, a non-profit Fort Wayne company. TekVenture’s Maker Station mobile laboratory was moved to the library’s lot at Washington and Webster streets three years ago, where the staff provided laboratories and workshops for library employees and patrons. Georgetown is still in the process of growing a crop of makers, Georgetown Branch Manager Lisa Armato said. “Thus far, people are mostly just taking classes and then afterward some come to practice...Another boy, who was an avid gamer, designed and made 3-D copies of a device that attached to a smart phone and to free up the player’s fingers for easier game playing on the phone’s screen. “He printed off his design for $3, took them to school and sold them to his gaming friends for $10,” Gregg said...“Everyone is very excited about all the new learning opportunities,” Armato said. “All of our classes are filling up, and we have waiting lists for some. We are seeing all ages, from 9-year-olds to senior citizens, learning side by side,” she said."
Other libraries have smaller budgets or are just starting to get involved with MCUs via introductory classes. Two libraries currently in the news who are also offering Arduino classes are the Westport Library in Connecticut and the Mead Public Library in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The May 15 article about the Westport Library says:
"A workshop on how to use the Arduino board, a small programmable microcontroller board, will be taught in a six-session workshop at the Westport Library...The Arduino board is an open-source electronics platform used for robotics, and all kinds of other projects...The sessions are for anyone with an interest in electronic circuits and the ability to learn coding. Each session will focus on a new problem...participants who have an Arduino kit should bring it. There will also be kits for use provided by the library. The workshop will be using the Sparkfun Inventor's Kit for the class, which is available at for purchase..."
The May 19 Sheboygan article says:
"“Wanna race?” 14-year-old Christian Henke asked as he elbowed his dad, Andreas, at the Mead Public Library on Saturday. The father and son had just sat down to try their hand at building their own self-driving robot car at the Sheboygan Connects activity day at the library...The simple robotic vehicle, which Christian and father worked on, had two large wheels and a rear caster. At the front of a robot, two sensors turned 180 degrees on a servo to determine which course was the least obstructed...The robot was controlled by an Arduino circuit board, a simple programmable electronic prototyping platform..."
The first step towards having libraries offer classes with Arduino or other MCUs is for local makers to talk to their librarians and offer to explain more about the small computing components and why the library might want to consider offering some classes or workshops with them (often with the local makers developing and leading the classes or workshops).


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