Homestead’s tech library, Cybrarium, takes a modern twist on public libraries

A child puts on a virtual reality headset, transporting himself from the real world to the digital dunes of Egypt.

On the floor above, a group of children create 3D printing figures of creatures taken straight out of their own imaginations.

What seem like scenes from the pages of a science fiction novel are in actuality what visitors of the Cybrarium see every time they walk in.

The Cybrarium is a library that lets visitors go on their own journeys—be it by opening a book or putting on a VR headset.

Located in the redeveloped Downtown Homestead, the Cybrarium mixes traditional library services with top-of-the-line technology and a dash of steampunk futurism.

“What makes us special is our commitment to technology,” said Rino Landa, the director of the Cybrarium. “That started from the very beginning, from the design and concept to even the name.”

Landa says the Cybrarium is unique among public libraries in its approach, taking cues from gaming, technology and live theater industries and putting them under one roof.

The city of Homestead used grants, loans and funds from private-public partnerships to afford the $17 million cost of the library, which took the place of the now-closed Homestead Branch Library when it opened in 2021.

Beyond a place to check out a book or hop on a computer, the Cybrarium hopes to draw in guests with its blend of services and attractions.

One of these attractions is the virtual reality cube, a VR space near the entrance that allows visitors to use a VR headset and immerse themselves in a digital world.

Book Mountain shows all the places books can take you. (Rafael Hernandez/Caplin News)

The theater stage, also on the first floor, is where all of the events are held. The space sees year-round use through events like summer dance parties and Christmas book giveaways.

Book Mountain is a sculpture that rises from the first floor to the second-floor ceiling and has interactive screens with educational games.

Draws like these are outside the norm for a public library, but Landa believes these attractions are what makes visits to the library feel like an experience.

“There are definitely bigger libraries and prettier libraries,” Landa said. “But we are unique in that we try to integrate the attractions into the services.”

These attractions were what first made Isla Wallace, 5, walk through the Cybrarium’s doors, and now her father Nigel Wallace, 31, cannot keep her away.

Wallace and his wife take Isla to the library every week to check out books, but stay to enjoy the games and interact with the technology.

Wallace has been a Homestead resident since he moved to the city in high school and believes the site was just what the neighborhood needed.

“I feel like Homestead was missing something like this,” Wallace said. “It keeps kids in here instead of out wandering the streets.”

Bells and whistles aside, the Cybrarium is still a library at heart and wants to provide for the Homestead community in whatever way it can.

The library makes its selection of books accessible both physically and digitally and has laptops, Chromebooks, and portable hotspots available for checkout.

The “makerspace” area on the second floor gives guests the opportunity to learn technologies, like 3D printing or video editing, and has a recording studio to help people pick up podcasting.

All a Miami-Dade resident needs to access these services is a free library card.

Darian Jones, the young adult specialist at the Cybrarium, says the services they provide makes the library a pillar of the community.

Jones leads and manages programs that allow teens to engage with the library’s technology while building a sense of community.

He believes their commitment to using the most up-to-date technology and giving Homestead residents the chance to pursue their interests makes the library stand out from others in South Florida.

“We want people to truly see us as a place where they can get what they need, what they’re looking for, and also an entry into the unknown,” said Jones.

The Cybrarium has seen many additions to its services since it opened in 2021, but Landa says the site still has a long way to go.

Among the proposals for expansions are recreational programs for adults and a robot that guides guests throughout the floor, but Landa would like to see a center where people can digitize analog media most of all.

The Cybrarium takes a modern approach to supporting the Homestead community, but wants to add preservation of the past to its repertoire.

“I think a lot of people forget that libraries are meant to reflect the needs of their communities,” said Landa. “And that’s what they do.”

Rafael Hernandez is a Venezuelan-American senior at Florida International University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in digital journalism. With a passion for writing, politics, and social issues, he hopes to achieve a career in the news media industry after graduating.