A conference is approaching, and a small business has a booth to prepare.
The expenses can quickly mount. At minimum, the business will need a banner; otherwise, the cardboard sign provided by the organizers will have to do.
It would be nice to have a customized table skirt and maybe logoed shirts for exhibitors. The business could give out swag, like branded tote bags, or something creative, with a logo etched on aluminum or leather by a laser engraver.
Of course, a company displays at a conference to drum up business – not to go broke in the process. The Springfield-Greene County Library District has a solution: the maker space at the Midtown Carnegie Branch Library.
In the maker space, individuals, nonprofits and for-profit businesses from the region are invited to tinker and create free of charge on equipment that includes 3D printers, a laser engraver, a vinyl cutter, a heat press, a slide/negative scanner, a VHS digitizer and soldering stations.
There’s no charge for equipment use, according to Eva Pelkey, branch manager. Some materials, including 3D printer filament, vinyl or solder, are provided for a fee.
So far, word on the maker space, which opened during the COVID-19 pandemic, has not yet spread, according to Pelkey.
“I don’t want this to be a well-kept secret,” she said. “We have so much to offer. It’s time for people to discover us.”
Jacob Helterbrand, a training assistant at the library who helps operate the maker space, said visitors often come up with ideas while they’re experimenting with the equipment. It starts with patrons engraving their name on an item or 3D printing a figure, and the creativity takes off from there.
On a recent visit to the maker space, plenty of sample projects were on display, from custom-engraved slate coasters to branded leather goods. Helterbrand said he has helped patrons make a variety of projects, including a billboard, window blind brackets, tiny model train signs and even a prosthetic cat paw.
Pelkey stressed that businesses are welcome to use the maker space.
“Small-business owners don’t think about the library first,” Pelkey said. “They’re DIYers, doing it themselves. This is one way to facilitate that.”
The library offers more than just the maker space for business owners, Pelkey added. There are also meeting spaces, software assistance and partnership opportunities.
“They need a place where they can receive vetted, authoritative information,” she said. “That’s what libraries have always done.”
Rachael West, owner of Niangua-based Eating the Ozarks, has found her business transformed by the possibilities offered in the maker space.
Eating the Ozarks teaches foraging classes, helping students to identify useful plants and wild edibles, and offers herbalist training, special event catering and primitive skills campouts.
In the maker space, West has devised engraved-wood tree tags with QR codes that lead to the Eating the Ozarks website. There, they can learn how to find, harvest, use and store food from the type of tree they’ve found, including redbud, gingko biloba and juniper.
But West hasn’t stopped there. She has made directional signs for her campground, engraved menus, farmers market displays, menus and branded cutting boards.
“Being able to have things that are handmade sets me apart,” she said. “It makes it that much more – I don’t want to say gourmet – but very upscale, through a free public resource.”
West has found she can buy a small quantity of vinyl at the library and purchase T-shirts from a thrift store and produce her own logo-imprinted attire for next to nothing.
She also gets to practice the sustainability she preaches by making business cards out of recycled cereal box cardboard engraved on the blank side with her information.
West discovered the maker space through her friend Amanda Francis, owner of Reeds Spring-based Forest Garden Yurts.
Francis attended a wooden bookmark engraving class offered for kids at the Carnegie Branch, and she couldn’t wait to tell West about it.
“It’s such a cool space,” she said. “Any creative person can just go in there.”
West and Francis had talked about projects for a long time. The two do events together, including dinners in Francis’ yurt or at destinations, like an upcoming 19th century themed meal at Crystal Cave.
The pair started with vinyl logo work on black aprons for use in Forest Garden Yurts’ weddings and other events. They are now working on a foraging apron for use in West’s outdoor classes.
Both small-business owners see the maker space as an invaluable tool for their companies.
“We work harder because we have to make the profits work,” West said. “We have to get really creative to be able to pull off a profitable event.”
But with the maker space, the creativity has a luxe edge, according to West.
“We can make something look like a million bucks because we’re willing to do the work,” she said.
Pelkey said people can experiment and learn in the maker space with the help of library personnel, and no prior experience is needed. In fact, educating people about the use of the 3D printer and other pieces of equipment is one of the goals of the space.
Located on the ground floor of the library, the space must be reserved in advance to ensure staff availability, she added. The plan is to continue adding more equipment and move to a larger workspace in the building.
Pelkey said there is no way to tell how many businesses have used the maker space, since creators are not asked to identify their end purpose. Anyone is welcome to make use of library resources.
“We’ve probably just had a handful at this point, but this is a great little secret we have down here with a lot of potential,” she said.
A 24-unit building under construction will join six existing buildings this spring at The Foothills Condos at Thousand Hills.