A very interesting discussion has just opened up at Make magazine, and it is one I have been waiting for. Phillip Torrone asks “Is It Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make ‘TechShops‘?”. I first made the suggestion on this blog back in 2009 that libraries and maker culture were a good match, after attending MiniSoOnCon, the first hacker/maker conference in Ontario…
I believe public libraries and maker culture are a perfect match, and I take the opportunity to spread the word when I can. The ideas that fuel hackerspaces, such as cooperation, resource and information sharing, self-directed education, and a diversity of views are concepts that are central to our profession’s ethos. And in these economically difficult times, a movement that offers an alternative to consumer culture and a return to DIY independence is timely indeed.
I would strongly suggest that librarians contact their local hackerspace or makerspace. You’ll find we have a lot in common. In the near future I hope to see public libraries with 3D printers, laser engravers, tool lending libraries, and classes like the ones at MiniSoOnCon.
Torrone’s argument is similar, and he does a good job of examining the various models, such as hackerspaces and FabLabs, before focusing on TechShops.
To me, public libraries — the availability of free education for all — represent the collective commitment of a community to their future. They symbolize what is most important, a commitment to educating the next generation. The role of a public library should also adapt over time, and that time is finally here. It’s time to plan how we’re going to build the future and what place public libraries have, should have, or won’t have. The goal of this article is to get everyone talking about one of our great resources, the public library, and its future….
If the only public space where 3D printers, laser cutters, and learning electronics happens is in fee/memberships-based spaces (TechShops, hackerspaces), that will leave out a segment of the population, who will never have access. FabLabs often are geared towards under-served communities, so perhaps it will be a combination of FabLabs and hackerspaces.
What if we were to convert just 1% or even 10% of the 9,000 public libraries in the USA to TechShops? I say TechShop because I think they could get it done with the right amount of funding, or at least coordinate the effort. Since 1% of the USA’s public libraries is about 90, that’s close to the TechShop goal in 5 years; 10% would be 900 locations — not a bad goal.
But why does it matter? Some of you will likely say that hackerspaces and TechShops are filling the void where a public library could have evolved to — that’s probably true. I think public libraries are one of those “use it or lose” it things we have in a society. Given the current state of budgets all over the USA, I think unless they’re seen as the future, we might just lose them.
Since MiniSoOnCon I have visited almost every hacker/makerspace in Ontario, attended more maker conferences and events and gave a seminar on the possible influence of hacker/maker culture and citizen science on Open Access, so over the next few days I’ll be posting more here about what I think this would mean for libraries and some of the issues.
Meanwhile, go over the Make Magazine, read the article and leave a comment. I’m interested to see where this conversation will take us.