Willamina is at the forefront of change as the town is exploring new ways to implement an innovate initiative into their school district and community — starting with the library. 

Sarah Frost is the Willamina Public Library Director, as well as a passionate advocate for innovation of all kinds. With a deep-seated love for her community as well as technology, industry, literature and the cosmos, Sarah is finding ways to create radically unique learning experiences for the students in her community. Her goal is to show students that they are capable of  impacting the world beyond the walls of Willamina. Utilizing the resources she and her team have brought to the library, they are turning it into a maker-space dedicated to students of all ages, complete with lounges, office areas, a food pantry, and a game room — all equipped with some of the latest technologies readily available for students to discover. 

On another level, Sarah has turned the library into a safe space for the youth of Willamina. A place to eat, rest, learn, and socialize with others. More recently, she hired Library Assistant Karla Johnson, famously known as Miss Story Lady, as well as Youth Services Coordinator Nichole Hillyer, to work with young kids and fortify the library’s all-inclusive social environment.

So how did she do it?

Three years ago, Sarah worked for the city government, enforcing municipal code. During this time, she attended a Willamina town hall meeting. There, Thompson Morrison of Innovate Oregon stood alongside Kathy Tate of OnlineNW and spoke about the profound effect of the Innovate initiative at the Dayton School District. The mission was to expand the movement to Willamina, giving students new opportunities to interact directly with industry and gain exposure to modern technologies and learning experiences.

Sarah says; “I fell in love [with Innovate] right then and there. I immediately wanted to figure out how I could be a part of it.”

Nicole (left) pictured next to Miss Story Lady Karla (middle) do a group exercise for children during Story Time.

Shortly after, Sarah began volunteering at the library. At the time, it wasn’t at all what it is now. Students rarely visited if ever, and their technology was outdated. In fact, the library was struggling in more ways than one, as the city was planning on shutting the program down due to budget cuts. So Sarah decided to fill a part-time librarian position and from there, the spark of inspiration which first lead Sarah to the library, started a huge project. By combining the community and school district, Sarah and her team began to re-imagine the library into what is now: an unrestricted innovation hub for learning and creating. 

Sarah even began to bring the library to the school district in the form of presentations, resources, and clubs. For example, she often connects with the Willamina Astronomy Club, to offer space exploration resources to kids and teens. She also started the Kinder Code Club at Willamina Elementary School, where she gives kindergarten students an introduction to coding by teaching through interaction and example. Sarah taught code vocabulary, created fun puzzle activities, and showed students how to program the world around them. Sarah said that it was about putting them in the right mindset to explore their technology passions in the future.

Dr. Roger Diehl describes the Kepler Space Telescope’s planetary discoveries

There is always something new happening at the library. Community members and students alike are welcomed to come to the library’s regular cultural events, fundraisers, and reading clubs. Beyond that, the library’s resources are ever-expanding. For instance, they have a wide variety of virtual reality video games and space exploration simulators, art supplies, access to library books for all age groups and interests, and Arduino boards used for building digital devices like motion-triggered bots, display systems, control panels, and much more.

Sarah and her team are constantly seeking out new opportunities to bring the future to Willamina. Last Sunday, Sarah got connected with Dr. Roger Diehl, retired JPL, NASA Ambassador and invited him to the library as a guest speaker to talk about life beyond our solar system.

Although the library space is already an incredible resource for local students, it is still an ongoing project: a constant process of trial and error. But Sarah says that these large-scale changes are becoming more and more crucial as the industry outside of education develops. “We have to try new things all of the time, even if we fail” Sarah explained. “Sometimes you don’t realize you need something until you have it.” 

Sarah shows kids the constellations during the Summer Celebration with the Willamina Astronomy Club.

As Sarah looks to the future, she hopes to receive more local support and develop regular interactions between Willamina School District and the library. She hopes to see a future where students have a clearer understanding of what they’re capable of, by showing them their impact. And, by giving students the interactions and tools necessary to redesign their learning experience, Sarah hopes to see students grow and develop alongside Willamina’s Innovate initiative.

Sarah and her team are always accepting volunteers. Follow the Willamina Public Library’s social media to stay up to date.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/WillaminaOregonPublicLibrary

Instagram: www.instagram.com/willaminapubliclibrary

Bevin Schrag Administrator

Bevin Schrag is a writer for Innovate Oregon. While working in social media and marketing at OnlineNW, she is currently studying the arts at Chemeketa Community College, to later become a media designer.