Head of youth services Meredith Levine plays a track recorded in the recording studio at the Chattanooga Public Library on Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Though providing traditional access to books and literacy programs is still the library's core objective, they have expanded access to technology, music and crafts for the public.

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Chattanooga Public Library houses not only books, but myriad tools and resources

American Girl dolls, Santa suits, fishing equipment, bubble machines. And all you need is a library card.

Now, more than ever, public libraries aren't just housing books, they're becoming "libraries of things," according to a recent article in American Libraries magazine.

These are some of the nontraditional items you can check out in libraries across the country.

But what does the Chattanooga Public Library offer?

"Our mission is to be the catalyst for lifelong learning," said Meredith Levine, coordinator of youth services at the library. "We want to people walk away with a new skill or a new motivation and to have fun."

On top of the traditional library items such as books, DVDs and audiobooks, Chattanooga's public library also circulates sewing machines, wifi hotspots, AV and projector equipment for nonprofit groups, and membership passes to the Chattanooga Zoo.

In the 2017 fiscal year, the library circulated more than 1 million items to borrowers, with some of those "21st century items" being the most popular.

The downtown library's fourth floor is dubbed the "Makerspace." It contains 3-D printers, a sewing machine lab, a vinyl plotter, a button maker, virtual reality equipment, a photography studio, a CNC wood router and a loom.

All of this equipment is available, free of charge, during normal library operation hours.

For most of the services, the only cost is the consumable being used to create a product. For instance, when 3-D printing, a patron pays 6 cents a gram for the filament. When designing and printing vinyl, the sheets are 30 cents a foot.

"It's an area to complete projects you might not otherwise have access to," said Chance Scrimshire, a library staff member who mans the fourth-floor space.

Patrons can set up one-on-one appointments with staff members to learn how to use the equipment or for help troubleshooting.

"There's that initial period of showing someone how to use the equipment," Chance said. "We do a lot of troubleshooting, but it's great introductory stuff."

Teenagers have come in and made buttons, small businesses have printed signs and logos, one man even spent six months weaving pillowcases on the loom.

On the second floor, the library also has a music production studio that opened earlier this year.

Thanks to two grants — $75,000 from the Benwood Foundation and $90,000 from the Lyndhurst Foundation — the 24-track studio also features a drum set, guitars and other recording equipment. The library now partners with Dynamo Studios, a local nonprofit organization that provides lessons in audio production and music in the studio.

But the library has an even bigger vision for the space.

The library is in the early stages of planning a partnership with Chattanooga Girls Rock!, a summer program that provides music education to girls ages 10-17.

Together, the organizations are developing an instrument-lending library, Levine said. The library will contain music kits — drums, guitars, basses, amps and microphones — that are themed after female musicians and available for checkout by library cardholders.

Girls Rock! also will provide orientation and training on instruments. The program will mutually benefit both organizations, as it will provide storage for the instruments year-round when they are not in use at the summer camp.

"It aligns really well with the mission of the studio. Not everyone has access to instruments," Levine said. "We really drive what we do based on who we're serving the library is one of the few institutions that is really for all people."

In addition to the Girls Rock! initiative, which should launch in the coming year, Levine envisions a tool library modeled after the Asheville Tool Library, which provides tools at low or no cost to citizens and local community organizations.

The library also offers unique services for the teenagers who hang out on the second floor. Board games, video games and even mobile kitchen lessons are put on by library staff.

The library has taken its mobile kitchen, the Flavor Lab, to a few events in town, providing cooking and nutrition lessons for underserved communities.

"With food and music, everyone eats and everyone listens to music," Levine said.

Staff have made homemade biscuits, Christmas sugar cookies, butter, almond milk and even French toast. The program's curriculum, modeled after The Charlie Cart Project from the University of California, Berkeley, is aimed at children, but they've gotten interest from all sorts of patrons.

"People kept coming and asking us will you teach us how to make that," said Elizabeth Obennett, a teen librarian.

Next, Obennett wants to plan a root vegetable lesson.

"We try to do a mix of exposing kids to foods they haven't experienced, but you also want to teach them [about] what they have access to it's about access and creating," Obennett said.

One day, Levine hopes the library will have a full-size, permanent teaching kitchen.

"If you truly want to see how the community is doing, spend a day in the library," she said. "If we are improving the lives in our community — that's what we're trying to do with our programs and services."

Library cards are free to residents of Chattanooga and all Hamilton County Schools students. The library also has passport services, free notary services and public computers that can be accessed with a library card or by purchasing a single guest pass.

Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.