A Future of Opportunity: Libraries for the 21st Century

Libraries in New Haven and surrounding towns are tackling 21st-century education needs with new spaces and programs.

Ives Squared Creative-in-Residence Ryan Paxton showing how to build prototypes.

The Ives Main Library of the New Haven Free Public Library system was built in the early 20th century to the design of celebrated architect Cass Gilbert. It has been a center of learning for New Haveners of all backgrounds ever since. The skills and knowledge that are valued in today's world, however, are radically different than they were in Gilbert's day, as are the ways people learn and the technologies available to teach them. Libraries in New Haven and surrounding towns are tackling these 21st-century education needs with new spaces and programs.

Inside the Gilbert-designed building, The New Haven Free Public Library has transformed what had been the underused periodicals room into Ives Squared. The new space caters to anyone with a desire to be creative, start a business, lead a civic project or even invent something. It includes a café to promote informal meetings and coworking spaces. A "tinker space" offers prototype modeling computers, the 3D printer, a CNC mill and a vinyl cutter.

More than just a roomful of gadgets, Ives Squared provides a full schedule of classes and programs for the community. The creative-in-residence helps visitors learn how to use the equipment and give shape to their ideas. An entrepreneur-in-residence is available to consult with anyone with an idea to start a business or project.

"We think of ourselves as being at the top of the funnel for entrepreneurs," says Ives Squared Manager Gina Bingham. "People come in here with ideas they have had for a long time. We help get them to the next level."

New equipment includes a 3D printing station.
Ives Squared offers local entrepreneurs a place to develop their ideas.

In one recent example, a medical researcher from Yale walked in with a pen drawing of a tool she wanted to make for her job in a laboratory. Working at a computer station with the library's creative-in- residence, she created a three-dimensional design and a prototype tool on the 3D printer.

Other libraries in the region are also redesigning their spaces and programs for 21st-century learning. Branford's James Blackstone Memorial is building a new wing that will better accommodate programs including a maker space, and Madison's Library is doubling its footprint.

The New Haven Free Public Library is also building a new Stetson branch in the new Q House on Dixwell Avenue, where a facility will provide access to state-of-the-art technology, interactive and innovative hands-on experiences, and the opportunity to build crucial computer and digital skills.

The New Haven Free Public Libary was one of 10 recipients of the 2019 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation's highest honor given to libraries and museums that make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities.

What The Foundation is Doing

  • Ives Squared grew out of a multi-year effort, starting with a strategic plan funded in part by The Community Foundation, and culminating in the community-centric 2018 Strategic Framework, "Growing Together. One City. One Future."
  • In 2018, a grant of $110,000 was awarded for "Stetson Library: The Next Chapter" a community-wide campaign to move the Stetson Library into the re-imagined Q House with an expanded collection, improved community services, new furnishings, and state-of-the-art equipment and technology.
  • In 2018, a grant was awarded to the James Blackstone Memorial Library for its $5.2 million renovation to make the facility more accessible to seniors and families with young children, accommodate the needs of teens, and provide more meeting space and opportunities to learn and acquire technology skills.

The Community Foundation also manages the endowed organization funds for libraries in the region including:

  • New Haven Free Public Library Endowment
  • Friends of the New Haven Free Public Library Fund
  • Derby Public Library Endowment
  • Plumb Library Reserve Fund