Last month, I had the chance to be at the grand opening of the new Google office in Kitchener. The morning presented an opportunity to learn about the Codemakers program. Codemakers is a joint effort by Google and Ottawa based Actua to get kids coding and building at an early age.

Seeing these students coding video games and making controllers out of silly putty and sensors made me think of the tech I had access to when I was in school. Home computers are seemingly ubiquitous today, but when I was a kid growing up in the dark ages of the 1980s, the first exposure to technology was at the local library. I still remember the dummy terminals with nothing but green text, where searches for books took what seemed like hours – but when the results were returned, it felt like magic. My elementary school was one of the first in our district to get personal computers in the library – IBM PC Juniors with 256 kilobytes of memory.

Today, our local libraries continue to be one of the first places kids are exposed to technology, and they’re doing it in innovative ways. Waterloo Region is home to three library systems – the Waterloo Public Library, Kitchener Public Library, and the Cambridge Public Library – and each offers unique spaces to read, learn, work, and code.

“We want to be the creative catalyst for our citizens,” said Laura Dick, Manager, Branches for the Waterloo Public Library. The Waterloo Public Library has iPads, LEGO Mindstorms, Arduinos, 3D printers and free programs for people of all ages to use them. “These are things that people don’t necessarily have at home; we let them explore. Our focus is on teaching digital literacy,” Dick added.

“The library is an equalizer in terms of technology and kids,” said Laura Reed, Manager of Children’s and Teen Services at the Kitchener Public Library. “It allows kids of all socio-economic backgrounds to experience tech and new gadgets. How amazing is it for a kid who might not even have a computer at home to be able to use an iPad to control a Sphero?”

All three libraries offer free WiFi – great for getting out of your office to do some work. For times when you need WiFi, but want to be outdoors, the Kitchener Public Library has you covered. They have 25 LTE WiFi hotspots for checkout, so you can make Victoria Park into your temporary office. The WiFi hotspot checkout program is also a first for a library in Canada. While we sometimes take our internet access for granted, more than 23 per cent of people in Waterloo Region don’t have internet access.

Our libraries evolve with the times and technology. All three offer e-books for checkout on a variety of platforms. Still buying magazines? Reduce your burn rate by getting your magazines on the Zinio app at both the Kitchener and Waterloo libraries. The Kitchener Public Library also offers free membership to Hoopla Digital, with access to hundreds of thousands of movies, full music albums, audiobooks and more.

If you are looking for a way to give back, the libraries are also a great place to help out. “We’re always looking for volunteers and mentors,” said Laura, “and we’re excited to be part of Year of Code Waterloo Region.”

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While you’re enjoying your hummus, I see and hear that . . .You can get a taste of Cuba at “Noche en la Habana” this Saturday, Feb. 3 at 8pm at  THEMUSEUM (10 King St. W., Kitchener). They’ll have Cuban food, coffee, and mojito bar along with live music by the Cassava Latin Band . . . Toronto’s own alt-country rockers The Sadies play The Starlight (47 King St. N., Waterloo) on Thursday, Feb. 11 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22 . . . Looking for something to do on Valentine’s Day? Is your special someone a fan of dinosaurs? The Kitchener Public Library (85 Queen St. N., Kitchener) has a free showing of “Jurassic World” on Sunday, Feb. 14 at 2 p.m.

About The Author

Alex Kinsella
Digital Community Manager

Alex Kinsella is Communitech's Digital Community Manager. Part of the tech scene in Waterloo Region since 2004, Alex has worked at GBG, BlackBerry, and Thalmic Labs.