There’s access to computing tools at the Public Library
The Chattanooga Public Library has the Gig, Chattanooga’s best-in-universe one gigabit Internet. You can’t pull the Gig off the shelf, take it downstairs, get its little barcode scanned and walk out the door with it. But you can go to the GigLab on the Fourth Floor.
“On the hardware side, we’re offering a new gigabit connection, independent of the library’s connection to EPB,” says Jake Brown, the library’s technology projects coordinator. “We’re offering computational resources, which is the first instance of a public library offering access to cloud computing, ever.”
Remember, the Gig is a measure of speed: upload and download speeds of one gigabit per second. But even “70 miles per hour” is just an abstraction when you’re standing by the side of the road. You need a vehicle to experience it.
The Public Library has offered public access to the Gig for four years. Now it’s rolling out GigLab on the Fourth Floor, a collaborative space with access to computing tools that use the Gig. Part of the idea is to give the abstract Gig a tangible demo. But more than anything, GigLab is intended to provide access to the Gig and help people use it.
Hardware resources available now include a 4K video display capable of streaming extremely high-definition video, low-latency audio streaming equipment, virtual servers and core network infrastructure. The library is in the process of ordering a classroom set of laptops for accessing the Gig, Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets and additional pieces of core infrastructure.
Short-session classes and demos on networking, the Gig and working with large amounts of data will also be offered by local educators and technologists.
GigLab’s recent grand opening showed off that 4K video streaming, a version of Chattanooga built inside the Minecraft online gaming environment, and several newly developed software tools that use the Gig—Viditor for online video editing, Adagio for mixing audio, DevLearn to help kids learn to code, and more.
Although many of these projects have been funded by the Mozilla Gigabit Community Fund, which is a partner of the GigLab, that doesn’t mean they are owned by Mozilla or that their “home” is on the Fourth Floor. In fact, Mozilla designed its funding around short 12-week development cycles to encourage developers to get projects in front of pilot users as quickly as possible.
“We hope they become part of this longer sustained work,” says Lindsay Frost-Cleary, who leads the Mozilla initiative in Chattanooga, operated by the same Mozilla that created the Firefox web browser and is active worldwide in web literacy. “And that was part of getting them into these organizations like the library, like classrooms in which they’ve been being tested, so they grow roots and can be sustained beyond the period of the project.”
“One of the things that’s brilliant about Mozilla and the Hive is that while projects might have sponsors, the work is decentralized, it’s a network,” says Nate Hill, deputy director of the library. “It’s an understanding that learning doesn’t live in a single space, it lives across a network of spaces. Because that’s how people use the world, right? Once you start to build community like this”—he points to 30 or 40 people buzzing around 10 demo stations in GigLab —“when funding cycles are done, you still have relationships, you have these things you’ve worked on together, you have gained knowledge together. There is no greater bond than learning something with someone else.”
That “hive” Hill is talking about is another aspect of Mozilla’s involvement: creating multidisciplinary learning communities around the world.
“The point of this Hive Learning Community we’re building here is to get together technologists with formal and informal educators of all types to champion web literary skills, which are the skills that Mozilla really thinks people need to not only consume the web, but to be makers of the web,” says Frost-Cleary.
Viditor, for example, did some early beta testing in the library, and then worked with Baylor School for additional testing of its video editing tool. DevLearn moved from library testing to working with a classroom at Clifton Hills Elementary.
A core mission of GigLab, says Brown, is bridging the digital divide by offering access to education and tools.
“Chattanooga is a city that’s on the perpetual edge of the next generation because of this network and the things that we’re building here,” he says. “Having the general public and the community be behind us and have an understanding of what we’re doing is essential. Involving them in learning on the Gig will be what really propels the Gig in Chattanooga to greatness.”
GigLab is accessible during Public Library hours whenever the Fourth Floor is open. Some equipment may require reservations. For details about resources that are available or coming soon, visit giglab.io.