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editor's picktopical
Rural Nebraska libraries reinventing themselves in 'makerspace' movement

Ean Petersen has learned how the interior hinges of his 3D-printed birds, cats and dogs need proper spacing in order to flex and bend, and through trial and error, which materials work best.

The North Platte 10-year-old can laser engrave paw prints onto a set of dice and laminate the instructions for "Pet Store," the board game he created to play with family and friends.

Having access to the equipment used by makers and creators at his local public library has kindled Petersen's creative spark, bolstered his self-esteem and unleashed his entrepreneurial spirit.

"I could spend all night there working on the 3D printer," he said.

Petersen is among the thousands of Nebraskans, young and old, who have discovered or rediscovered a passion for making things, another reinvention of public libraries sweeping across the country, including in the Cornhusker State.

Two decades ago, it was the push for library computer labs capable of connecting the public to the internet, which required public and private grants until municipalities saw the utility and agreed to fund the project.

A similar pattern has emerged with makerspaces, said JoAnn McManus, a project manager at the Nebraska Library Commission.

"Makerspaces are a new thing libraries are getting into, but it's really hard to convince your city council or people you might be fundraising with that you need a makerspace before you know if there is a demand," she said.

Luckily for Nebraska, a $530,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services has helped purchase 3D printers, laser cutters, button makers and other equipment that have been on loan to 30 libraries around the state. The service began in 2017 and will end next year.

The results after the first two 20-week cycles indicates the "Library Innovation Studios: Transforming Rural Communities" project, a partnership between the library commission, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Nebraska Innovation Studio, Nebraska Extension and the Regional Library Systems, has found an appetite for makerspaces in public libraries from Plattsmouth to Ainsworth, Loup City to North Platte.

Those communities and more have taken steps to purchase their own permanent makerspace machines after the temporary equipment has been packed up, according to a survey conducted by the library commission.

Anticipating that the temporary makerspace would be a hit in North Platte, the library removed shelves and stacks dedicated to nonfiction materials and built a $100,000 soundproof room before the temporary makerspace arrived last September, director Cecelia Lawrence said.

A "Make It Monday" program the library started in 2015 was oversubscribed, which Lawrence chalked up to North Platte's do-it-yourself culture. The craft program initially targeted adults, but was later expanded to families.

In the end, she said it served as "a mini proof of concept" their aptly named Creation Station would be popular for all ages.

"When we made the decision to do the interior renovation and put in that permanent makerspace, we had a pretty good idea it was going to be a home run," Lawrence said.

It got kids like Petersen hooked on harnessing their creativity into making something tangible.

While he started with designs downloaded from the internet, Petersen eventually grew more confident, building his own designs on a computer to be 3D printed, and writing poems to be laser cut onto pieces of wood.

His family got in on the action, too. Ean's mother, JoLynn, used the vinyl cutter to create wall quotes, and the heat press to put custom designs onto T-shirts, while his grandparents also gave the machines a whirl.

"I like that it gives an opportunity for kids to explore new things and to be creative in a world where kids tend to sit and play video games," JoLynn Petersen said. "It is nice to see such a wide variety of ages and skill levels using the technology in the Creation Station. You don't have to be great at technology to be able to be trained and learn something new."

Another big user of the early makerspaces are entrepreneurs, according to the library commission survey, which found nearly 40 percent used the equipment to explore business opportunities provided by the makerspace.

Using the makerspace at the Bridgeport Public Library in the town of 1,500 people, Erin Reynolds and Tonia Verbeck created marketing materials for the Heirloom Market, the outdoor showcase for vintage and repurposed goods they host twice a year in Morrill County.

Custom totes were handed out to the first 25 people at last September's market, which attracted more than 500, and the duo made "save the date" magnets for this May's event, all using equipment they otherwise wouldn't have easy, affordable access to.

“When you start a business, it can be kind of overwhelming price-wise to find creative ways to market your event,” Reynolds said. "It probably wouldn't have happened, or could have cost more than it would have been worth to do."

Tammy Covalt, director of the Bridgeport library, said more than 1,000 people used the temporary makerspace when it was open last summer, including students at a summer enrichment program at the school and 4-Hers doing projects for the county fair.

Bridgeport High School students “went crazy making buttons” depicting the school’s Bulldog mascot to trade with their friends in other towns, leading to disappointment when the makerspace was shipped to Kimball last fall.

“When it left, they were like, ‘What do you mean it’s not here?’” Covalt said.

Through the Bridgeport Friends of the Library, money was raised to buy a vinyl cutter, heat press, button maker and laminator, she added, and the library is still raising money to buy a laser cutter — items that used to be only available in places hours from the Panhandle town along U.S. 26.

North Platte is raising money to furnish its permanent makerspace as well, Lawrence said, collecting $21,000 toward purchasing its own 3D printer, laser cutter, and heat press — about half of what is needed to complete the facility — before the temporary equipment left last month.

Ean Petersen still has "lots of ideas for the 3D printer" and said he can't wait for the Creation Station to be fully operational once more, both for himself and others.

"I really hope we get these machines back to help others find the creative side of themselves," he said.

topicaltop story
Keadle's attorneys raise alternate theory that Ty Thomas was killed by sex trafficker

Joshua Keadle's attorneys are asking a judge to keep evidence out of his upcoming murder trial in the killing of Tyler "Ty" Thomas because when investigators sought search warrants they didn't disclose that someone else — a sex trafficker — claimed he killed her.

The Peru State student disappeared Dec. 3, 2010.

Thomas's body never was found, despite efforts that started within hours of her going missing.

Keadle, 37, long has been suspected of being the last person to see her alive.

He initially told investigators that he last saw Thomas walking toward her dormitory, drunk, a block away as he drove to the dorm with friends.

But, when pressed later about what cellphone records would show about his movements, Keadle admitted to leaving his dorm and driving Thomas to the Missouri River, investigators say. Since then, Keadle has maintained that he left Thomas there — alive — after they argued over him refusing to drive her to Omaha.

Prosecutors waited seven years to charge him, in part because they lacked physical evidence, a crime scene or a body.

At a preliminary hearing a year ago, his lawyer, Jeff Pickens of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, argued that without a body or cause of death there wasn’t even circumstantial evidence to show she was murdered — let alone evidence of premeditation, an element of first-degree murder.

She just as easily could have died accidentally, Pickens argued then.

But a Nemaha County judge later sent the case to district court, finding that the prosecution had presented enough evidence to support a conclusion that Thomas is dead and that a crime led to it.

In late February, as the case moved closer to an April trial date, Pickens and Matt McDonald, his co-counsel, filed motions seeking to suppress evidence in the case that was obtained through federal and state search warrants.

They are seeking to have Keadle's cellphone records tossed because the FBI agent who sought the warrant to get them alleged the federal crime of kidnapping provided the basis for it, though there was no evidence Keadle or Thomas had crossed state lines.

And they say the Nebraska Attorney General's office shouldn't be allowed to use anything taken from Keadle's Ford Explorer in searches in 2010 and 2016, in part because the scope of the warrants was overly broad.

But the defense attorneys' main objection to the later search was what the investigator didn't tell the judge before he gave permission to search it. McDonald said the affidavit of William Black, an investigator with the Attorney General's office, contained "material omissions, deliberate falsehoods or reckless disregard for the truth."

Specifically, Keadle's attorneys say, it left out the fact that another person had claimed to have killed Thomas and buried her body in the area near Peru where she disappeared.

The motions led to a hearing last week.

According to a transcript obtained by the Journal Star, Black testified that he didn't know about the information that suggests someone else may have killed Thomas until about six or seven months after he sought the search warrant, despite an email that confirmed another investigator in his office knew.

Black said he'd helped line up a cadaver dog for the search but only knew someone was claiming that a body had been buried there and it possibly was Thomas.

FBI Special Agent Michael Maseth said that in 2016, a woman who was the victim of sex trafficking led him and others to a grove of trees west of a levee a couple of hundred yards off Olive Street, where a man raped her.

Maseth said she told them that the man who pimped her out across state lines said his group had kidnapped Thomas and held her for nearly a year before killing her and burying her there.

"It seemed to me not to be credible," he said.

Maseth said he believed the man was just trying to scare the woman in order to keep her under his control.

On cross-examination, McDonald asked if Thomas could have been another sex trafficking victim, like the woman who had given him the information.

Maseth said "she could have been, yes."

Nemaha County District Judge Ricky A. Schreiner will rule later, after attorneys present their arguments in briefs.

It's unclear now if the trial will go forward April 8.


Grace Barry, in her first season at Concordia, is averaging 11.1 points, 5.8 assists and 3.7 steals per game.


Nebraska head coach Scott Frost answers a reporter's question on Tuesday during a news conference at Memorial Stadium. 

editor's picktopical
LGBTQ workplace discrimination bill fails again, but not without passionate debate

It wasn't exactly a vote on the bill that would give protections to LGBTQ workers, but it was a vote that ended debate and the bill's chances of passing this session.

The bill (LB627) that would ensure workers couldn't be fired or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity will be put aside for the rest of the session, unless its sponsor, Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, can find enough votes — 33 — to break a filibuster.

She'd have to find at least eight or nine more senators to support the bill that would make LGBTQ discrimination unlawful for an employer with 15 or more employees, employers with state contracts regardless of the number of employees, the State of Nebraska, government agencies and political subdivisions.

And Pansing Brooks said she doesn't have those votes.

"But weren't there great voices out there speaking, so much stronger than even the previous times we've heard it?" she said of the debate. "I hope that people feel strengthened and hopeful about the change that has occurred on this floor. 

"It gives me such courage. And people like me will get older and shuffle off, and the strong, loving, kind, compassionate voices will end up ruling the day."

Those voices she referred to included Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, who started off quietly praising members of her staff that represent the LGBTQ community. She then went on to talk about being a passionate Catholic who has spent time looking at the issue from a religious perspective. 

"And it is with great disappointment that I hear people using my religion as a means for hate," she said. 

The Catholic catechism says members of the LGBT community must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided, Cavanaugh said. 

"This bill is to work against unjust discrimination. And every single person that stands up here and says that this bill isn't needed ... your white-male privilege is showing. And I am angry. And I am sick of it," she said. 

That's when the emotion in Cavanaugh's voice spilled over. 

"This is atrocious. This is disgusting. There is no reason in the world that we shouldn't pass this wholeheartedly. One hundred percent. History will not look kindly upon you, gentlemen," she said. 

Those who spoke against the bill, including Sen. Julie Slama of Peru and Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist, questioned whether such a law would bring frivolous lawsuits, fail to protect religious beliefs of employers and whether it was even warranted.

Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood said to be in a protected class a person had to be denied access to education, economic opportunity, voting rights and to have obvious identifiable characteristics. 

"I think if there was science that said that you were born at birth that way, that we would be hearing about that. I haven't heard that," he said. 

Tolerance and beliefs should go both ways, he said. 

"To affirm what the Bible teaches, and Christians and Jews have affirmed for 2,000 years, is being called hateful. That seems to me to be reverse discrimination," Clements said. 

Sen. Dave Murman of Glenvil read an email from a constituent, which he said he agreed with. It said the bill would undermine constitutional freedoms; target small businesses; threaten women, equality and privacy; and empower the government to punish people of faith for their religious beliefs on marriage and sexuality. 

Laws like LB627 are used as a sword against people with traditional understandings of marriage and sexuality, rather than a shield against actual discrimination, the writer of the email said. 

People, Murman said, are moving back to Nebraska because of its conservative values. 

The vote the Legislature took Tuesday morning was actually one to overrule Speaker Jim Scheer's decision to not allow Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen to call the question as senators got close to three hours of debate.

Hansen said it was a test of the bill's support and of the speaker's practice to end debate after three hours in a filibuster if a bill's sponsor can't find the support to force a vote. If Scheer had ended debate at three hours, no vote would have been taken, and the bill would have been shelved this session unless Pansing Brooks could show she had 33 votes. 

"How close to the end of the three hours do we have to be before we can't call the question any more?" Pansing Brooks said. "That doesn't make any sense to me."

Hansen's motion to overrule the speaker's decision failed on a 26-16 vote.

Bill Eddy / Courtesy photo