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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 you’re reading this, you’re likely not reading it in a public library. Computers are cheap, and internet access is pretty good for most people. The majority of people do not get their online news from terminals at the public library. At one time the library was “the living internet” — you went there to look up something hard to find, to do research — now it’s all at our fingertips through search engines, Wikipedia, and the web.

So where does this leave libraries? Last week I walked by the Borders on Broadway in NYC — it’s going out of business. There are many reasons, but I think most people will agree giant collections of books in giant buildings do not make as much sense (or cents!) any longer. Not commercially, and likely not publicly, such as in a library setting. So where does this leave the library? Maybe they’ll move more and more to eBooks with some weird library-DRM, collections of DVDs, and other media outside of books. But again, it’s usually better online, and available in our homes.

Let’s explore what could be ahead for public libraries and how we could collectively transform them into “factories” — not factories that make things, but factories that help make people who want to learn and make things. Will libraries go away? Will they become hackerspaces, TechShops, tool-lending libraries, and Fab Labs, or have these new, almost-public spaces displaced a new role for libraries? For many of us, books themselves are tools. In the sense that books are tools of knowledge, the library is a repository for tools, so will we add “real tools” for the 21st century?

Before we dive into the future, let’s take a look at the current public library scene now. Feel free to skip this part. I think it’s pretty interesting though.

First up:

How are public libraries used in the USA?

Nationwide, visits to public libraries totaled 1.50 billion, or 5.1 library visits per capita. There were 2.28 billion circulations of library materials (7.7 per capita), and 1.21 uses of Internet PCs per capita during fiscal year 2008.

Source: Public Libraries in the United States: Fiscal Year 2008

How many public libraries are there in the USA?

If you add up public libraries and public school libraries, it’s about 100,000, but if you just look at public libraries (ones that are not part of a school), it’s about 9,000.

Source: Number of Libraries in the United States, ALA Library Fact Sheet

To put a 9,000 locations number into perspective:

There are currently (in the US) 650 Golds Gym locations, 1,750 Target locations, 2,300 Home Depot locations, 4,500 RadioShack locations, 10,000 Curves International Fitness locations, 17,000 Starbucks locations, and 32,000 McDonald’s locations.

How many people are paid/employed in libraries? These include part-time positions.

Librarians:
47,926

Other Paid Staff:
97,318

Total Paid Staff (Public Libraries):
145,244

Source: Number Employed in Libraries, ALA Library Fact Sheet

How much does it cost to run these 9,000 public libraries?

Total operating expenditures in public libraries steadily rose during the study period, going from $8.29 billion in FY1999 to $10.72 billion in FY2008 (figures are in constant 2008 dollars), an absolute increase of $2.43 billion and a percentage increase of 29.4 percent… Per capita operating expenditures increased during the period as well. Per capita operating expenditures increased from $31.56 in FY1999 to $36.36 in FY2008, an absolute increase of $4.80 per person and a percentage increase of 15.2 percent…

Source: Library Operating Expenditures: A Selected Annotated Bibliography

Let’s say it costs about $10 billion to run about 9,000 public libraries, that’s an average of about $1 million per year, per library. That’s not accurate, of course, but let’s deal in averages. In the same report(s), 24% of public libraries had operating expenditures of less than $50,000; 42% expended $50,000 to $399,999; and 34% expended $400,000 or more.

Where does the money come from?

Total operating revenue of public libraries and percentage distribution of revenue, by source of revenue and state: Fiscal year 2008, which reports that an estimated 83 percent of public libraries’ total operating revenue of $11.4 billion came from local sources; 9 percent from state sources; 0.4 percent from federal sources; and 8 percent from other sources, such as monetary gifts and donations, interest, library fines, fees, and grants.

OK, so for the most part it’s a local effort, paid for by each community.

Source: Library Operating Expenditures: A Selected Annotated Bibliography

And lastly:

Where does the money go (not including staff)?

…69 percent was expended for print materials; 11 percent was expended for electronic materials, such as e-books, e-serials (including journals), government documents, databases (including locally mounted, full text or not), electronic files, reference tools, scores, maps, or pictures in electronic or digital format, including materials digitized by the library, which can be distributed on magnetic tape, diskettes, computer software, CD-ROM, or other portable digital carrier, and can be accessed via a computer, via access to the Internet, or by using an e-book reader, and includes expenditures for materials held locally and for remote electronic materials for which permanent or temporary access rights have been acquired, and also includes expenditures for database licenses; and 19 percent for “Other materials,” such as microform, audio, video, DVD, and materials in new formats.

Mostly print books. That makes sense — they’re libraries. This will likely change over time, but it’s unclear how eBooks will be managed at this time. At least when a physical book is purchased it can last years, but DRM systems for eBooks have always seemed problematic to me, more so with multiple users, devices, and “lenders.”

Source: Library Operating Expenditures: A Selected Annotated Bibliography

Another bit of history that’s interesting is “The Carnegie Library”. More than half are still around, and 31 of the 39 in New York are still in use.

A Carnegie library is a library built with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. 2,509 Carnegie libraries were built between 1883 and 1929, including some belonging to public and university library systems. 1,689 were built in the United States… When the last grant was made in 1919, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States, nearly half of them built with construction grants paid by Carnegie.

Carnegie believed in giving to the “industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from others.”

The design of the Carnegie libraries has been given credit for encouraging communication with the librarian. It also created an opportunity for people to browse and discover books on their own. “The Carnegie libraries were important because they had open stacks which encouraged people to browse….People could choose for themselves what books they wanted to read,” according to Walter E. Langsam, an architectural historian and teacher at the University of Cincinnati. Before Carnegie, patrons had to ask a clerk to retrieve books from closed stacks.

Source: Wikipedia. To get funding, the formula was simple, demonstrate the need for a public library, provide the building site, annually provide 10% of the cost of the library’s construction to support its operation, and provide free service to all.

There are modern-day “Carnegies”: “Historically, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has been the largest single private foundation granting source for libraries. While the Gates Foundation led in 2000 and 2001″. Chart above, source: Worldwide education and library spending

I have a favorite story about someone who visited a library. It’s not exactly upbeat, but I think you’ll understand why it’s a good one, even more so on the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion.

The boy walked to the counter of the Lake City Public Library through a gantlet of stares in 1959. Ronald E. McNair, then 9, wanted to check out books on advanced science and calculus, but the librarian wouldn’t release them. “We don’t circulate books to Negroes,” she told him.

Library patrons laughed at McNair’s behavior, and the librarian threatened to call the police — and his mother, Pearl.

McNair didn’t budge.

Instead, he hoisted himself onto the counter, his spindly legs dangling, and waited, because he wasn’t leaving without the books. After two police officers determined that McNair wasn’t causing a public disturbance, and when Pearl said she would pay for the books if McNair didn’t bring them back, the librarian acquiesced.

“Thank you, ma’am,” McNair, prompted by his mother, said before he walked out of the library. McNair, always a precocious student, would become an astronaut and a hometown hero…

Then, 26 years later, Ronald McNair, the second African-American in space, died at age 35 in the Challenger explosion on Jan. 28, 1986. What an amazing story and what amazing changes happened in one person’s short but spectacular life. Obviously the public library was a big part of Ronald’s life. It’s interesting to think about the 9-year-old kids now who want to build or learn something — where will they go? Who will they ask and what will they become in 26 years given the right “tools”?

One more note (since it will be mentioned in the comments): tool-lending libraries. There are about 25 or so in the USA, and this is an excellent start.

…tool-lending libraries allow library patrons to borrow tools, equipment and “how-to” instructional materials, usually free of charge. A tool-lending library was started in Columbus, OH in 1976. Originally run by the City, the Tool Library is now operated by Rebuilding Together Central Ohio, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization that works to preserve and revitalize homes and communities in Central Ohio. The RTCO Tool Library makes available over 4,500 tools free of charge to both individuals and non-profit organizations. One of the first tool libraries was the Berkeley Tool Lending Library, which started in 1979 with a $30,000 community block grant.

I know the fellow who runs a tool-lending spot in NYC — I should try it out. As far as public libraries go, I live in NYC, and there are 2-3 public libraries within a 15 minute walk. I really tried to use them, but the online interface wasn’t that great — most of the things I wanted to checked out were always taken, and it’s hard to beat “instant” since I have a computer and web connection. After the Kindle and Kindle apps came out, I haven’t visited the library. I realize not everyone has a device that read eBooks, but I think most of us will agree that’s where it’s heading. There are even predictions that eBook readers will be free and books will ultimately be 99 cents. That’s less than a fine, and I was always late with physical books.

So, if you’ve made it this far you have a rough idea of the public library landscape. I think for a lot of people, we visited the public library as kids or students, and later not as much. I work with younger folks, and from what they tell me, it’s rare for them to have ever used a public library. Internet access and cheaper computers have replaced a lot of that, and the libraries they have been to recently were at schools, not public ones. The are a handful of tool-lending libraries, but it certainly isn’t a national effort (yet).

But, looking back, where have I visited in the last few years that’s a “public-like” space for learning? Hackerspaces, FabLabs, and TechShops. If you’re a MAKE reader, you’re familiar with these, but let’s quickly talk about each one.

Hackerspaces

Image: “DIY Freaks Flock to ‘Hacker Spaces’ Worldwide,” Wired.com

A hackerspace is usually a membership-based location featuring workshops, tools, and people who generally like to make things.

A hackerspace or hackspace (also referred to as a hacklab, makerspace or creative space) is a location where people with common interests, usually in computers, technology, science or digital or electronic art can meet, socialize and/or collaborate. A hackerspace can be viewed as an open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops and/or studios where hackers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things. Many hackerspaces participate in the use and development of free software and alternative media and can be found in infoshops or social centers.

There are hundreds of hackerspaces that have appeared, almost overnight, around the world. From my recollection over the last decade, the ones in Europe were really appealing, many makers were traveling around the world (Mitch Altman, for example), and eventually word spread. Now, just about every state in the USA has one, and most large cities have hackerspaces.

Hackerspaces usually revolve around everyone paying the rent (part of the membership, the largest cost of a space) and shared costs. It’s not really possible to estimate the average cost to get one started, but it’s usually whatever the rent is for a year in your local area for a pretty good-sized location.


Fab Labs


Image: “Fabrication labs let student and adult inventors create products, solve problems,” Cleveland.com

Next up, FabLabs. As of July 2010, there were 45 labs in 16 countries. Similar to a hackerspace, but Fab Labs were started before the hackerspaces really took off, and Fab Labs generally are associated with MIT, so it was more of a sponsored/academic effort and not a self-forming organic one like the hackerspaces. One of the things I really like about Fab Labs is they’re all similar in terms of the equipment they promote and use. This standardization of laser cutters, CNCs, and computers is a good base to work from if you’re going to do something in one area of the world and want others to be able to do it somewhere else, all using the same tools.

A Fab Lab (fabrication laboratory) is a small-scale workshop with an array of flexible computer controlled tools that cover several different length scales and various materials, with the aim to make “almost anything”. This includes technology-enabled products generally perceived as limited to mass production.

While Fab Labs have yet to compete with mass production and its associated economies of scale in fabricating widely distributed products, they have already shown the potential to empower individuals to create smart devices for themselves. These devices can be tailored to local or personal needs in ways that are not practical or economical using mass production.

Getting a Fab Lab started can be as low as $25,000, but realistically it’s likely a few hundred thousand.


TechShops

“A TechShop Snapshot, Much inventive thinking takes place during a typical day at this community workshop.” IEEE

And finally, TechShop. A TechShop is a commercial venture that’s almost a combination of a hackerspace and a Fab Lab. A TechShop is membership-based, has pretty much all the equipment you need to make anything, and there are workshops, classes, etc.

TechShop is a membership-based workshop that provides members with access to tools and equipment, instruction, and a community of creative and supportive people so they can build the things they have always wanted to make. You can think of TechShop like a fitness club, but with tools and equipment instead of exercise equipment. It is sort of like a Kinko’s for makers, or a Xerox PARC for the rest of us. TechShop is designed for everyone, regardless of their skill level. TechShop is perfect for inventors, makers, hackers, tinkerers, artists, roboteers, families, entrepreneurs, youth groups, FIRST robotic teams, arts and crafts enthusiasts, and anyone else who wants to be able to make things that they dream up but don’t have the tools, space or skills.

There are currently three locations (Menlo Park Calif., Raleigh NC, and San Francisco). They have over 1,500 members between the 3 open locations and a few already committed to San Jose. TechShop also had over 200 people signed up for SF before opening. They are working on San Jose, Calif., right now (lease signed, interior demo, and construction underway). After that, New York and Detroit are locations to follow after San Jose opens. TechShop hopes to have 100 locations in five years. Across all the locations they have about 50 people working for them.

I asked the TechShop folks how much it cost to get a TechShop started, and they said between $1.5 and $2.5 million, depending on the market. That’s not too much above the average yearly cost to keep a public library going.

Can libraries be TechShops?

And here we are, the part where I propose we think about what role the public library can or should have. I’m really interested in what everyone thinks, so please post in the comments. I have more questions than answers, but my “gut” says we’re not going to see public libraries as the centers of learning state-to-state that they once were.

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.

  • How can we encourage American innovation?
  • How can we get kids access to laser cutters, CAD, 3D printers, and tools to design and build?
  • How can we train each other for the jobs and skills needed in the 21st century?
  • How can we spark the creativity and imagination of kids?
  • How can America be a world leader in design and engineering?

I think many of these things could be helped by the re-tooling of one of our greatest resources, the public library. It wouldn’t be easy, but that’s the point — it would be a challenge and worth doing. We can wait and hope every state thinks about this, or that a hackerspace can support something like this (and allow kids to be part of it). But why wait? I think libraries and librarians are underutilized for skill-building. It’s not fun to talk about, but that’s the impression I get from everyone I talk to: they love their town to have one, but they never use it. They have the space, they have net connections, they’re in great locations — why not evolve? If space/rent is always a challenge for hackerspaces, perhaps libraries can provide this space as books go digital.

It’s scary — laser cutters, CAD stations, CNC, 3D printers. Training needed, equipment purchases, a safety class, workshops — I’m sure there are lots of reasons it could never work out, but there are also many reasons it could. Besides, how often do you hear people talking about lining up outside the local library because the new 3D printer has arrived and they want to use it?

I certainly do not know what the public library will be like in 10 years or 20 years, but I think the conversations we all have here may help shape some of the thinking. Post up in the comments: what do you think the public library should be in the 21st century?

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


Related

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s great to have maker spaces, and I’d love to have one in my town. But I wouldn’t want to see them supported by tax dollars and I don’t think the general public will see them as a logical alternative to libraries.

    The purpose of libraries was to make knowledge available to those who could not otherwise obtain it. If they’re no longer necessary, they should close and government spending should be cut; the program has served its purpose and is no longer needed.

    Let’s not look at surplus tax revenue as a problem that needs to be solved by finding things to spend the money on.

    1. Anonymous says:

      where is there surplus tax revenue in the USA at the moment?

      1. Anonymous says:

        If libraries were to fall into disuse and be closed, there would be surplus tax revenue at the local level.

        1. Anonymous says:

          @rea5245 – what you’re saying makes much sense to me. can you discuss what you think the library of the present and future should or shouldn’t have? more ebooks? 3d printers? workshops to learn electronics?

          1. Anonymous says:

            That’s an interesting question because, surprisingly, it’s the wrong question!

            I don’t want to dictate what a library offers. A library, like any organization, should serve its customers. A private organization either figures out what its customers need, or goes out of business and is replaced by an organization that does a better job.

            But a PUBLIC LIBRARY is different. It’s immune to market forces. It’s subject only to political forces. It leads to thinking like “let’s get a group together and petition the government to put a hacker space in the library” and arguments like “it’s good for the community, so the government should do it.”

            But even though that second sentiment sounds noble, it’s just one group’s opinion. Success depends on how loud that group is, not how big the market is. So it’s the wrong way to run an organization.

            As for today’s public libraries: their purpose is books. If that purpose is obsolete (and I don’t think it is yet) they should close. Government programs that have outlived their usefulness should end. Give the money back to the people who worked hard to earn it. And it they want workshops to learn electronics, they’ll open and/or patronize private workshops.

          2. Anonymous says:

            @rea5245 – you said “As for today’s public libraries: their purpose is books” – really? libraries do not and cannot offer more than “books” ?

            give what money back, to which people?

          3. Anonymous says:

            Obviously, they do offer more than books. Whether they should is another matter. Their original charter (their “social contract”, so to speak) was limited to printed matter.

            By “give money back” I was referring to tax cuts: in the event that libraries are no longer worthwhile (and again, I don’t think that’s the case) the taxes that are raised to support them are no longer needed and taxes should be cut. The government should not look for new things to spend money on simply because it has the money.

          4. Anonymous says:

            you said “Their original charter (their “social contract”, so to speak) was limited to printed matter.”

            what social charter or contract was that? are you saying libraries shouldn’t have internet access? or DVDs?

            you also said “The government should not look for new things to spend money on simply because it has the money.”

            what do that have to do with this discussion? if you don’t think libraries will be no longer worthwhile why mention this?

            can you discuss what you think the library of the present and future should or shouldn’t have? more ebooks? 3d printers? workshops to learn electronics?

          5. Anonymous says:

            It’s relevant to the discussion because you suggested in your article that the government should be subsidizing hacker spaces. I mention it not because I think libraries will no longer be worthwhile but because your article suggests they’re already losing their value.

            (BTW, I think libraries as brick and mortar collections of printed materials will, eventually, be useless. I just don’t think we’re there yet.)

          6. Anonymous says:

            please re-read the article, i never said governments should subsidize hackerspaces – you’re projecting some anti-tax/government stuff :)

            again – can you describe what you’d like to see future libraries offer? what they can be, what they could be? since you said “libraries as brick and mortar collections of printed materials will, eventually, be useless” here is your chance to talk about what they can become.

            don’t say “retail space” again :)

    2. Becky Kinney says:

      I agree that libraries need to evolve, but I don’t think you’re hitting a very large segment of library users with the Maker spaces idea. I could definitely see libraries as a place to borrow more than just books, as others have suggested. People who have poor bandwidth or no computer already rely upon the library for internet access, so I’d like to see that role expanded. I also don’t see any reason why libraries shouldn’t continue to loan books. Not just paper books, but eBooks, as many already do. I’d like to be able to browse eBooks while physically in the library the same way I can currently browse them while in a brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble store, reading any amount at skipping to any page before deciding to borrow. Libraries could also become places people go to consume Open Educational Resources of all kinds, in an environment where face-to-face help, at least with the UI, is readily at hand. 3D printers, not so much.

  2. openfly says:

    http://www.music-piracy.com/?p=108 I wrote something similar a while back.

    1. Anonymous says:

      wow, this is a great read! openfly, i think we both had similar observations – i think the challenge is convincing people to consider these as ideas and build on them.

    2. Anonymous says:

      Very nice – although I think STEM is/was misguided in its exclusion of the Arts. Science without Art is sterile and lacks creativity. I much prefer the acronym STEAM – (http://www.forbes.com/2010/04/08/john-maeda-design-technology-data-companies-10-keynote.html)

    3. Meg Backus says:

      Yes. One of my students at Syracuse University’s School of Information suspects Phillip Torrone has been snooping around our class. Not in a creepy or threatening way, just that we’ve been insisting on this very transformation of public libraries all semester (we blog about it here). I’m a librarian in Upstate NY and my artist partner and I, in addition to putting techshops and FabLabs in public libraries, also want to model library programming off the example of The Public School,

      THE PUBLIC SCHOOL is a school with no curriculum. At the moment, it operates as follows: first, classes are proposed by the public (I want to learn this or I want to teach this); then, people have the opportunity to sign up for the classes (I also want to learn that); finally, when enough people have expressed interest, the school finds a teacher and offers the class to those who signed up.

      Elated to see this article written up so well. I’m on your side and will do what I can to make this happen.

      1. Public librarian here. Love the idea of a hackerspace fablab library. Has anyone analyzed the economic benefit to the community of having such a resource? If that benefit could be quantified, it would help get local governments on board.

  3. kentkb says:

    Is It Time To Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries And Make “TechShops”?
    My answer is “Yes” and add Food preparation into this too.
    So many people need a safe place to Learn and Make, yet do not want to join a Hacker space or TechShop.
    I would love my tax dollars to go to support these ideas!

    1. Anonymous says:

      You’re free to have your dollars go to a hacker space. You can do that now. That’s not the issue.

      The issue is, are you going to force your neighbor’s dollars to go to a hacker space?

      1. Anonymous says:

        “our” tax dollars mostly fund social security / benefits and military spending now, correct?

        1. Anonymous says:

          Yes, for federal taxes. Libraries are primarily funded through local taxes.What’s your point?

          1. Anonymous says:

            who decides how your local taxes are spent?

          2. Anonymous says:

            Of course, the spending is determined by politicians elected by the people. I’m still not sure where your (I suspect) rhetorical questions are headed. (I have some guesses, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth.)

          3. Anonymous says:

            that’s right, spending is determined by politicians elected by the people.

          4. Anonymous says:

            So? Is that your point? How does that relate to my initial comment?

          5. Anonymous says:

            you said “are you going to force your neighbor’s dollars to go to a hacker space?” and you also said “spending is determined by politicians elected by the people” – it appears not one person can “force their neighbor” to do anything – so i’m really not sure why you said that.

            can you describe what you’d like to see future libraries offer? what they can be, what they could be?

          6. Anonymous says:

            We are all forced to pay taxes; it is not voluntary. And while no single person can impose a tax, every person who supports a tax is participating in an effort to force others to pay. My point is that it’s disingenuous for someone to justify that effort by saying “I’m willing to pay”.

            A library is “a repository for literary and artistic materials, such as books, periodicals, … kept for reading and reference.” That’s what it is and that’s what it should be.

            If you put a hacker space in a building used by a library, that doesn’t make the hacker space a library any more than putting a swimming pool in would make the swimming pool a library.

            If library usage declines, move the library to a smaller building and repurpose the old building. I don’t care what you repurpose it as. In my old town, libraries have been repurposed as retail space, assisted living facilities, and other things. If there’s a market for a hacker space, let someone buy the building and open it up. I’d certainly go there and check it out.

          7. Anonymous says:

            @rea5245 – you said it’s “disingenuous for someone to justify that effort by saying “I’m willing to pay” – just like it’s disingenuous for someone to say they don’t want to support something like saying “i don’t want my tax dollars going to that” right?

            you also said A library is “a repository for literary and artistic materials, such as books, periodicals, … kept for reading and reference.” That’s what it is and that’s what it should be.”

            that’s not what a library is any longer – hasn’t been for years, it has changed. read all the comments here and visit your local library – it’s internet access, dvds, computers, workshops and more. just because you have a narrow view of what a library should be and refuse to consider what a library “could” become do not continue to try to twist the conversations here towards some anti-tax arguments.

            so again, keep on topic – can you describe what you’d like to see future libraries offer? what they can be, what they could be?

            thanks!

          8. Anonymous says:

            It’s not disingenuous to say “I don’t want my tax dollars going to that” because you’re not preventing your neighbors from contributing to it. It IS disingenuous to say “I’m willing to pay” for a cause as a justification for levying a tax, since you’re ALREADY free to contribute to the cause without forcing your neighbor to. The real motive behind voting for a tax is to get EVERYONE to pay, not just you.

            I stated the dictionary definition of a library. The fact that the building the library is in provides other services doesn’t mean that those things constitute a library. Yes, libraries host community meetings. But take all the books out of the building, and just have meetings there, and people will stop calling it a library. The word “library” comes from the Latin for “book”.

            So you’re asking me what other things the building can be used for. And I answer “anything”. Hacker space, gymnasium, what-have-you. I have no opinion on that. My only concern is that things other than a library are outside of the government’s legitimate role.

            And (to consolidate two threads into one) your article did indeed strongly imply that government should subsidize hacker spaces (or “TechShops”). You expressed concern that the expense of TechShops would limit their accessibility, then you proposed converting public libraries to TechShops. Now, if you meant “government sells the buildings and private TechShops open in them”, then I apologize. But it sure sounded like you meant “the government uses library buildings to make public [as in tax-supported] TechShops.”

          9. Anonymous says:

            @rea5245 – if you’re going to only attempt to turn this in to a tax or “government’s legitimate role” debate please do not continue to participate in this discussion about the future of libraries. thanks.

            otherwise, please impress all of us with your great ideas on what the future of libraries could be, reading the definition from a dictionary does not count :)

          10. Anonymous says:

            To be fair to rea5245, you’re not being very clear. You talk about ‘public libraries’ and then ask what ‘libraries’ can become. Are we to assume you mean “what is to become of libraries funded by tax dollars?” Because without being more precise, that sounds an awful lot like “Where can we redirect existing tax dollars that may be underutilized in the future?”

            This is a direct quote from the article: “What if we were to convert just 1% or even 10% of the 9,000 public libraries in the USA to TechShops?” Do you understand where the confusion is arising?

            Why mention libraries at all? Why not simply extol the virtues of TechShops and leave it at that? “TechShops are great; here’s why; we should build more of them.” Why do libraries need to be converted into TechShops?

          11. Anonymous says:

            @TrudeauTheJust – again, this is about what the future of libraries could be – this isn’t about anti-taxes or anti-government, there are plenty of other sites for that debate.

            asking if converted just 1% of public libraries to “techshops” is a reasonable thing to ask to get people thinking, i outlined the costs to run a techshop and a public library – instead of people speculating how much it would cost, i put it out there to avoid arguing how much it could cost – the goal is to get you talking about what a library *could* evolve to – please stick to that.

          12. Anonymous says:

            I don’t think rea5245 is concerned with how much it costs, it’s about who is paying for it. And I’m only suggesting that “what could the future of libraries be?” is a very broad question. Certainly the future of libraries involves funding, and radical changes may involve significant funding questions.

            And your choice of words: “rebuild & retool public libraries” and “converting” libraries into TechShops. Again: why do they have to be converted or even added on to libraries? Is the library so unsuccessful that it needs to be converted to something else? Why does the TechShop need to be joined with the library instead of existing on its own?

          13. Anonymous says:

            @TrudeauTheJust – people know what “hackerspaces” “fablabs” and “techshops” are – these are words to describe what a library “could” evolve to – please read the article carefully, and again – everyone – keep the anti-tax and anti-government stuff on other sites.

            please add what you think they could evolve in to.

          14. Anonymous says:

            You’re still not understanding my point. Maybe you’re just ignoring it, but I’m probably not being clear enough, so I apologize for that. You’re asking what they could evolve into and I’m questioning the premise that significant evolution is desirable. An analogy:

            There are thousands of movie theatres across the country. They used to be small, one or two-screen theatres, but many have evolved over time to be large cineplexes with dozens of screens. Is it time to retool some of these theatres and convert them to opera houses? Opera has a long history and there are many people who enjoy it. There’s also nothing quite like the experience of seeing a performance live instead of prerecorded on the screen. Even if we converted just one theatre in each large cineplex, that would be a significant step in the evolution of movie theatres. What are your ideas on what movie theatres could evolve into?

            What I am trying to understand is why you think movie theatres (libraries) should evolve into anything. Why not keep move theatres and opera separate? If there is a demand for more opera houses, let’s just build more opera houses. There’s no need to arbitrarily join them with movie theatres just because they have a roughly similar experience.

            There are lots of community-based services that you could randomly incorporate into a library if you chose to, but the question remains: why? We could add a kitchen into libraries and offer cooking classes and when the classes aren’t going on, we could serve food to the homeless as a soup kitchen. That would serve an important function in the community, but a reasonable question would be: why does it have to be in a library?

            Similarly, I’m asking: why should TechShops be added onto libraries or why should libraries be converted into TechShops? Where is the added benefit that would come from having both in the same building that wouldn’t come with having two separate buildings in two different locations? I hope this elucidates my point more clearly, and I apologize for not being clear enough before.

  4. AndrewS says:

    No.
    Libraries are about borrowing books and being quiet.

    1. Becky Rech says:

      Even today, they are about so much more then borrowing books and being quiet. They provide access to digital resources and hardware that people can’t or don’t want to afford. They provide educational programs and information specialists to help with both academic and research needs… they are so much more then just books and quiet!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great article, I had thought about setting up a shop a few years back before the HackerSpace explosion, in fact there was only one I could find in existence, based out of Silicon Valley. I have felt that this is one of those “Community” buildings that any good community should provide to it’s members. Can’t say the thought of retrofitting libraries crossed my mind. I believe that as Hackers, and one of them is to Hack in a properly ventilated environment since plastic and all the other materials produce less then healthy fumes. Maybe a parent organization to provide assistance to some of the smaller hackerspaces would get some success. I really wish my day job didn’t take away from my ability to create and inspire, if anyone in a hackerspace or creative field could find me a way to pay my mortgage and still be able to afford the “tools to tinker” I’d be forever indebted to you.

  6. I think this could go beyond public libraries and use tech shops and fablabs as a potential filler for any underused building. My town has a lot of creative and technically proficient people as well as a lot people who appreciate craftsmanship. I think fablabs and tech shops are facilities that my town doesn’t know it needs. I will hopefully be teaching full time within the next few years, and once I have the time and resources, I would love to attempt to open a location like this.

  7. dupree says:

    A lovely idea, but just an ideal. Although I would love to have access to a place like this, it would never work in the real world. Books are hard to break, tools are not. Also, can you imagine the insurance liability costs of letting the unexperienced public near power tools like laser cutters and CNC machines? Lawsuits would shut the place down in no time.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @dupree – techshop, fablabs and hackerspaces all operate, have insurance and work out. millions of people drive cars, accidents happen, but we’ve figured out a way to balance the risks with the benefits. going to the moon was risky too.

  8. alexzealand says:

    It’s unfortunate that you cloud your very interesting and valid questions with the assumption that US libraries are not actually being used. Have you actually been in a public library recently? At mine, the public PCs are constantly in use by people who do not have home computer or internet access. And the tables are full of people with their laptops, working and studying. And the Reference Desk is slammed with people doing research, and the Circulation desk has a constant line of people waiting to check things out.

    It would help tremendously if you looked at the reality of library use – not just the statistics – and attempted to bring the Maker world into the Library (and vice-versa) instead of assuming that the one needs to supplant the other. Questions of smart evolution are on the mind of nearly every Librarian and Library staff person I know, and I’m planning to share this article around to my coworkers. But you don’t do anyone any good by assuming that just because you’re not using the Library no one is.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @alexzealand – i want to add *more* to libraries like electronics workshops, CAD, laser cutting, 3D printing, etc. i posted the statistics that show libraries *are* being used, i specifically said they’re being underutilized for skill-sharing and building. they’re certainly not training people how to use laser cutters, 3d printers, CAD, etc – at least not yet. that’s the goal here, figure out what a library could be, should be and what it might be 5,10 and 15 years from now.

      1. then why do you propose *converting* libraries to workshops -sounds like what you really mean to say is there should be public funding of tech/build/DIY spaces, but the model there is not like the library: when someone is done with a book, another patron can read it and get 100% of the value, so the initial investment is shared without loss for the years and years that books remain in good condition. whereas when someone fabricates themselves a doohickey, they get to keep it, at least I assume that’s how these pay to play tech centers work. in that case the next person gets nothing out of the effort of the first patron. if anything, they get slightly worn tools.
        no my friend, the publicly supported tech spaces you are thinking of are what used to be called ‘shop class’ -so I think what you’re really driving at is supporting public education.

        1. Anonymous says:

          no, i mean we need to think about what libraries can evolve in to – what are your suggestions? what do you think about the 25+ tool lending libraries so far?

          1. Anonymous says:

            I have been spending a lot of time at the mid-Manhattan NYPL lately, and it appears to serve several important public functions.

            One, the mid-Manhattan NYPL is a place for people who cannot afford internet access to check their e-mail and correspond with others for free.

            Two, it provides a space to rest for those who do not have a permanent home. A hefty percentage of those inside the library appear to be homeless or otherwise living in poverty. Some appear to be on drugs. Others may be mentally ill.

            Three, the NYPL provides a wealth of incredible reading material.

            As many people inside the mid-Manhattan library have no place to call home and a variety of ailments, social workers could visit this building every day to directly offer help. I think this would be a positive step in the right direction. Instead, there is a constant security patrol haranguing these folks who are destitute or just plain out of luck.

            Other thoughts….The library teaches elementary computer skills to people who need these skills to find work. So let’s take care of the basics there, and bring more of these ideas for “TechShops” directly to the schools. It’s just one step at time. The libraries can’t become high-tech labs if New Yorkers need to learn MS Word first.

            The library also should be a safe place for children and students to read. Right now, the midtown library in Manhattan is not that and perhaps it would be best if those who obviously require more than a good book to read were directed to a special office in the space. I don’t mean to demean anyone who is living in poverty, but in my opinion, it is unsafe for children to intermingle regularly with homeless and mentally ill adults. If I feel unsafe there, which I do, I can’t imagine how a parent would feel.

            Anyhoo, if I missed some big news about the laser cutting industry’s rapid growth, fill me in yo. I don’t own a Nook yet and I don’t plan to….

          2. Jenny Baum says:

            I know it’s not the same as a children’s space inside Mid-Manhattan, but there is a new children’s space right across the street in the schwarzman building that is beautiful and inviting to children and caregivers.
            http://www.nypl.org/locations/schwarzman/childrens-center-42nd-street

        2. Ryan White says:

          When someone is done with a tool, another patron can use it and get 100% of the value, so the initial investment is shared without loss for years and years that tools remain in good condition…. When someone fabricates themselves an idea (using a book) they get to keep it…

        3. Ryan White says:

          When someone is done with a tool, another patron can use it and get 100% of the value, so the initial investment is shared without loss for years and years that tools remain in good condition…. When someone fabricates themselves an idea (using a book) they get to keep it…

        4. Ryan White says:

          When someone is done with a tool, another patron can use it and get 100% of the value, so the initial investment is shared without loss for years and years that tools remain in good condition…. When someone fabricates themselves an idea (using a book) they get to keep it…

      2. Tom Mink says:

        Until libraries become empty buildings with internet access and quiet study rooms due to some eventual conversion to all-digital books, laser cutters and the like would have to be housed somewhere other than the big room full of flammable material

  9. saint_buddha says:

    I feel that that author is very ignorant about how valuable libraries are to communities across the United States, especially since he compared them to a bankrupted corporation. This very simple infographic provides a lot more information about how libraries improve communties.

    http://www.oclc.org/reports/pdfs/214109usf_how_libraries_stack_up.pdf

    Contrary to the author’s opinion, computers (and internet access) are not cheap for many, many people in this country. For these people, they choose food and shelter over the internet so the library is still an important access point for information. If the author actually visited his local library, rather than just passing by Borders, he would probably see most, if not all, of the computers being used.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @saint_buddha – i said “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. ”

      i never said get rid of internet access or computers, i want to add *more* to libraries like electronics workshops, CAD, laser cutting, 3D printing, etc.

      the folks you described should also have access to these things, right? they’re certainly not going to form a hacker space or get a techshop membership right?

      if you read the article you would have seen that i’ve used the many many libraries here in NYC for the last few years as well, only recently i stopped going as much – i wanted everyone to think of what the future of libraries could be, will it just be a room with ebook readers? really?

      1. Will it be a room with just machines? Really?

        1. Anonymous says:

          of course not, read the article – it might be offering more tool lending in more libraries, it might offering 3D printing classes / CAD. for the people who think libraries should only be “quiet and books” – their future sounds like a room with ebook reads, i don’t think that’s what a library should or could be.

          michael, what you think the library of the future should have?

          1. Anonymous says:

            You sound hooked on the idea of eBooks taking over libraries. Don’t count on it. One publisher is already limiting the loans on its eBooks. Many people don’t want to pay for books. Libraries provide eBooks for patrons to check out–but they can have “holds” on them. I don’t see the death of the paper book just yet.

            A community center might be the better home for your idea. Libraries don’t tend to have the space for a room that may not get a lot of use, yet can’t be used for other purposes. (Most library auditoriums and program spaces can be used for a variety of activities).

          2. Anonymous says:

            I believe that will require more than just the equipment. There will probably need to be a separate building. Just the requirements for the tools, AC, and power will require a different class of building than a Library. Building code for a Library would be a B, this facility would be an F. The fire rating is higher, and the building allowable area is different. there are other costs for the community than just the tools and equipment.

          3. I don’t know yet. The difference between the libraries I’ve worked at and this article is that our future thinking is based on what our community wants. If it wants a space where more tech is collected, we’ll do our best to provide it (although it’s hard to imagine where the money is coming from at this point). Ours has a darkroom because a significant part of our community asked for one. We’ve expanded our ebook holdings because people wanted them. We’re doing oral history projects because there’s a demand for it. Libraries are already generally not a quiet place with books and haven’t been for a long time (I’ve even been shushed by a patron!). Short answer: We’ll do our best with the money and the mandate we’ve been given to do what we can for our communities. So far, we have yet to have anyone approach us and ask for any tool lending whatsoever.

          4. Anonymous says:

            mike, how do you feel about the 25+ tool lending libraries, would you like to see your library have that?

          5. If we did, I think it would be great; however, a tool lending library is not a library with a tool shop in it, as you are proposing.

          6. Anonymous says:

            not correct, i said tool lending is a start – and maybe for some that’s about as imaginative as they’ll get. what are *your* ideas mike?

          7. Adam Cahan says:

            Hey. I’m jumping threads. This is a great conversation. I think he’s making the point that he believes local libraries and librarians should respond to the ideas of the community they serve, over those of the librarian.

            Also, in some ways, a library is too narrow. ‘Free education’ sounds more like school. My two cents is that changes in technology and culture are causing a convergence of the library and the school, that a library will necessarily have to become a pedagogical site as it adapts to information technologies. In this context a hackerspace (and a science lab? a film/recording studio?) would be another location of learning. We could put them all together and call it a ‘praxis space’!

      2. Anonymous says:

        Not likely. However, library budgets are pretty slim. The cost of technology is very high. It has a major impact on what libraries can provide.

        The nice part about tools is that they can generally be used for years and you don’t need to get the latest and greatest constantly.

        However, remember the mission of libraries is to provide access to knowledge. Will the tools themselves provide knowledge? It’s a good topic for debate. Think of how you can market that. It also wouldn’t hurt to find a company to provide a grant to cover the costs.

        Who would be the people who are available for them? Relying on volunteers? It can be done, but usually library staff would need to be around, especially with tools being used if they are at all dangerous. Liability issues!!

  10. I think a lot of these comments are really missing the beauty of this idea. It’s like a community center for science and engineering instead of sports.

  11. Libraries should stay libraries: quiet and filled with books and e-books.

    However, in my opinion, libraries should definitively be THE place to have access to all advanced ressources about DIY, programming and tools knowledge. Maybe have a dedicated space inside hackerspaces and Techshops where you could find tons of books and ressources that you could borrow and bring home if needed.

    In one word: Bring libraries in makerspaces, not makerspaces in libraries.

    1. Anonymous says:

      “Libraries should stay libraries: quiet and filled with books and e-books.” really? why couldn’t you have a section devoted to making things, or that section only open at night / certain hours?

      you can have all the resources (books) you want, but eventually you need to apply this knowledge and make things, sometimes a workshop setting for electronics works even better. a public library is a great place to consider doing this.

      1. Just saw that this already happens in France. Some libraries in Paris let people rent tools for 3 days for only 5 euros per year. Their name so far: bricothèque (like “bricolage” + “bibliothèque” = tinkering + libraries… tinkeries sonds great? )

        Tools that you can rent there:
        - drill
        - hole puncher
        - jigsaw
        - circular saw
        - cutting mosaic (I don’t know how to say)
        - sander
        - steam stripper
        - glue gun
        - tool to carpet
        - carpet shampooer
        - stapler
        - voltage tester

        It’s mostly little tools useful for little home projects, but it already a beginning! Some people says it’s a kind of “social tinkering”.

        Read more about it (in French): http://www.oeilbylaser.com/179/bricolage-social.html

  12. It’s funny, I’ve always thought of libraries as an institution for preserving human knowledge, and hadn’t really considered their role in cultural development. I like the idea that 21st century literacy requires more from us than just an ability to read and write. Modern literacy demands a capacity for innovative thinking, scientific inquiry and a personal commitment to engage in–and share the outputs of–creative exploration. Thanks Phil!

  13. I know not what shall be contained in the next generation of libraries, but I know that these types of libraries would be loud and awesome. Study groups would need a new place of gathering.

    I actually worked with the MC STEM school in Cleveland, they’re quite awesome. The kids there are working on projects for weeks at a time. I really hope the model (project based learning) is taken up by many more schools.

    As for the feasibility? I dunno…let’s try it out! There would be resistance from the existing employees, but small programs would show the benefits to those who try the switch. I would think the best thing would be to find an underutilized branch, with many branches nearby (people still need books), and try it at that kind of location.

    1. johngineer says:

      “There would be resistance from the existing employees”

      And you are basing this assumption on???

      1. …they’re people…at a workplace.

        Perhaps it’s only been my experience but regardless of how many times I’ve seen change at a workplace–and especially when it changes the fundamental nature of the work or the workplace–there’s resistance.

        The key would be like your awesome comment above, John–evangelists. But restaffing from the beginning would be difficult.

        1. johngineer says:

          Well, there are always going to be a few luddites who resist any and all change. But in my experience in working in libraries, the folks who work there tend to be more open to change than most. This is the people on the ground that I’m talking about — the folks who interact with patrons all day. The management is a different matter entirely — they will see it as a threat to their authority.

  14. Duane Benson says:

    I think the building full of books has a bit more life left in it. I don’t have enough spare cash for an e-reader. The only laptop I have access to belongs to my place of work. Without the portability and convenience afforded by an e-reader type device, physical books are the thing for me. I and my kids go through enough enough books that buying them isn’t ecologically sound nor cash efficient. Many of the people I associate with are in a similar circumstance. Our community library is very well utilized.

    That being said, I agree that libraries are in great danger of losing their relevance. Many of them have just thrown computers on a couple of desks without a clear mission beyond making Internet access easy for the have-nots. Again, I think that is a very important application, but it falls way short of the potential.

    Both of my kids have had school projects that they have chosen to create in Adobe Flash. If I can’t afford an e-reader, I’m certainly not going to be able to afford Flash. The library concept would be an ideal way to fulfill such a need. Skip the games, but install Flash, video editing, CAD (2D, 3D & electronic design), Spice, Compilers, Photoshop and other important tools such as that. The Ronald McNairs of today and tomorrow will not only be able to read books they otherwise could not access, but they’ll be able to learn and use tools that would otherwise be inaccessible.

    Years ago, I could check out a Wollensak tape recorder/player from my local library. These were big, expensive commercial type units. What’s the difference between that and checking out any other tool, be they electronic or mechanical? I would love the opportunity to once in a while check out an expensive temperature controlled soldering station. Much of what I do can get by with an inexpensive iron, but there are times when I need the better tool. How many budding future engineers could benefit from the opportunity to now and then check out an o-scope?

    Take this additional utility and add in some lab/workshop space and I most certainly agree that we then have a library that caters to today’s needs. I still see a place for books in a library for a number of years to come, but without changing with the times, libraries will become less and less utilized. They’ll disappear and a very important public service opportunity will die with the libraries.

    Call it a hackerspace, techshop or even call it a library. Whatever, but let’s give the future Ronald McNairs a chance to learn, explore and create. Isn’t that what a library is for? I think that is exactly what our tax dollars and generous donation dollars are intended for. Few things are more important uses of our tax dollar than educating. The purpose/need for library will likely never go away. But, where’s the rule that says it has to be for books alone?

    1. Anonymous says:

      fantastic!

    2. Anonymous says:

      Well said. I particularly agree with the computer tool availability and workshops to teach the use of them. I would worry about abuse of the system for commercial purposes when an employer is too cheap to buy there own licence, but that’s a small detail that can be worked around easily.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Public libraries have been struggling lately with funding, DRM restrictions, dropping usage, etc. This might bring back a good reason for people to visit/use/fund libraries. I dont know if TechShop is the right model to follow though. They would have to *seriously* downscale their entry requirements to deal with what libraries could offer (<100s of sqft vs 10k+, $1k-20k equipment budgets vs $millions). FabLabs have a lower entry ($80k capital+supplies). Makerspaces have even lower entry and higher community involvement, although often a limited clique.
    TechShops include a fair bit of heavy machinery – bridgeport mills, lathes, etc for metal and wood work. They do perhaps have a better handle on how to run such a space… failures are a good learning experience. An alternative to check out is NextFab in Philadelphia. They have a 4000sqft space with similar equipment to TS but without heavy duplication. For a grant based model, check out the UHawaii Manoa's Invention Factory & Makery projects (http://www.coe.hawaii.edu/about/stories/invention )

    I am not one to whine that Mother Government should give us money. There is far too much of that going on already. Also it comes with too many strings, and often a lack of drive to succeed. Why work hard if govt is going pay regardless of performance?

    Perhaps what is needed is a modern Andrew Carnegie – some angel (or small group of angels) who is (are) willing to put *some* of their personal fortune on the line to back a public access maker space. Even one or two demonstration spaces to prove the concept and develop open source management/knowledge for running a space & developing curriculums (vs buy franchise license).

    1. B. says:

      TechShops include a fair bit of heavy machinery – bridgeport mills, lathes, etc for metal and wood work. They do perhaps have a better handle on how to run such a space… failures are a good learning experience.

      What exactly did you mean by “failures are a good learning experience.” TechShop both as a for-profit business and community is stronger than it has ever been and growing rapidly.

      1. Anonymous says:

        No offense meant… TechShop Portland and TechShop RDU both closed their initial efforts. RDU seems to have learned some lessons and reopened. That is learning from a failure… failure is always an option. Failure is only a stigma if you also fail to learn from it.
        As for the community side – I think that has changed a bit with the new facilities and since I took classes at Menlo Park location in 2008.

        1. B. says:

          MauiJerry — Thanks for the clarification. TechShop Portland is scheduled to reopen as a corporate location in the next year or two in partnership with (or somewhere close to) OMSI as I understand it. RDU was able to keep the flame alive through doing exactly what you eluded to in your post using what they learned did not work in their former (larger) location. As far as failure always being an option I agree wholeheartedly “Fail Fast Fail Often” I always say… Beside stories of catastrophic failure are always more fun to hear and tell.

  16. jrspruitt says:

    This sounds like a great idea. If one of the main selling points of the modern library is that it provides internet access to people with out computers, then they’ve essentially taken the first step in providing these tools to people, instead of the traditional book lending facility.

    Problems I see with it, are obvious, a quiet place to read and contemplate doesn’t mesh well with a shop atmosphere. And considering the political climate at the moment, tax is practically a swear word. Which, considering the business model, taxes would probably be needed. Taxes are perfect for this kind of thing, because it is a not for-profit facility, it is an activity that pays off in something that isn’t directly monetary. For profit business, the private sector mostly, are going to gauge this investment on returns, which, the pay off on this, does not translate into anything that can be used to pay the bills. Tax dollars are a funding resource that doesn’t have to worry about turning a profit, only the benefit the service is providing to society, which creating a resource that will foster technological innovation, learning and accessibilty, will help promote a new generation of innovation, and production, instead of just consumption. This is is a cultural shaping activity, another bad word, that will help create a society that is vastly more adept at the modern world, which when it comes to producing goods, is increasingly more complex than it used to be.

    I follow the custom car culture and its taken a good while for them to embrace electronic fuel injection, because of its complexity. Most shutter at the thought of working on a new car, complaining about there being too many wires, no carburetor, mechanical fuel pump etc. But if any group of people want to be competative in the market place, over coming this technological learning curve is imparative. Considering the vast amounts of technology, there isn’t a general tech class that could be taught, it needs to be more specialized, which this type of facility would allow. And be free from the constraints of for profit business’ eager to turn it into a direct benefit for themselves.

    Its a great idea, would love to see it happen. But there are a few hurdles to over come. Mostly the money, either taxes, or finding some unconditional philanthropy from the business sector. Plus it would create some jobs right now, as people would be needed to run the places, organize, administrate, which you can’t always depend on volunteers, good people are hard to come by, and eventually even the good ones move on.

  17. johngineer says:

    I think that this idea is both valuable and feasible, but make no mistake: it will require dedicated, unceasing, and (perhaps most importantly) constructive evangelism to make it happen. In this way, I would liken it to the 19th amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote. Not in that I equate changing libraries with the re-enfranchisement of half the population, rather that in the decades following the change, people will wonder at our primitive, meager “book only” libraries.

    1. Anonymous says:

      excellent comment john – i’m sure if we looked around we’d see a lot debate about adding computers and internet access to libraries and if it’s a good idea too – that of course sounds bonkers now, but i’m sure there were people saying it should just be “quiet and books” – some of them have posted here too :)

    2. Anonymous says:

      Excellent idea!
      As for workshops – is there a repository for open source workshop materials?
      Many of the Make books are suitable as reference material but lack teacher support materials.
      It would be a great benefit to the community to have such available!

    3. jrspruitt says:

      This would be a great way to get kids involved, this is the kind of thing a little kid would be absolutely captivated by. And with the level of accessibility with the internet, and online retailers, getting started isn’t all that hard, before this, I had no idea where to even begin. Workshops and displays would be a great way to build interest and network with local people. I’ve been in a hobby before, that required the involvement of a group of people, finding them, keeping them, organizing them, is what would make or break it. This sounds like a great place to start. Also, thinking outside the box, not just on the people into electronics, but other hobbies that could benefit from a little soldering time. I’m sure home decorating, arts and crafts, hotrods, custom anything, could find a use for this knowledge too.

      1. But would you actually be able to allow little kids in a place with a lot of machinery they don’t know how to use? How much would the municipality’s insurance rates go up if, say, a kid dared his kid sister to put her head under a press? How much does it go up if a kid dares his kid sister to put her head under a book?

        1. Anonymous says:

          oh please, that’s a silly argument “think of the kids!” of course untrained people would not be allowed in areas which require training or an adult.

          there are tool tending libraries now WITH CHAINSAWS. WHAT IF SOMETHING HAPPENS??

          all these what-ifs are just scare mongering. there are shop classes in public schools – it’s possible to allow people, including kids, to do some things with proper training and supervision.

          1. Anonymous says:

            Yes and no. To have children using such equipment would require not just parental releases but a LOT of insurance–and it would cost a lot of money. We are increasingly both a scared society (did you get to walk to your friend’s house a few blocks away? That doesn’t happen anymore. Sit in the car while Mom ran in to buy a few things? Can’t do that now.) and a litigious society.
            Libraries are not their own entity. They are usually a part of a city or county government. Most of those are not likely to want to spend the large amounts nor take the risks involved.

            Today’s tool-lending libraries probably only lend to adults and there’s probably a sign-off on a legal form. Then the use of said tool is the responsibility of the borrower.

            As a former teacher, I know that there are far fewer shop classes in schools nowadays. That’s partly because of our society’s emphasis on pushing kids to go to college rather than vocational schools or working right after high schools. My guess is that the schools that do still have shop classes probably have some kind of exemption (just as school buses don’t have seat belts–even though those kids SHOULD be buckled in!!).

            Have you ever taught a group of 20+ kids day after day for a year? Good luck providing the “proper training and supervision.” It’s one thing to do it with a small group of interested kids on a brief basis,but quite another with uninterested kids (because many will take shop for a so-called “easy A”) goofing around to try to look cool.

            Sorry to put a damper on your excitement over this, but there are always things we don’t think about when we make a proposal such as yours. You need to hear the very real problems as much as possible beforehand.

          2. Anonymous says:

            Yes, there are some limitations. Minors should require supervision by an adult, just like Public Pools.

            There should probably be minimum safety standards, and a minimum age. There may also need to be liability wavers. That’s for the Lawyers to work out.

            Other than that, it’s a great idea. for the younger set, a fab printer making cheese whiz bowels and such would be a great introduction for the kids.

          3. I am sure it is also difficult to get uninterested students into Shakespeare, not sure if that alone is a good enough reason for teachers to stop teaching it, or libraries to stop lending it. I do believe a library with access to equipment and age appropriate tools could serve the needs of interested learners. Those who are uninterested won’t be signing out books they won’t read, I expect the same would be true for tools they don’t wish to learn how to use. I think a balance needs to be struck between a nation losing its creative inventors and that of personal safety. With training and supervision we can collectively work to mitigate one of those risks.

          4. So if you want to expand libraries to include tools, you have to now find a way to keep kids away from them. There are tool lending libraries, as you note. But people don’t use them on-site. This is a silly thought experiment if you don’t think of what it entails. I could envision libraries as airports, but if it’s not practical, it’s not practical.

          5. Anonymous says:

            mike, there are 25+ libraries that have tool lending – if it were up to you it sounds like you would have never wanted that or allowed it – please try to contribute to the discussion here and talk about solutions and what the library of the future may be like. thanks –

          6. Again, you have yet to do more than blue-sky. These are not solutions; they are a wish list. I think tool-lending programs are great, but you are not talking about tool-lending programs, you are talking about a tool shop in the library. That is a much different thing. I am contrbuting to the discussion, as are several others, by pointing out that your program idea has holes. It happens to all of us. It does not make it a bad idea, just an idea that needs improvement. Clearly, you are not open to considering that you have less than a perfect idea.

          7. Anonymous says:

            i mike, i talked about tool lending and i said that’s a start – where are your ideas?

          8. So staff gets to decide who gets to use the tools and who doesn’t? One of the ALA bill of rights the profession adheres to is the free access of information to all, regardless of who they are. A gay teen looking for a book on LGBT issues won’t be turned away if underage. How does that square with selective access to tools?

  18. blhack says:

    I wrote an eerily similar article about this exact topic a while ago: http://newslily.com/blogs/104

    I absolutely support this idea. The idea of libraries as a warehouse for dead paper is dead.

    Relevant discussion about it here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1709346

  19. Steve Hoefer says:

    This seems to me like only a step or two away from what libraries already provide. My small town, hometown public library has always allowed people to check out tools (and art!) as well as classes. All they need to do now is provide a space to use the tools and training.

    And yes that “all they need to do” isn’t trivial, but it seems well within their charter and ability.

    When I’m in San Francisco I’m lucky to have TechShop right there was well as any number of hackerspaces and other makey organizations. Smaller cities and towns aren’t as lucky and could benefit significantly. The opportunities I’ve seen come from people going to a TechShop or hackerspace are huge.

    1. Anonymous says:

      agree 100%

  20. I think this is an absolutely fantastic idea. As a homeschooling parent I think this is precisely the kind of thing that is missing in our communities. It brings the library back as a place, not just to checkout books, but as a place of exchange, discourse and invention.

    What I would like to know is.. are there any success stories? Is there one innovative town or city that has tried this and seen it work. I think that type of thing could be an inspiration to people in other locations.

    1. Anonymous says:

      that will likely be up to all of us here :) we can be the future we seek!

    2. Jenny Baum says:

      Hi Chris,

      I read a book called Fab a few years back and I think the author had some succesful FabLabs operating already in schools. I have not heard of any operating in public libraries yet. As many people have mentioned in this thread already, it looks like schools may be a better fit for this sort of thing. As ptorrone mentions in his article, there are many successful tool lending libraries. However, I don’t know of any in large urban areas. The book Fab is available through many public libraries: http://www.worldcat.org/title/fab-the-coming-revolution-on-your-desktop-from-personal-computers-to-personal-fabrication/oclc/57465426&referer=brief_results

  21. Anonymous says:

    As someone who lives in a house with two people, four computers and two makerbots I can understand where you are coming from, but as someone who works in an urban library in a very low income area I know you misunderstand the importance of libraries in today’s society.

    While computers may be “cheap” to you, we have 40+ public access computers at our town library alone and there are still waits to use them. Every day I deal with people in need of help with computers, teenagers who don’t know how to attach files to emails and adults who can’t type but are required to fill out unemployment claims online. We have kids who wait 45 minutes for a computer so they can type their homework or so they can type up their parent’s resume. Giving them hackerspaces instead of books isn’t going to help them learn to read (every day we have parents bringing their kids in saying the local school said to come to the library for help with learning to read). Learning how to access information necessary for a satisfying life and having access to that information is what libraries are about, not supporting hobbies. While it’s a nice side effect, it’s not the main purpose.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @crontrarian – hi, please re-read the article :) i’d like to see equipment found in techshops and hackerspaces in libraries for people who will never get access to it otherwise.

      it’s not *instead of* – it’s in *addition to* – since you’ve seen the benefits of computers first hand in an urban library / low income area as you’ve described it, imagine all these same folks having access to a “fablab”.

      learning skills is not “supporting hobbies”. my example of ronald is a pretty good one i think, he was a kid who really liked math, one could say that was just a hobby for a kid, but he became something more than a math hobbyist right?

      1. Anonymous says:

        My point (which in rereading my post I made poorly) was that if we had extra money what we need is more computers (our are all about 5 – 8 years old) and more staff. Libraries are fighting for our lives right now to keep the basics like databases and programming, I don’t agree adding this kind of niche service is what we need to revitalize. I’ve spoken to my husband about doing a demonstration at the library with his makerbot and I think exposing the kids to these ideas is great, but supplying the tools and the space? Ha, we don’t even have space for more computers and even the staff at my library have safety scissors so tools are out of the question.

        Again, we subscribe to Make and have been to several Maker Faires so I support the need for hackerspaces, but I think you are coming from a place of privilege if you think public libraries and tax money should support them. Lots of us are dealing with people who couldn’t afford to eat lunch and don’t know how to use a computer when even Family Dollar requires you apply online.

        1. Anonymous says:

          the same argument about how money should be spent could be said about adding: internet, dvd, ebooks, entertainment books, etc – it really depends on what we value as a society.

          if you think science, engineering and design is the future – maybe libraries can evolve to be the source for that as well as “just books” as others have said.

          i never said taxes should support hackerspaces, please carefully read the article – it’s about what libraries can become.

          if (as you say) libraries are fighting for their lives, why wouldn’t they want to explore more ways to gain funding, attracting private donors and figure out more ways to become more valuable for the future.

          instead of saying what they can’t do, how about what they can – having your husband show a makerbot one night is a great idea and great start!

          1. Just out of curiosity, if taxes don’t provide the equipment in public spaces, who do you think should get the concession? Oh, right, this is about possibility, not actuality.

          2. Anonymous says:

            hi mike, i do not understand your question – taxes do provide computers and net access in libraries (as well as other things of course).

          3. Yes, but you note several times that you wouldn’t necessarily use taxes to equip the tech space or fablab or whatever is put together. So where does the money come from? If it is donated, I can tell you our local library doesn’t accept tech-oriented items any more because people were using us for a recycling dump. If grants, well, that’s money that we can’t use for something far more people in our community need or want. So where does the money come from? I think that’s pretty clear.

          4. Anonymous says:

            your library would not accept the donation of new computers?

          5. We absolutely would accept that donation. I should have been more clear in saying that we don’t accept donations of used equipment. We were getting stuff that went out with 8088. But again, if something is there, it will be used. If it will be used, someone will need help with it, which is fine. We wouldn’t be in the business if we didn’t like helping people. BUT if we’re going to help someone, we have to know how to use it. I’m not aware of anyone on staff who does, currently; we’re librarians and sometimes techies, but we don’t know everything, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to keep up on it. We’re happy to have volunteers, but they have to be dependable, which some unfortunately aren’t. So what do we do with all the great equipment besides frustrate people?

          6. Anonymous says:

            wow, it sounds like it’s all doom and gloom. again, what would you like to see your library get assuming the funds and staff/training was there?

      2. Anonymous says:

        You’re still not understanding my point. Maybe you’re just ignoring it, but I’m probably not being clear enough, so I apologize for that. You’re asking what they could evolve into and I’m questioning the premise that significant evolution is desirable. An analogy:

        There are thousands of movie theatres across the country. They used to be small, one or two-screen theatres, but many have evolved over time to be large cineplexes with dozens of screens. Is it time to retool some of these theatres and convert them to opera houses? Opera has a long history and there are many people who enjoy it. There’s also nothing quite like the experience of seeing a performance live instead of prerecorded on the screen. Even if we converted just one theatre in each large cineplex, that would be a significant step in the evolution of movie theatres. What are your ideas on what movie theatres could evolve into?

        What I am trying to understand is why you think movie theatres (libraries) should evolve into anything. Why not keep move theatres and opera separate? If there is a demand for more opera houses, let’s just build more opera houses. There’s no need to arbitrarily join them with movie theatres just because they have a roughly similar experience.

        There are lots of community-based services that you could randomly incorporate into a library if you chose to, but the question remains: why? We could add a kitchen into libraries and offer cooking classes and when the classes aren’t going on, we could serve food to the homeless as a soup kitchen. That would serve an important function in the community, but a reasonable question would be: why does it have to be in a library?

        Similarly, I’m asking: why should TechShops be added onto libraries or why should libraries be converted into TechShops? Where is the added benefit that would come from having both in the same building that wouldn’t come with having two separate buildings in two different locations? I hope this elucidates my point more clearly, and I apologize for not being clear enough before.

        1. Anonymous says:

          @TrudeauTheJust – yes i am asking what you think libraries could evolve in to. obviously they’ve added computers, net connections, DVDs and in some locations – tool lending. what else should they become?

          let’s start there.

          1. Anonymous says:

            Transformational change for its own sake doesn’t make sense. If you can provide some good reasons why libraries should become something other than what they are right now, I would be happy to answer your question. The first step in determining a solution is determining the problem. What is the problem to be solved here?

          2. Anonymous says:

            @TrudeauTheJust – again, i am asking what you think libraries could evolve in to. obviously they’ve added computers, net connections, DVDs and in some locations – tool lending. what else will they become as technology and needs change?

            most people agree CAD, laser cutting, 3D printers and being able to design things are part of our future – at one time the same was said about books, computers and internet access.

            so, again – what will a library have or need 5/10/15 years from now?

          3. Anonymous says:

            My approach is: if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Books are still fundamental to most learning. Internet access is also fundamental in this day and age. However, not every can afford books or internet access. This is where the public library steps in. Its role is not one of educating the workers of tomorrow. That’s certainly a noble goal and there are organizations that exist to pursue it, but libraries are successful doing what they’re doing right now. When they stop being successful, when a technology comes along that becomes so fundamental to the acquisition of knowledge as books and internet are today, the library should seriously consider providing it. I doubt it will be laser cutting or 3D printers.

          4. Anonymous says:

            @TrudeauTheJust – so what will libraries provide besides books and net access 5/10/20 years from now?

          5. Anonymous says:

            Nothing significant. Unless a technology comes along that is as revolutionary as the printing press or the internet. That’s not to say that TechShops are unimportant. I hope they flourish, but I think they’ll do so apart from libraries and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. They will both be successful (I hope) at doing the very separate and distinct things that they do.

          6. Anonymous says:

            wow, you do not think libraries will provide anything significant besides books and net access even 20 years from now, incredible. well, 20 years from now i’ll look up this post and see if you’re right :)

          7. Anonymous says:

            Remember: libraries existed in essentially the same form without significant changes for thousands of years. It took an invention as revolutionary as the internet to change that. Those things don’t come along every day, or even every 20 years.

          8. Anonymous says:

            @TrudeauTheJust – less than years ago or so a lot of different people couldn’t vote, or had the same rights – read the article again, depending on your skin color just a few decades ago you couldn’t get the same books as others.

            times change, so will libraries, so will technology and so will we…

          9. Just a few years ago, pretty much everything was segregated, wasn’t it? Or did they do that whole Civil Rights Act thing for fun? So why act like libraries were the demon here instead of providing the context?

          10. Anonymous says:

            please read the article and my comments – times change, from technology advancements to also have equal rights for more people. for someone to say nothing will change in 20 years is not only sad, it’s also wrong :)

          11. Again, you provided no context; just told the story of Ronald McNair as if Horrible Libraries were keeping him from information, when it was in fact the entire legal structure. All I asked was that you provide the context.

          12. Anonymous says:

            the context is – times change, from who is allowed to have access to books to what type of technology is available, saying everything will be the same 20 years from now is sad and wrong :)

          13. Great! Too bad you didn’t do this in the article.

          14. Anonymous says:

            what are you talking about?

          15. Anonymous says:

            Books, computers and internet access are all providing very similar value…information, not tool craft skills. Your tech shop belongs in schools. You keep asking “what ideas do people have for the future of libraries?” but you haven’t let go of the tech shop model, in the face of almost unanimous opposition.

            Personally I think libraries should become more social, hosting more readings, workshops and presentations. If libraries shared some of the coffee shop atmosphere, people might be more connected with the knowledge and resources available there, as well as with each other. Librarians as our guides and friends, not just a face behind the counter.

            Libraries should be (and some are) an animated home for community focus around intellectual, artistic and collaborative life-long learning.

          16. Adam Cahan says:

            yeah actually i’m with you and now this thread is even longer :)

          17. Anonymous says:

            Unless you have a crystal ball, you can’t say that it’s wrong. And I didn’t say nothing would change, I said nothing significant would change in libraries.

            Let’s make a list of things libraries could add: 3D printers, laser cutters, CAD programs, ponies, produce sections, oil changes, travel agents, and plumbers. You have yet to make a case as to why it makes sense for any of these things to be added to a library instead of existing on its own. The reason, of course, is that it doesn’t make sense.

            I’ve asked the question before and you didn’t answer, but I suppose I’ll try again: “why should TechShops be added onto libraries or why should libraries be converted into TechShops? Where is the added benefit that would come from having both in the same building that wouldn’t come with having two separate buildings in two different locations?”

            It’s no more sad to think that 3D printers will be kept out of libraries than it is to think that librarians won’t do oil changes. They’re two different things that could be combined together, but since there is no real added benefit, they probably won’t. Is it time to convert Hot Dog Stands into TechShops? What do you think a Hot Dog Stand will look like in 20 years? I can keep asking for an answer, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a poor question.

      3. your words were “What if we were to convert just 1% or even 10% of the 9,000 public libraries in the USA to TechShops?” -so conversion is not addition, how about “we add 1% as many publicly funded techshops as there are libraries” and see what the response is

  22. davidharvey says:

    I’m a member of my local hackerspace, and while I love the idea of a
    public space for making along the lines of a library, I think there
    are major hurdles to overcome. Where I live, playground equipment is
    being removed from parks and schools because an exaggerated fear of
    liability. Recently, several families in my area built an awesome
    fort/treehouse in the woods near a housing development. The
    neighborhood kids loved it. When the city found out about it, they
    tore it down, because the forest was on city land and they feared
    liability if someone was hurt.

    I’m not saying these problems are insurmountable – I believe that a
    combination of insurance, instruction, supervision and personal
    responsibility could deal with any possible liability for injury. What
    I am saying is that there is a strong knee-jerk reaction among public
    officials today to dismiss out of hand anything that carries any type
    of risk. Any proposal to any public official must address these issues
    up front, or risk being rejected before the depth of the idea is
    understood.

    The other issue I see is one of community. Good hackerspaces work
    because of their sense of community. They are collections of like
    minded people who are curious. They make things because they can, and
    because they want to learn. It’s not just a workshop where someone
    can fix their car using other people’s tools and then go home. It’s
    much more than that. A library model maker space could evolve into
    that, but it is important to understand that the hackerspace is
    more than just a room full of tools. This also needs to be emphasized
    in any pitch for public funds. It’s about learning from each other,
    exchanging ideas, seeing how others do it, and combining personalities
    and skill sets that together can make wonderful things. The spinoffs
    are personal growth, friendships, and stronger communities.

    1. jrspruitt says:

      I totally agree, all the money in the world can’t magically make it a success, it takes good people, to make a good community, that creates a welcoming atmosphere that is attractive to potential members, in that its a good place to learn, and has something to offer knowledgeable people along with it being fun and rewarding to participate in, to keep the current people involved. Which those good reviews, and atmosphere are good things when going to city hall or seeking donations.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Lots of good comments with this article. To start, I am a bibliophile. I love books and own more than 1000, mostly fiction. When I was a kid, we went to the library several times a week and took a stack of books home every time. We used the internet there(my parents still only have dialup) and my sibs both worked there for a while. While I think having a publicly available workshop space would be awesome, I think that to have it as part of a library would definitely taint the atmosphere with the noise. I do like the idea of having access to various computer technologies that would otherwise be too expensive, but these are quiet things that can have a place at a library. Workshops and classes and demonstrations are also great at the library because they are announced to a very large group of people. Maybe what we need first if for makers everywhere to squeeze out a bit of time and do a demonstration or class at their local library. If a kid sees that an adult can do something similar to what they’ve been imagining, then they know that it is possible and that there can be a future to their creativity. That, I think, is where we should start. Where it goes from there depends on the desires of each community.

  24. As a librarian, a graduate from engineering school and a technojunkie, this article is very poignant. Just as hackers have battled with the negative media connotations of the word, “hacker”, public libraries are constantly having to battle with the stereotype of being a labelled as an “warehouse for books”.
    I hope that those leaving comments will have visited a library recently because many libraries offer more than just print materials. Often remote, electronic access to ebooks, audiobooks, newspapers, magazines and research journals are offered. (In response to johngineer)Event programming has existed for quite a while in a variety of forms ranging from smaller computer workshops to larger author events (ex. Steven Levy of Wired will be visiting my own library next month). Homework assistance is a staple at several libraries and staff/volunteers often help kids with math and science homework. Additionally, the availability of meeting room space and free wi-fi have allowed for user groups to utilize the library as a convenient neighborhood meeting spot (my local Linux SIG met for years at a branch location).
    However, lets circle back to the question of whether the public library needs to be rebuilt. I would agree with Mr. Torrone that a revamping is healthy, but I would add that the local community needs to help define the change. Libraries were intended to further the intellectual development of the surrounding communities. Books used to be the only way to do so, but that isn’t the case anymore. To that end, integrating a makerspace, fablab and so forth is a wonderful idea.

    This is a forum for makers and so the image of the public library should reflect the interest of makers. However,

  25. Becky Rech says:

    Have you read Corey Doctorow’s Maker? It kind of reminds me of some of your ideas.

  26. Scott Cairo says:

    Thes hackerspaces/Techlabs. Anyone know of anything happening along these lines in the UK?

  27. Anonymous says:

    Libraries have long been and still are a place for people to learn. Every afternoon, adults and youth gather for tutoring at my local library. There are books and magazines that many people don’t have at home or don’t need in the house. By storing them at a central location like a library, more people can access the information.

    By gathering curious people in libraries and spaces for hands on learning, we cultivate creativity and innovation.

    Making is one of the best ways for people to learn. When you make something of your own design, you have a reason and a need to find out more. By hosting the makers of the community in their space, they will encourage people to explore and learn through the traditional library resources.

    Evening access would be important, as many of the people who might take advantage of these resources either work days or can be nocturnal. Having a facilitator who can adapt instruction and information to meet the diverse needs of an informal learning environment like this will be essential.

    By creating resources for making in communities, we are investing in our future. People who know how to learn and make things will have a powerful effect on our society and economy.

  28. dr says:

    No public libraries. Public *schools*.

    Most already have the shops and many still have the teach staff. They certainly have the teaching infrastructure. Just open the doors and, bam, suddenly you have a techshop in every small town in America. A huge innovation and manufacturing surge on day 1.

  29. br3ttb says:

    It seems to me it would be easier to bring this kind of thing BACK to public schools and expand it to include a community component. The future of Libraries is certainly a valid thing to debate, but I’m wondering if they’re the most practical place to offer this (sorely needed) service.

  30. I’ll play the contrarian here (as some others have) in regards to libraries not being used much today. Our local library is moving into an entirely new, larger building in a few months. We’ve been taking our 9 y.o. and 10 y.o. boys there almost every week since they could chew on books. Whenever the library has a reading program (summer and winter), they hold a “party” at the end where they have games, activities, and prizes for the kids who’ve read the most books or won raffles. (Raffle tickets are earned by reading.) The events are *packed* with kids and adults.

    I point this out because making a fablab/tech shop library work would require this sense of community to already exist (or be nascent) in order to work. Don’t get me wrong. I think such an idea would be awesome, especially if you could get kids involved. It can help get kids to the library when they might not otherwise do so. Then you can get them to check out some books because, hey, while we’re here, we might as we get a card and some books.

    To help build this sense of community, you’d need to use the summer reading program model. Make it a “summer fab program.” Have kids earn raffle tickets or points based on the number of things they make or the number of tools they use to make something (i.e., more complicated = more points). Have a program for adults, too! At the end, have a party with some games and activities. Have the kids show off their work and hand out some prizes/awards.

    But the first ones to try this should be ones in which this sense of community already exists. I don’t think you can use a “build it they will come” model for libraries with low utilization (and I’m not saying that’s what you’re claiming). The ones with existing community support would be better able to handle the risk and learn from their mistakes so that others could learn.

    Someone also mentioned schools. I think we all know that shop classes have pretty much been gutted, if not eliminated, from high schools. Why not have these “fablibraries” (I hereby copyright and patent that word….and “fabrary”..;^) in a high school tech shop? Get the community involved in the high schools and have a set of volunteers who help keep the shop running.

    Finally, some have complained about noise. My library’s current location is in a community center building that includes dance studios and a theatre/gym. Lots of noisy activities, but they don’t affect the library because it’s in a different area of the building. Shop noise is not an insurmountable problem; put the shop in a separate room, not the middle of the research room. Restrict time if necessary (no power tools between 4 and 5 pm, say, or whatever).

  31. Chris Rea says:

    I think this is a great idea. Whatever happens to our local libraries, I think it’ll be the general public that decides their fate. Which worries me, because I know very few people that use their local library at all, except when they need free services like doing their taxes or attending educational programs. It’s kind of like community college lite, which to me, fits right in with your idea of tech shops and hackerspaces. But I’m afraid the public and even municipalities will only see them as collections of musty useless “books,” so half the battle is going to be reshaping public perception of the library as a free community resource.

  32. Hey You!!! says:

    I work at a library and with space at a premium for studying/job searching, large areas with large equipment is not going to happen overnight. I agree that bringing hands-on creativity through engineering to libraries would be great. I also agree with others here that you need to start small. Form a club/organization that meets at a public library. Then offer informational presentations or better yet a teen/older children’s program where teens can operate a robot, or use tools created on-site to solve a problem/challenge. It’s likely parents would stay to see what’s going on, so that’s two demographics covered with limited effort.

  33. I want to run a Techshop rather badly. Its what I think about when things are quiet. It’s what I ponder as I fall asleep, on my way to work, when I’m standing in lines. A business that is in the business of innovation. A Hackerspace… all grown up and mainstreamed. http://lastonk.blogspot.com/2011/02/tech-shop.html

  34. I want to run a Techshop rather badly. Its what I think about when things are quiet. It’s what I ponder as I fall asleep, on my way to work, when I’m standing in lines. A business that is in the business of innovation. A Hackerspace… all grown up and mainstreamed. http://lastonk.blogspot.com/2011/02/tech-shop.html

  35. Anonymous says:

    I’m currently enrolled in a Library Science program, and most of my cohort lack technical skills. I think merging the traditional role of the library with a desire to use and explore technology would open up the minds of perspective librarians; thus, the traditional image of the bookish librarian could evolve into a well read but technically adept individual.

    Once more librarians see the advantages the public library system can bring to technological innovation, a move towards converting some locations into tech spaces might be better received.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I am currently enrolled in a Library Science program, and most of my cohort lack technical skills. I think introducing the idea of tech shops into public libraries would promote the idea of the public library as a place of technical innovation among librarians.

    If some public libraries are to be converted into tech shops, then librarians need to be convinced that the space for community tech projects is needed. Of course librarians could be worked around, but the process would go much smoother if librarians were on board. If more librarians could be introduced to technology, then the traditional bookish librarian could evolve into a well read and technically adept individual, and this new form of librarian would be a great asset in converting some public library space into tech space.

  37. Great idea, but…

    A library does NOT make a good lab. The idea of half the people sitting quietly and reading does not go well with the other half involved in discussion and making noise usually found in a lab. One or both would end up being much less than an ideal learning environment.

    Schools are already setup with labs and libraries, and seem the more logical choice. Who couldn’t be served in a school that could in a public library? A school could offer after-hours access to their Tech Shops for everyone. Vocational schools often “share” students, so their equipment is put to use.

    A big problem however it’s done is the finances. Books are bought once, relatively easy to not destroy, and don’t require supplies. Equipment requires maintenance, calibration, and supplies (ink, paper, cutting bits, coolant, etc). Where ever the equipment goes, will they have the means to maintain it? And a single use has a cost of materials, it’s not simply “loaned out” and “returned”.

    Maybe the schools and libraries can work together? Bring the school’s equipment to the library for a demo and intro course, essentially NOT-hands-on. That brings people in to see and learn the basics, and they could sign up for classes at the school right there.

    1. Maybe schools and libraries already work together? Maybe there are already lots of NOT-hands-on things being discussed. Maybe there are already a LOT of hands-on things happening? Maybe you haven’t looked at a library’s website recently?

      1. Anonymous says:

        can you provide some examples? i posted up the tool tending and there are some workshops here and there – can you post up some examples – that would be valuable to this discussion.

        1. We have school groups touring the library at least one day a week. We had an Irish dancing group in. It’s Teen Tech Week, and our Youth Services Department has several things going. We have an oral history project. We’ve added two new services: online language learning and additional ebooks. We’re having a full-day workshop for nonprofits. We have an elder services group meeting in the library on a daily basis for computer training and more. We’re hosting a traveling exhibition on Negro League baseball. The local hockey team will be there for an autograph session. A walk-a-thon. An author event. A self-publishing workshop. Twice-daily computer classes in a variety of programs. Our library foundation is hosting a more extensive author event. We proctor a variety of exams as a public service. We provide 150 public computers with free Internet access. We provide free Wi-Fi. Those are just the things I can think of off the top of my head. And through it all, we have kids and adults and teens reading, browsing the stacks, researching papers, doing homeschool research projects, playing games (oh, yeah, we also lend video games, as well as movies and music), talking, studying, etc. These are all things our community finds valuable, and we work with lots of different groups to make them happen.

          1. Anonymous says:

            these are great – what is your response to the few people here that would call a lot of this “funding other people’s hobbies?’ – if there is room for irish dancing groups, couldn’t there be room for a 3d printer demonstration?

            some people were worried about liability and lawsuits, what if someone got hurt during a walk-a-thon (very possible). it sounds silly a few people seem fixated on it – how does your library deal with this?

          2. And having a lot of the equipment you talk about wouldn’t be funding a hobby? The stated mission of most libraries is to care for the entertainment, educational and informational needs of our patrons. If a practice fits within that, we do it. If someone can come up with the money for a 3D printer, be trained to use and maintain it and be qualified to teach it and help everyone with it who wants to be, I think a 3D printer would be terrific! I’d love to have one to include in my computer training lab. However, a man asked the other day if we would start a GIMP class. No one on the staff has time to learn it on the job, we don’t have time to develop training, and putting it in the lineup would mean pulling classes people in our community are asking for on a regular basis: how to use Excel, how to click with the mouse, how to find things on the Internet. I might — if I invest enormous time — be able to help a couple of folks a month if I could teach GIMP. I can help at least 60 pepople a month with basic lessons. Back to tool-lending, there’s currently no call for it at our library, but I’d be happy to do it if we have the money for it. Right now, we don’t.

          3. Anonymous says:

            but there is interest in film developing you said, so everyone learned film developing?

    2. As I read this very interesting article, I kept thinking that schools sounded like a better location than libraries. Years ago, one of my neighbors was a man in his 90s who lived in the house where he had been born. He told me that until the 1960s the shop classrooms in Berkeley High School were available to the community in the evenings. Anybody who needed to use one of their tools to repair or fabricate something come come down and do that. I saw something similar when I lived in a small town in Northern California – the art classrooms and shops were available to anyone who wanted to register for a community adult-ed course. They are not now, because there is no funding for it.

      1. Anonymous says:

        sure, maybe it’s schools – the article should inspire people to think about what could and should be part of our future. some folks get hung up on talking about funding only, that’s fine – but also offer up solutions and what you *would* do if funding was not an issue.

  38. By creating techshops, you’re limiting the audience to people who want to make or learn about making stuff… which is cool but I don’t think a majority of people would be interested in trading (even though as you point out, libraries are pretty much obsolete) ….unless of course the economy got even worse and people were forced to make stuff.

    It’s a very “forward” idea though for sure.

    I imagine super-high speed internet and a device to access it will replace the library.

  39. The tech space idea is cool, but we have to make sure it’s still a place for kids like McNair. In fact, if there were a way to make libraries more appealing to kids, that would be even better. I know a punk rock teenage girl who confided in me that this woman who worked at her local library was one of the few adults she could trust and talk to about really tough subjects.

    I’m glad LA voted to increase funding of libraries, for her sake and the sake of others who don’t own computers (of which there are many here) and get their news & entertainment for free at the library.

  40. Anonymous says:

    The learning environment of a hackerspace/makerspace/techshop will provide a different avenue for education than what people experience in formal classrooms. People in these types of hands-on learning spaces tend to come in with a burning desire for a specific area they want to learn about or a problem they want to solve. While there is a place for workshops designed around specific skills, like soldering, electronic circuits, 3D design, programming for physical computing or personal fabrication, the bulk of users of such a service and space would be individuals with diverse interests.

    Check out some of the differences between various learning spaces and their likely participants over on MakerEd http://makered.makezine.com/profiles/blogs/learning-environments-and

    People who take advantage of access to community learning spaces like what you’ve described tend to be engaged, curious and innovative. As a society, we need to think forward about how we can cultivate these traits across the population. Getting people fired up about what they can do to empower themselves will help us develop the new technologies and skills we need to compete in a globally connected marketplace.

    Providing and facilitating learning opportunities through making is consistent to the mission of libraries.

  41. G Engel says:

    I think the future of the library *building* is distinct from the future of the *library* as an organization and as a service. We have more library visitors than ever, but now these are complemented by an ever-increasing number of library *website* visitors. Ten years ago we had almost 3 million visits to branches; now we have almost 5 million annual visits to our branches + our website.

    Clearly there’s a lot of room for providing useful new services online. Someone said in the comments that a library hackerspace isn’t an “if you build it they will come” proposition, but a virtual hackerspace actually would be … since every other service we put on the site draws an audience of faithful users. Now I will have to start brainstorming what a virtual hackerspace would look like on our site …!

    1. Anonymous says:

      I like the idea of virtual hackerspace too. But would it really need to be on your website? A link to an existing “virtual hackerspace” would probably be sufficient, right? Finding those web sites is, of course, a whole other issue. Digital materials can (ideally) be used by multiple users when DRM isn’t imposed.

      I also like your distinction between the physical “building” that is a library, and the service that it provides.

  42. Anonymous says:

    No matter what materials you think libraries are about, the main things public libraries are about is being open to the public and lending parts of their collection freely. They’re also about people being able to ask questions. What would be the ideal (to me) is that libraries are “a safe place to ask questions.” You should be able to ask your questions without fear of being judged and without fear of your questions being revealed to anyone else. Getting the right information you need is also a big part of what libraries need to continue to do. That’s what I think libraries should still be about going forward.

    I really liked the idea of loading some library computers with software that isn’t affordable for most individuals but would be of interest to (many?) members of the community. I also like the idea of computer teardown and repair being done by library users. I have more difficulty seeing the fabrication tools becoming part of the current library environ. I do like the idea of such tools being made available for experimentation and use– but the library may not be the best physical space for using them. And most libraries would have to lose space and materials to make room for a fabspace. Doable, but it would be a tough sell. Most people still see libraries as “books.”

    The problem I fear is that a lot of the tools that would be most useful could be easily provided (and I’m thinking computes and software for the most part) would probably need someone with more expertise than a library school graduate would bring to the game if the user had needs beyond the most basic questions. Maybe a web connection and a good site where one could post a question would be good enough though. Otherwise, that kind of expertise would probably be expensive if we wanted it to always be available.

    Libraries definitely need to continue to supply computers with fast internet access. The internet is the most useful and utilized resource that libraries offer to a large part of the public they serve. It is the one area which consistently shows growing demand. With 40 million people living below the poverty line in the United States, this is probably an area where demand will not decline.

    I think people have made some good arguments about tools and equipment and I think that public schools could also fit into this discussion. Libraries (and schools) are physical spaces so they could both be utilized as places for hacking, fabricating and tech-spacing. Personally, I think hacking fits the library “image” best. Lots of people still need help figuring out how to make their computers do what they want them to do.

    Libraries also will need to be able to adapt quickly to continual technological changes. Once they stop doing that, they stop being useful.

    1. All kinds of people work in libraries. Not just library school grads. For example, in the library I work in, the IT department — those guys who tear down the computers — aren’t library school grads. Probably they are in some libraries, but they’d also better know IT. As far as adapting to continual technological changes, well, we tend to be limited by this little thing called “budget” which happens only once a year and which is shrinking all the time. We do what we can with what we’ve got.

      1. Anonymous says:

        hi michael, you’re posting a lot – but not providing any solutions or ideas for the future – can you try and add some of those types of comments as well. since you work at a library a lot of us would like to know what you think it will be like in 5/10/20 years. what needs to be added? what needs to be changed.

        1. But you haven’t actually provided any solutions. And I’ve noted above now that libraries will be what people want them to be. What needs to be added is money and space. We can do even more with those. What needs to be changed is people deciding how things should be changed without actually thinking about the consequences of the change. You also are posting a lot and you mostly seem to be telling people to read your article. Perhaps you should read it again.

          1. Anonymous says:

            mike, you’re saying money and space is need – well how do you propose to get it? complaining about how you need more money and space *or* creating demand for a re-tooled library of the future?

            please offer up some ways to get this money and space, what will you put in the space? who could give you the funding? fablabs get funding from many sources include gov grants…

            you’re really selling yourself short and not really offering any ideas – i’m sure you could think of a few things that would encourage more space and funds.

            you said “What needs to be changed is people deciding how things should be changed without actually thinking about the consequences of the change”

            ok, how can you change that? will you write an article about this? can you share these thoughts?

          2. We are in the process of applying for more than 26 grants. Much of that money is used to keep our budget even with where we were YEARS ago. That keeps us at least running in place. As to space, we use everything we have, literally. It’s either books, computers, chairs, displays, study areas or space to move from one to the other — or it’s outdoors. Bluntly put, we need money we can count on in amounts sufficient to get more space and fill it with whatever the public wants.

            As far as getting people to think about consequences, well, it would help if someone would ask instead of writing articles and getting upset when several people point out things you need to think about. And I in fact do write articles and advocate for additional programs. Just not in this forum. My current push is for a program to help people learn how to do online job applications and have dedicated time with a librarian to help them through one. Pretty low-tech, but there is a definite need for it. And, BTW, it was an idea that needed a lot of work after I thought of it on the way to the library one day. Like I said, fixing program ideas happens to all of us.

          3. Anonymous says:

            hi mike, you’re obviously dedicated and care about your local library – can you offer up some ideas of what you would do if you have $1m?

      2. Anonymous says:

        I didn’t mean to suggest that all library employees had a Master of Library Science degree. I know it isn’t true in the library where I work. And while library workers of all types are generally pretty knowledgeable, a lot of us do tend to be “generalists” who can help people find materials that will help them answer some of their questions. But there are probably few of us who could tell a patron why his Perl script isn’t working, or how to make a statistics program take his data sets and generate a moving display of changes in the data over time.

        I know this isn’t possible, and I know a little about having to live within a budget. But I’d like the library to be a place where people could find the kind of interaction that would make it possible for them to work through their problem with a knowledgeable assistant. That knowledgeable assistant doesn’t need to be a librarian and might not need to be onsite. But I would like the library to be able to get that patron the assistance he or she needs if it turns out that we don’t have the book, video, audio, database that would answer their question.

        And I do think we do a pretty good job with the resources we have available to us. In the future, I’d like us to do an even better job.

  43. Mark Ranum says:

    Unfortunate that you misread the ALA public library location sheet. 9,000+ administrative units. Total library buildings 16,671.

    The concept of newly evolving public education centers, such as Fab Labs or Tech Shops, does not need to include zero sum thinking. Public libraries and their services continue to provide the best pathway to quality outcomes in early literacy and other critical areas of education.

    1. Anonymous says:

      hi mark… “Of the 9,221 public libraries in the 50 States and DC, 7,469 were single-outlet libraries and 1,752 were multiple-outlet libraries”

      1. But a library system, of which there are 9,221, is different from number of retail outlets, which is what you were comparing to.

  44. Anonymous says:

    What a wonderful idea! As a librarian (unemployed), I think I can say that most librarians would be more than thrilled to find yet another way to share something with the community.

    Please don’t be offended by all of the people defending libraries as useful places. Library advocates like myself are passionate, and we’re tired of having to defend libraries in face of budget cuts and high middle class or rich people who think everyone should just buy their own books, not even realizing libraries provide a lot more than books. Or that books are important. We have to fight many misconceptions from elected officials who want to close libraries, and use the money for something else, as well as others. It makes us (me anyway) a little sensitive.

    I think you have a great idea. Problems like noise and materials that are finite resources could be overcome with enough people to fight government for the right to do this and the funding. I can see grants funding it, also, and community rooms on the other side of the library to combat the noise to reading and internet-using patrons. Just thinking out loud. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would be just one of many that I expect would fund such a worthy cause. I expect the Gates would especially go apeshoot over it. :)

    Your research was marvelous. You so rarely see that in blogs. The only thing I would have added was interviewing a few librarians for their perspective, if you had time.

    When I had a job, I was very close to the tech department, and worked with them enthusiastically. I faced more opposition from their side who often wanted to control everything and who didn’t think of librarians in terms of partners in content management; usability; and the like. I suppose every group fights for resources like we do. I hope such departments can work together better in the future. However, most public libraries probably do not even have tech departments. But that is off-subject.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Cardra – i did chat with some librarians as sanity check :) you pretty much summed it up “most librarians would be more than thrilled to find yet another way to share something with the community”.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Yes, librarians like to see a variety of options for people, and truly want more people to visit libraries.

        That said, I bet you didn’t tell your “sanity check” librarians of your opinions that libraries are dying! :)

        1. Anonymous says:

          who said they’re dying?

          1. Anonymous says:

            You did.

            By comparing public libraries to failing commercial ventures, you have made that false comparison.

            You may not have meant to, but I see I am not the only one to have read it as such.

          2. Anonymous says:

            i didn’t say they were dying and that’s not my opinion. that said, it’s pretty clear there are lots of challenges for book retailers and public libraries. is that more clear now?

    2. Anonymous says:

      Good reply. As an Engineer, I moved around a lot. One of the first things to do on any move is to check out the local library. The state of and support for the Library will tell you a lot about the community.

  45. ben gomberg says:

    Libraries branch out in any number of directions, including (as you mentioned) tools, but also offering creative workspaces. Look at the Salinas, CA library’s Digital Arts Lab, and at the Charlotte & Mecklenburg Library’s Teen Loft, which includes a recording studio. These things take pioneers, but every community does have to make the decision on its own. That’s what so remarkable and so frustrating about public institutions, and especially institutions so constantly in flux as libraries.

  46. Anonymous says:

    After reading your articles you missed one important factor, that is accounting for Library Policies. Here in Washington State, Stevens County, Colville, and the surrounding small city Library’s we have a major problem. This problem manifests it’s self in the form of locking all library patrons out from using the full advantage of the computer system under the Copyright Guise of Infringement. We have state of the art computer systems installed with the parts of the software disabled ! For instance you can’t burn a CD, because it’s not allowed and they only have DVD players installed. You can’t type a letter on Word and export it to your Thumb Drive, because you can’t place a temporary file on the desktop and drag or copy and paste to the file. If you are looking at MSN page at the News section it has a Adult disable installed so if something comes up in the News that the restrictions are set for you will get a Warning and restricted access, you must find a Librarian to un-
    lock the content of the page, but not before the grilling Questions ! As a TAX Payer I’m offended and Pissed off, since you can use the Library’s facility’s with your Laptop and use the WiFi DSL with no oversight and or restrictions in plain sight of everyone, how come the people that use the Library’s computers are restricted ? You can call them at: Library of Stevens County, (877)-251-3300 Toll Free, and Colville Public Library, (509)-684-6620 eMail: http://www.scrld.org/
    Why are we getting screwed, we want everything that is being suggested in the articles, but with the attitude the Library has adopted we will never what the Big City’s take for GRANTED !

    1. Libraries are required to disable much of functionality due to federal and local laws and regulations. The rest is because more than a few bad apples have screwed everyone else. Blame someone besides the library on this one.

      1. Anonymous says:

        michael, can you be more productive – how could magiclantern solve this issue, do you have any suggestions?

        1. Anonymous says:

          Actually, he didn’t “miss the point” at all. Libraries get part of their funding from the federal government, as well as from state governments, and are legally bound to block certain websites.

          Now think about why people can’t save onto the computers: the computers would get clogged up VERY quickly! (I was a school librarian before becoming a public librarian and our school system did allow kids and staff to save documents–it got full fast and, as the school’s “tech contact” on top of my other duties, I would have to “play God” and determine which documents to delete. (The district would delete them all in the summer.)

          Most libraries–especially branch libraries like mine–have a very small staff. There just isn’t the time to go through and delete things every night–plus, some of the saved documents would likely disclose private matters. Libraries are ALL about patron privacy. It would be great to think that people would delete their documents before getting off of the computer, but I know that it just wouldn’t happen.

          In our library, people cannot save to the public computers, but they can bring in a flash drive/CD-ROM/ disk drive, and save to that (no need for a “temporary” save–just choose “Save As” and find the storage device). I’ve had patrons tell me that other library systems do not allow them to bring in storage devices because of virus problems. Our library system pays (quite a lot, I’m sure!) to have virus protection constantly running. It slows things down a lot, but is necessary if we will allow people to save their work. There are always other circumstances. If you don’t know WHY something is the case, be sure to ask.

          As a librarian, I can tell you that it’s not usually anything left up to the library. In our system, the county’s MIS department controls everything. We have a library Tech department (3 staff people for 11 libraries) but they have to physically come to us to install software, etc. Anything big must go to the county MIS department.

          Copyright law covers the use of libraries to lend materials. That right does not extend to making photocopies of copyrighted materials (or copying movies, CDs, etc.). You might want to read up on Copyright law.

          Libraries know that not all books are for all people–but that people will have different tastes in reading materials. You may not like manga and feel it is “pornographic” while others do not see it as such. Ask your library for its policy on the procedure to get a book removed from the shelves. All library systems have them. No one person can decide whether material is appropriate or not appropriate for others (except parents have that right for their own children until age 18).

          Yes, librarians are city or county employees. Don’t know about the “big fat retirement” stuff, though. I took quite a pay cut (25%) to be a public librarian. I bet other county employees with masters’ degrees make better pay than I make. My husband in the private sector gets his 401(k) contributions matched 50%–nothing like that in government that I’ve every heard.

          The best advice for Magic Lantern is to learn the WHYs for his concerns. Then he should find out the policies at other surrounding library systems. Then he should advocate at least to the Library Board and to the County (maybe even join the library board).

          Our downtown library is old and falling apart. As library employees, we could not advocate for a new building. The measure was put before the public and passed easily. However, the county commissioners are divided on allowing it to happen. Sometimes the will of the people is ignored.

          1. And I’d like to add that my “fat retirement” is 4% of my compensation. Period. And I took about a 60% pay cut to be a librarian.

            There really are reasons for these things, as noted above, and it is not being productive to have another thought experiment about how to get around them when they are federal and state law.

          2. Anonymous says:

            hey mike, you might want to sit this one out if you’re not going to contribute comment that are on topic – i’d love to hear what you think a library will be like 5/10/20 years from now, can you talk about that?

          3. I stated several times yesterday that I don’t know what a library will be like years from now. Five years ago no one — including patrons at that time — knew that ebooks would be a big deal now. They emerged as a serious interest over Christmas, and libraries all over the country are already adapting. We will do our best to watch trends, get the money — because this is always extra money; our budgets for what we can do are pretty much set in stone — and get trained so we can bring things in for people and help them with it. With technology moving at such a rapid pace, it is impossible to do seriously prepare because we don’t know what form it will take. Example: I used to play computer games by a company called Sierra. They used to ship boxes withh 30+ floppies because they knew DVD was coming, but there were no standards so they didn’t invest it in until there were. So, forward-thinking and ready to change (like libraries), but not willing to do so with their (the public’s) money until there was a best way to do it. That is on topic, or are you only willing to entertain comments which endorse your idea?

          4. Anonymous says:

            saying you don’t know and not offering any ideas on what you’d like to see a library evolve to isn’t that productive.

            can you image and provide some ideas if you have $1m to spend?

        2. Anonymous says:

          If the library has restrictions, those are probably set by the City, County, State of Federal Government. The Library has to follow those restrictions. You could try going to the library at the closest Community College or University. Those are usually restricted to (assumed) adults, and so have few restrictions.

          Also, a Google account can be used in lieu of a thumb drive. Just saying. I know, it sounds stupid to have to email yourself your own documents, but that’s how a lot of HS students do it. If it works for them, …

      2. Anonymous says:

        Nice reply Michael ! You missed the point, just what are you saying, if the Libraries buck the Federal Gov that they will be shut down…..or worse off that faucet of free cash would stop ? Total B#ll sh!t and why because right next to our computer stations you can find, 3 shelves x 6′ long full of Japanese comics called, ” Manga ” highly suggestive and pornographic available to teens ! Answer this question: Why are Library’s allowed to disperse FREE DVD’s and VCR tapes and Copyright items with out paying a cent to the rightful owners who created the works for Sale ?
        Or this is a Grey area and something the Fed’s are willing to over look ? It starts right at ground level and works from the BOTTOM UP, since by your reply Sh$t running down hill is OK with you, using the,” Good old Boys ” rule of thumb, ” The Chain of Command ” suits you by saying, ” Blame someone besides the library. I, got news for you they are COUNTY WORKERS and don’t want to loose their precious Fat Retirement money…..! It’s a vicious Möbius strip and these people are like Zombies forced to walk in a figure ∞ for ever ! So how do you MAKE the NEW
        Library system that is for the People, or you satisfied with the status quo ?

  47. Anonymous says:

    I was originally going to say… Te@ P@rty Much? then …sorry if I’ve picked up something wrong from your comments… but that’s a bit passive aggressive. :)

    Hack your systems before smashing them… this is “Make” not “Un-Make”

    Try this http://www.plr.uk.com/allaboutplr/whatIsPlr.htm , books bought “in common” for the citizen and authors paid for the inconvienience of having their works distributed to a wider audience/potential market.

  48. Anonymous says:

    I like the ideas expressed here, but only as an extension of what libraries already do.

    I go to the library regularly. For books. Same with my child, though they also have lots of movies and plays and events for kids his age.

    Yes, there are DVDs and CDs to check out. But I go for the books. Given the crowds there, I am not alone.

    Part of the reason folks piss on teachers and cops in Wisconsin and elsewhere is that we are led to believe everything has to turn a profit. It doesn’t. Some things have value by VIRTUE of what they do, not profit they may or may not generate.

    So yes, turn my library into a makerspace. Please. I’ll go MORE often than I already do. But don’t do it because it is profitable; do it because it serves a need.

  49. Nikole says:

    How many public libraries are there in the USA? – Some of your statistics are dead wrong. There are about 16,671 public libraries in the U.S. (the 9,000 you refer to is just main library buildings, not including any branches) and the 31,000 for McDonalds restaurants is the worldwide number, there are about 12,804 in the U.S. Hence, there are more public libraries in the U.S. than McDonalds. But that probably didn’t support your hypothesis so you twisted the facts.

    1. Anonymous says:

      i linked to the stats and the ALA who i quoted read the article – 9,000 is from the mains there are about 16,000 – i took the low number and linked to the source. having *more* libraries only supports what i’d like folks to think about. 16,000 means more opportunities for the nation.

  50. S says:

    I am concerned when people who really don’t understand what libraries are decide that they are not relevant because they don’t personally use them. Because they have a PC, or e-reader, or can afford their own books. They forget how important libraries are for those who do not have these things – and yes, in the US, there are LOTS of people who do not have these things. They are the kids who struggle to do their best in school because they will never have the resources of their better off peers. Then Haves like Mr. Torrone float their pet projects. One thought for you – prisons are more expensive than books. What do you have against poor kids reading?

    1. Anonymous says:

      hi S – you can see there are many librarians here who have posted who are working on evolving libraries, it’s not a “pet project” – it’s something many people are working on and thinking about.

  51. Sondy says:

    I think you need more familiarity with how libraries are used today before you reinvent them. You may not go to the library regularly, and you may not know people who do, but believe me, libraries are busy. Usage has shot up since the recession. I work in one, and get worn out facing the flood of people who come through all day long.

    Libraries are good with information. And navigating the flood of information out there. The high cost of setting up a Tech Shop would be tough. (Actually, my cousin works for TechShop and they’re doing a great thing. But I can’t really see using public funds for that.) But in libraries, I’m sure librarians can help you find the information of how best to use the tools in techshop.

    In the 21st Century, people often need to retrain themselves — and libraries have what they need.

    1. Anonymous says:

      hi sondy, the nyc public libraries are always busy (that’s where i live) – besides books, internet access and computers what are folks using to “retrain themselves” ?

      is there CAD software installed on the computers, are there electronic’s classes or workshops?

  52. I love the idea of building libraries into TechShops–increasing their value to their communities as creative, collaborative spaces! Library-as-community-center is something we already do fairly well, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.

    That said, I am still hopeful that libraries will be able to find a workable solution with ebook vendors; I don’t think the library-as-information-warehouse portion of our mission will go away, at least not entirely. (Library-as-physical-book-warehouse, I hope, will. I hope that ereaders will be given out for free to everyone, at some point in the future.) Library resources are more reliable than what Wikipedia can serve up, and librarians are better trained than Google to help you find what you want. Also, as telecom companies combine and continue to increase their prices, the free Internet that public libraries provide may become even more important than it already is. (I wouldn’t discount the need for that. It’s easy to forget, when you have a full-time, well-paying job, that not everyone can afford to access information nowadays. It’s easy to assume that they will be able to, but the signs are a little hazy, right now, as to which way that’s going to go.)

    I guess what I’m saying is, I’d like to see libraries add TechSpaces (or some combination of the collaborative workshoppy areas described above), and over time, grow them, as the physical space required by our collections decreases.

  53. Anonymous says:

    In 2009 89% of public libraries in America offer some type of technology training, from assisting people while they use public access computers to online videos and tutorials to formal classes (2009-2010 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Survey – http://ow.ly/3WQjw). Right now, most of this instruction focuses on closing the digital divide (yes, it still exists) by teaching basic computer and internet skills so that people can apply for jobs and access and use online government information and forms. With adequate funds, training and staff, I’m sure many libraries would love to offer some of the resources you describe, but budget cuts are forcing them to cut services and expenses. If there are people (like the author of this article) and groups out there who have the necessary skills and resources, and who would be willing to partner with the library to offer some classes or demonstrations, ask around. Public libraries as they are right now, are probably more open to technological innovation than you think.

  54. Taken as a whole, this article asks a lot of important questions, and makes a lot of nuanced arguments.

    What worries me, though, is the “tl;dr” factor. Most people will skim the article, paying most attention to the title and the introductory paragraphs, and the impression the casual reader will come away with is that libraries as they are now are irrelevant artifacts of the past.

    In particular, I am worried about your second paragraph: “If you’re reading this, you’re likely not reading it in a public library. Computers are cheap, and internet access is pretty good for most people. The majority of people do not get their online news from terminals at the public library. At one time the library was “the living internet” — you went there to look up something hard to find, to do research — now it’s all at our fingertips through search engines, Wikipedia, and the web.”

    There are so many misconceptions there! While it is true that computers and internet access are relatively cheap, they are not free. There is a significant “digital divide” along income lines. My library has more than 100 public PCs, and they are near capacity for most of our operating hours. Every day I help a patron who is trying to apply for a job and has to do it here, because the application process is now online for virtually all employers.

    The common notion that you perpetuate, that the Internet has made libraries unnecessary, is particularly worrisome. Although there is a lot of information out on the public web, simple web searches are a terrible way to find useful, current, authoritative resources. Most people don’t know how to formulate a search to even use Google properly, so they end up depending on secret algorithms to tell them what’s best. Libraries are staffed by experts who know how to judge the value of information, and are filled with resources (both print and electronic) that have been selected by professionals. There is no way to compare that level of quality to Wikipedia, valuable though it is.

    1. Anonymous says:

      hi karl, i wanted to address the people who do not use a library that often, or ever – as well as the folks who do – from patrons to librarian (many have posted here).

      the goal is to get folks talking about what can or should be in a library of the future, besides 100 pc terminals of course. tool lending, skill sharing, something like a hacker space, a techshop, etc.

      1. Adam Cahan says:

        Not to be snarky, but if the goal is to address those who rarely use the library, why are THOSE opinions important in determining a library of the future? Shouldn’t we be paying the most attention to people who use the library every day? And if not, why not?

  55. Anonymous says:

    If the money was there (he asked for ideas– I know nothing is free) I’d make sure all the materials were available in digital format and people had access to ereaders/elisteners/eviewers that could find and access the materials they needed or wanted quickly and easily. No restrictions on borrowing or number of simultaneous users. Users should be able to cut, copy, paste, highlight, edit and distribute anything they find as well. (Proper attributions should be automagically applied) Digitizing materials would free up a lot of space and eliminate the need for shelving, processing, checking materials out, etc. BTW, a library collection like this wouldn’t need to be “housed” locally…

    Improve digital access. More free computers with more software. No site-blocking software! Make the computers accessible 24/7/365. So make the buildings open 24/7/365 too. But make the buildings safe places as well.

    I like the back and forth about libraries vs. schools. There’s probably overlap, but that isn’t necessarily bad, and may not be all that inefficient. I’d like the teaching done in libraries to be on an “as-needed” (“just in time?”) basis. Lectures (if that’s your idea of teaching/learning) are already being recorded so much of that kind of teaching may be available at home. Questions could be addressed to a skilled respondent who doesn’t have to be on site. The interaction could be sound and vision too, rather than texting of some sort. And the audio-video interaction will probably be 3-D at some point. More smaller spaces within the library building where teaching/learning could take place. On any subject. Art, music, crafts, cooking, whatever. Cooking demonstrations at the library? Excellent idea! And still “free” as libraries are known to be.

    I probably wouldn’t use a tool lending library that much. I’m really not much of a do-er. But I like the idea that such things would be available to interested members of the library-using public. If such things had been available to me growing up I might be more of a “do-er” now. And the costs of these newer tools/materials will probably continue to decline. Which means they’ll be more affordable for individuals but also libraries.

    I have this assumption that a lot of the learning that takes place in schools involves equipment like microscopes and bunsen burners and chemicals and whatnot and then I wonder if replicating the school learning experience is something the library should be doing. Maybe schools and libraries should have reciprocal borrowing privileges so someone could use their library card to access a school science lab?

    One more thing about libraries and schools. At the moment, they’re primarily buildings. Buildings are built with people in mind. Libraries and schools are locked down at night. Lots of homeless people sleep outdoors. Can we make space in our public buildings for the homeless to have a safe place to sleep at night? With access to toilets, sinks, even showers (high schools have them, right?)

    Talk about blue-skying…

  56. As a librarian and an enthusiastic participant in the Maker movement, I have to say this is a thought-provoking idea. I think a big question that supporters of this idea have to ask themselves is “What are libraries FOR?” Not the knee-jerk, simple answer – “books, internet, e-readers” and the like – but the more complex answer, the answer that gets at the heart of why taxpayers in many communities passionately defend their libraries while perhaps not using them as much as they could.

    Public libraries are payed for with tax dollars because knowledge is considered to be fundamental to democracy and a democratic society. Along these lines, knowledge is considered to be a public good.

    One of the central issues for discussion, particularly when someone takes this to city council or to funding agencies is about “knowledge” and how we acquire it. Makers, I think, take for granted that really nifty knowledge can be learned from direct experience — we assume this because this is what our own experience has taught us. Right now, libraries are about books and the printed word (while the Internet is developing into being about lots of other multimedia things, for the most part it’s still a lot about text and words), because the prevailing assumption has been that knowledge is best transmitted through the printed word.

    The argument that I think needs to be made to Mr. City Bigshot and Ms. Grant Reviewer when pitching this idea of the MakerBrary is that a certain kind of knowledge can only be developed/transmitted/obtained through DOING. And this kind of crafty, problem-solving, maker knowledge is also fundamental to the big umbrella mission of the public library – that of supporting democracy and the goals of a democratic society.

  57. Paulo Silva says:

    Denmark: Aarhus Public Librarie implemented this project called Transformation Lab thag goes with Torrone ideas : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpFO_L_jA1c

    England: IdeaStore is a diferent aproach to library service where learning plays a major role: http://www.ideastore.co.uk/

    There are other libraries, mostly north europe, where new aproaches are being tried in orther to expand library roles

    PS: I do think that 21th century libraries will evolve to something near what Terrone spots on its article.

  58. Anonymous says:

    I work in a college library and grew up using the public library system. I liken the public library to the gun in the wild west in the sense that it is the great equalizer. A person with nothing can self educate and create opportunities for themselves via education. As a young hobbyist, I always thought it would be great if the library could offer “kits” to make stuff or “arts and crafts” areas where we could create and build. It is such a logical step to have the books and then have the space, tools, expertise, access to build and create. It is like open source code – everyone benefits. I do agree that it has to be tempered somehow so that people know how to use tools properly and are competent. Great idea!

  59. I really like the idea of the public library expanding its horizons, even unto something non-traditional like this. Anything that keeps me employed and uses my skills and desire to help my fellow person. If I get paid more than peanuts, even better. Unfortunately, the big deal here is funding. Libraries in good times can afford to train employees with development and certification opportunities. Right now there’s a lot of tax trolls who are convinced everyone (or at least they themselves) can learn everything they need from a home PC with internet access, and that the public library is a money-grubbing anachronism that just allows middle-aged men to prey on children.

    Still, outside of the tax troll fantasy land, I think this is an excellent idea and the article is a great way to start that conversation.

  60. Anonymous says:

    I am a YA librarian at a large, busy, urban library. Many of our users desperately need our more ‘traditional’ library services, and we are typically very busy meeting those needs. In my free time I also do work with our local Free Geek outpost, and occasionally visit our local Hack Factory. I have long wished that my library, Free Geek and our local Makers shared a facility (we also need a gym for youth to get their ya-yas out.) Because you know, I am starting to see the folks in need of our ‘traditional’ library services showing up at these other places. Those homeless teens and low income adults using the library’s free Internet and meeting with Legal Aid are also showing up at circuit bending, multimedia production and hands-on science programs we’ve offered, and they show up at Free Geek on the weekends to learn about building computers. It’s all food for the mind, and if you are able to spare some attention for something beyond basic survival, well, wouldn’t it be great if you could find that for free at the library too? I personally think libraries should have attached gyms, wood shops and sound/video production labs. I don’t think any of these needs or uses are mutually exclusive. It’s all about learnin’ and doin’.

  61. I still hope that at least some libraries will remain intact. There are many specialized libraries which I think will not be replaced by ebook collections very soon

  62. Anonymous says:

    This article is not about the evolution of libraries but the elimination of libraries and then using the money spent on libraries for something else. I do think these ideas of tech shops, etc. are excellent and should be implemented. I just don’t think they should be done at the expense of libraries. Libraries are not just about books. Libraries are about information. That is what libraries do. Not tools. Not tech shops. Information.

    First of all, book publishers are not going to ever allow ebooks to be 99 cents. They are collectively opposing the current low pricing. If you were familiar with the industry, you would see that there has been an increase in the last 18 months. If we are going to read good authors, we are going to have to pay for it. Not all can do that. If information can be sold, it will be. Not everyone can afford this.

    Secondly, tech shops, etc. only educate in the making of things. Libraries educate in building of thought. Yes, some thought will lead to the building of things. Other thoughts may lead to new theories in other fields.

    Libraries make learning accessible to all. Ideally, if one becomes unemployed and homeless, they can go to a library and learn things. In this recent downturn in the economy, I have seen people who were once solidly middle class lose their jobs and all of their disposable income that they once used for books, magazines, internet, cable, etc. They went to the library and learned new skills online. They took online classes. They took basic computer classes that the library taught. Some got jobs from those skills.

    Some information is expensive and it is so expensive that even libraries cannot buy it. Very few individuals are going to be able to buy these things either. Libraries need more funding to meet the needs they do have without creating specialized workshops for an isolated few. The reality is that not everyone wants to build things and not everyone needs to. The reason the United States does not build things is because no one wanted to do it for slave wages. Even if we learn how to make things again, no one is going to want to do that for the joy of living in poverty. It is still poverty. Who wants to work hard for that?

    Historically, libraries were about accurate information and librarians work hard to provide that. There is a great proliferation of false information online. The net is actually getting worse in this regard. There is so much misinformation out there that the general public is often fooled by it. Having a computer and an internet connection is not enough.

    Libraries exist for the purpose of self-education in all fields of knowledge. I would like to see us do that better. I would like for us to be able to buy all significant and current software packages and computers to run them. I would love for us to buy current books on the current software as well as DVDs and other instructional materials. We can’t begin to do that. It is too expensive.

    My point is that I don’t believe the need for a public warehouse of information is obsolete. The internet is not enough, contains questionable quality and is not accessible to everyone. Libraries do need to evolve but not into something else. We need to be able to do what we do better.

  63. Anonymous says:

    Correction on number of public libraries in the US: In the source cited, there are 9221 public library “JURISDICTIONS” (or systems if you will). There are 16,671 library “OUTLETS” (or locations). See table 3A, page 38 at http://harvester.census.gov/imls/pubs/Publications/pls2008.pdf

  64. I agree with most who disagree with you. But I think you idea works best in a “TechMobile.” Convert a bookmobile into a tech center, assuming the equipment will fit. But I guess you could fit a work table or it could drive to locations to loan tools or create stuff. So slap some wheels on your plan, and I’m for it.

  65. Vincent Lai says:

    The Fixers Collective in the Gowanus area of Brooklyn could very well be a prototype of Phillip’s vision of libraries in the future, as we integrate education and active participation in all of our fixing activities. We see ourselves in all of the organization types listed, but our biggest point of distinction centers on our emphasis to restore an item of interest back to working order.

  66. Rooks Hunter says:

    I think you bring up some interesting points, but why do libraries have to become fab plants? That is one small niche in a vast sea of options it could evolve into, or add as yet another thing they do.
    Also, Libraries have NEVER changed on Internet time, let alone on the timeline you propose, and I would guess any community that can still afford one would agree, the library will change when it is good and ready.
    A couple things you don’t take into consideration, is how will they really finance this stuff? I’m not talking about someone donating the equipment or purchase cost. The cost to run a fab shop isn’t the cost to purchase the equipment anyways. The real cost is the cost to purchase it, maintain it, train staff on it, train us on it, advertise for it, Insure it, Insure for damage caused by it, and liability insurance (when the idiot from the HS metalshop thinks he can screw off here too). Not to mention where the heck are they going to put this stuff?
    Our library is land-locked downtown. They are always willing to entertain new ideas, but many are shot down when it comes to the million dollar questions, “where are we gonna put it?” Its not like they can buy another city block and add a skywalk. And they’re not gonna tear down the book shelves to make room either. In our community, we still read books, and they’re not going away anytime soon.

    I read one of their fliers about how much stuff they check out to people, our tiny little library in our tiny little town (25k people) checked out over 550,000 books last year. It saved us over $8 million in buying those books. This doesn’t include the computer classes they already have, or the girly classes like knitting or crafts, or the Summer Reading Program (really big in our town) or the literacy classes, or the internet computers (busy all the time), or all the crap they do that they advertise for that I don’t look at the fliers of. All this and our library budget is only $2.3 million.
    On top of that, CNC, CAD? Why do they rate and not other job training? What about a multimedia production studio? I like doing pic editing and video editing, what if I want to be a broadcaster and not a factory worker? Our library is actually looking into that one (so says their ref staff). Wouldn’t that save the library too?
    I’d say you are full of it if you think libraries are gonna crash and burn in short order.

  67. Peter Troxler says:

    Good thinking! We have already called the Hackerspaces, Tech Shops and Fab Labs the “Libraries of the peer production era” (http://petertroxler.net/libraries-of-the-peer-production-era) — so this step seems only logical to me

  68. I’m surprised by the number of comments here that fall into the “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” line of thinking. It’s broke where I live. In my town, an affluent place just north of San Francisco, we can’t even afford to keep our libraries open 7 days a week. Yes, the computers are in use most of the time, but the computers are old and slow, and barely offer anything beyond a web browser and word processor.

    My kid’s schools are struggling. The facilities are wearing out. Parent groups are paying for art and music classes because the district can’t afford to provide them. This is a system in crisis.

    Imagine this: instead of having a separate facility for schools, libraries, and public recreation centers, that instead we pool our resources, and have a facility that had all of these things in a single shared use space. Shop classes used by kids during the day could be used by the community after school and on weekends. The library could be arranged in such a way that kids could access the stacks from their classes, but other areas could be open to the public. I could go on, but hopefully that gets the general idea across. Obviously there are a lot of considerations, but I think we need to really re-evaluate what it means to be a public space.

  69. laurie kubitz says:

    I’m reading this from a Public Library. 

  70. Thomas Rogers says:

    this is a very good idea, while some libraries are being used frequently it still takes a lot of space to store the books, using some of the space to make a hacker space or a community workshop seems like a great use of the excess. for instance, my local library has a basement that they sell books in, this could be re purposed for something like a community workshop. i know i would like a place that i could learn to forge at.

  71. Thomas Rogers says:

    this is a very good idea, while some libraries are being used frequently it still takes a lot of space to store the books, using some of the space to make a hacker space or a community workshop seems like a great use of the excess. for instance, my local library has a basement that they sell books in, this could be re purposed for something like a community workshop. i know i would like a place that i could learn to forge at.

  72. Altivo says:

    OK, to avoid being accused of any false pretenses, I’ll start by saying that I am a librarian. I have worked in libraries most of my career, beginning the year after I received a BA in liberal arts (1972). I am also a techie, as I diverted my library career during the 1980s to work as a mainframe programmer, then a system programmer, and finally moved into mini and microcomputers before merging back into the library path with a job at a library software house in 1989.  I completed an MA in library science in 1991 and went to work in an academic library again, as a combined reference librarian and system/network specialist.

    Many people think the internet has replaced or will replace the library. While I agree this could possibly happen at some time in the future, I don’t think it will be in any of our lifetimes. The vast bulk of historic knowledge and literature is not yet available on the internet, and while there are projects to put more of it there, they proceed slowly and are often hampered by that little thing that is not so small: copyright law.

    Public libraries still serve a large clientele, and most of our users are still looking for books and periodicals on paper. This is true not only of older people who don’t care to use computers or the internet, but also of the very young, the poor, and a surprising percentage of the affluent, educated population between age 25 and 40. This is what convinces me that the library still has a mission, the same mission that was behind those Carnegie grants a hundred years ago. A public library is an education institution, every bit as much as any school. The difference is that the library is self-serve, and self-guided for the most part. Librarians are trained to help users find what they want, and to get it from remote locations if necessary. (Yes, sometimes that includes the internet but more often it means finding that scarce book at a library in another state and arranging to have it sent to the local library for the use of someone who wants to read it.)

    Wikipedia is still far from the sort of reliable source that a peer-reviewed academic journal provides. The internet is not much help when you are looking for the obscure (like a facsimile of an original manuscript in Etruscan or Anglo-Saxon) or something carefully wrapped in the red tape of copyright and DRM (like the text of a best selling novel that was just released this month.)

    The affluent urban population has a lot of bandwidth and can get at much more good information without using the library than ever before. But out in the small towns and rural areas of most countries, internet connections are still limited to dialup lines at no more than 56Kb/sec and often slower. People who do not have computers at home, or don’t have broadband access, still need libraries as information resources. The same people often need the assistance and guidance of a librarian or information specialist to help them locate what they need. The same, I can assure you, is still true of most students at institutions of higher education.

    The library isn’t going away any time soon, and I think we should all be glad of that.

  73. funny thing though: im writing my thesis in cultural studies on exactly that topic and had been amazed finding your article here. i guess we’ve got to start thinking about public funding and ways to combine old traditional public services with the new emerging cultures. neil gershenfeld spoke about a “new way of literacy” that is tought in fablabs. i guess thats exactly what we should think of when we think about bringing libraries into the future. its not about replacing any part of the culture. its just about developing it further.

    1. Thomas Gokey says:

      Philip, we should talk. We’re trying to actually do this. See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCXlJ36x-q0

  74. Adam Cahan says:

    And what, people interested in France or dinosaurs or history or, you know, NOVELS are just screwed? ‘Oh, you mean you can’t afford broadband? You don’t like tools?’

    If they’re going to be transformed it makes more sense for libraries to become COMPUTER centers, not hacker spaces. Since that is where the INFORMATION is. With high-speed internet, free. What if everyone who came to the library to use a computer had access to a laptop or tablet while there instead of being crammed in one of those smelly computer rooms.  What if the library was a physically more appealing place to use a computer than the Apple Store? The library is then a physical SPACE with human information EXPERTS and RESOURCES in which to read and learn via digital, if not print, media. Which , no surprise, is actually what a library really IS. A place of KNOWLEDGE. Hacker spaces are cool but  completely different. MAKING is not READING or LISTENING or WATCHING.  Hell, even ‘Programming Centers’ where people are taught to program (thus empowering them to use computers to learn on their own) makes more sense than Hacker Spaces. At least we’re still within the realm of LANGUAGE then.

  75. Bill Griggs says:

    Phillip,

    Thanks for taking this issue on. As a result of your forward thinking,
    the Fayetteville Free Library is setting up a Hackerspace. This Library
    is only 10 minutes away from me so I plan to give it my full support.

    One challenge Libraries will face as we move forward is how to maintain
    and afford some of the advanced Tech needed in a Fab Lab or Hackerspace.
    Laser cutters and 3D printers are going to be budget breakers for some
    smaller libraries. However, local Makers can build some of these items
    at a fraction of the cost for commercially available devices.

    Another challenge will be insurance for the Makers while engaged in
    Making. I don’t have a quick answer for this one but I am sure dialog
    between the Hackespaces and on the net will come up with an innovative
    and affordable solution.

    Giving children and adults open access to high tech manufacturing equipment will accelerate innovation, creativity. What better place to do that, than the public library?

    Bill

  76. David Zach says:

    Just brilliant. The future of libraries may not be about books, but about learning – specifically about learning to make things. Occupy the library. Make the future. 

    1. Thomas Gokey says:

      Occupy the library. I think you’ve got it!

  77. Phillip
    Torrone writes that public libraries should be re-purposed into Maker
    shacks to better serve their contemporary audiences. I could not
    disagree more with the overall point of his piece as well as its
    underlying assumptions.

    To start, Torrone claims the time is
    “finally here” for libraries to change and continue to meet
    public needs. The public library as we know it, though, has always
    been in a state of constant flux. One of myriad examples is the
    current trend of libraries acquiring ebooks. It’s simply untrue that
    the library as an institution is stagnant.

    Torrone goes on to make the claim that
    “it’s all at our fingertips through search engines, Wikipedia, and
    the web,” arguing that the library’s role has been supplanted by
    the Internet. This too is patently false. All information is not
    freely available on the Internet. The most reliable sources of
    information are still subscription-based. While Wikipedia is great
    for casual queries, it’s simply naive to believe it’s wholly reliable
    and accurate. Your local library very likely has a subscription to
    magazine databases, electronic encyclopedias and more – and very
    probably available to you at home with a library card login – that
    you would be charged hefty fees for were you to purchase on your own.

    Torrone claims to have “really tried”
    to use his local libraries, but was apparently put off by their web
    interface. This, frankly, does not sound like an earnest attempt to
    make use of these resources. Libraries are filled with professionals
    who would certainly have helped him had he bothered to ask. Likewise,
    his claim that young people he works with haven’t been to the library
    is also suspect. As a public librarian, I see our facility filled
    with people of all ages every day. Our usage statistics have risen
    dramatically in the past two decades, contrary to Torrone’s
    assumptions.

    My specialty as a librarian is in
    working with young adults. In just the past year, we’ve hosted
    workshops on soldering, made pop-pop boats and balsa planes similar
    to those featured in the same issue of Make, and more. I’m hardly a
    stodgy old books-only librarian. But Torrone overlooks the basic
    reality that public libraries exist to serve the public as a whole.
    While the maker movement is vibrant and growing, we’d be foolish to
    believe we’re mainstream. Most people simply don’t have the time,
    curiosity or sense of adventure to hack their favorite gadgets. The
    public does, however, need a place to find information and
    entertainment, which is what libraries provide and what taxpayers
    expect from us.

    As for the library being outmoded, I’ve
    picked up more skills than I can count simply by browsing the stacks
    and stumbling on books I never would have actively sought out. While
    the Internet is a great resource, it doesn’t begin to approach the
    ability of a physical space to encourage those happy accidents. You
    have to know what you’re after, which is a huge limitation on
    creativity. Incidentally, one of those things I accidentally stumbled
    upon a couple years back was Make magazine, thus prompting my
    subscription.

  78. Sorry – I had wanted to send this as a letter, but can’t find a link. This piece actually had me pretty riled when I got issue 28 in the mail this week.

  79. In issue 28, editor-at-large Phillip
    Torrone writes that public libraries should be re-purposed into Maker
    shacks to better serve their contemporary audiences. I could not
    disagree more with the overall point of his piece as well as its
    underlying assumptions.

    To start, Torrone claims the time is
    “finally here” for libraries to change and continue to meet
    public needs. The public library as we know it, though, has always
    been in a state of constant flux. One of myriad examples is the
    current trend of libraries acquiring ebooks. It’s simply untrue that
    the library as an institution is stagnant.

    Torrone goes on to make the claim that
    “it’s all at our fingertips through search engines, Wikipedia, and
    the web,” arguing that the library’s role has been supplanted by
    the Internet. This too is patently false. All information is not
    freely available on the Internet. The most reliable sources of
    information are still subscription-based. While Wikipedia is great
    for casual queries, it’s simply naive to believe it’s wholly reliable
    and accurate. Your local library very likely has a subscription to
    magazine databases, electronic encyclopedias and more – and very
    probably available to you at home with a library card login – that
    you would be charged hefty fees for were you to purchase on your own.

    Torrone claims to have “really tried”
    to use his local libraries, but was apparently put off by their web
    interface. This, frankly, does not sound like an earnest attempt to
    make use of these resources. Libraries are filled with professionals
    who would certainly have helped him had he bothered to ask. Likewise,
    his claim that young people he works with haven’t been to the library
    is also suspect. As a public librarian, I see our facility filled
    with people of all ages every day. Our usage statistics have risen
    dramatically in the past two decades, contrary to Torrone’s
    assumptions.

    My specialty as a librarian is in
    working with young adults. In just the past year, we’ve hosted
    workshops on soldering, made pop-pop boats and balsa planes similar
    to those featured in the same issue of Make, and more. I’m hardly a
    stodgy old books-only librarian. But Torrone overlooks the basic
    reality that public libraries exist to serve the public as a whole.
    While the maker movement is vibrant and growing, we’d be foolish to
    believe we’re mainstream. Most people simply don’t have the time,
    curiosity or sense of adventure to hack their favorite gadgets. The
    public does, however, need a place to find information and
    entertainment, which is what libraries provide and what taxpayers
    expect from us.

    As for the library being outmoded, I’ve
    picked up more skills than I can count simply by browsing the stacks
    and stumbling on books I never would have actively sought out. While
    the Internet is a great resource, it doesn’t begin to approach the
    ability of a physical space to encourage those happy accidents. You
    have to know what you’re after, which is a huge limitation on
    creativity. Incidentally, one of those things I accidentally stumbled
    upon a couple years back was Make magazine, thus prompting my
    subscription.

    1. Sorry – I had wanted to send this as a letter to the editor kind of thing, but couldn’t find a link. I love your magazine and don’t mean any disrespect, but this piece made me really angry when I received issue 28 in the mail this week.

  80. >As far as public libraries go, I live in NYC,
    >and there are 2-3 public libraries within a
    >15 minute walk.

    Just to be fair, most people in the U.S. don’t live within a 15 minute DRIVE from a SINGLE library.  In many rural areas, a county library may serve people in a 1-hour driving radius.

    1. Thomas Gokey says:

      I take your point that the are special concerns about providing library service to sparsely populated rural communities, but it’s just not true that “most” people don’t live within an reasonable distance to a library. In fact, most people live within a mile or two of a public library because most people, by definition, live in more densely populated areas.

  81. fascinating vision for future of libraries (from last March issue of Make)

    1. I just got the issue a few weeks ago, and I’ve subscribed for a couple years now.

  82. James says:

    In 1985, in my 6th grade public school classroom, I set up a hand tool woodshop. Supported by a visionary principal and colleagues and inspired by Richard Starr’s great book “Woodworking With Kids” (Taunton Press, unfortunately no longer in print) I had innocently launched myself down a path I’d never anticipated…as is the case with so many interesting turns we take moving through our allotted span of days.

    After 5 great years mixing design/build woodworking in with the “core” curriculum I came to the conclusion that designing & building was a “core” curriculum that more kids needed to experience.  With that in mind and further inspired by the pioneering vision of Sheila Dawson in San Diego, California, (See “The Workbench Book”, Taunton Press)  I re-designed a retired school bus.  It was equipped with ten adjustable workstations each outfitted with the same basic set of handtools.  Additional tools were located along with supplies, hardware and a design/build print library  in virtually all of the remaining space in the bus.  From 1990 until my retirement in 2006 The WOODBUS served my small, suburban school district. 

    I once estimated that 6000 students ranging in age from 2.5 years to adult had experienced designing/building in my busses (after 6 years I upgraded my original shop into a second bus).  By all accounts this approach was successful, feasible and sustainable though details of all that is well beyond the scope of this comment. 

    It was also quite safe.  In 16 years of operation serving an average of 50 students daily I wrote fewer than 1/2 dozen accident reports.  None of the accidents required professional medical attention.

    No can really say–at this point–if the notion of transforming libraries into design/build spaces is likely to be successful, feasible or sustainable to the extent that my effort with The WOODBUS was but from my experience I can tell you this much:

    –Above and beyond all else that threatened it, it took a uniquely suited, skilled & disposed person, supported by a cadre of visionary administrators & colleagues, to establish & sustain my WOODBUS program.  While I could not have done it entirely alone, it needed someone with an unusual skill set to pull it off for that many years. Finding the right people to initiate and maintain novel efforts is really the biggest challenge.  The rest is just details & administrivia.
    –The benefits of extended exposure to designing & building–making–cannot be overstated, cannot be enjoyed too early in life, and absolutely must not be left behind in our rush “forward”.  Rubbing elbows with the wealth of humankind’s thinking in print while at the same time experiencing the benefits of the mind/body nexus seems to me a no brainer.   (See “The Hand; How It’s Use Shapes The Brain, Language and Human Culture” by Frank Wilson)

    I would challenge the traditional library community to consider & attempt some serious, extended experiments with the Hackerspace/Fab Lab/Tech Shop idea…or at least experiment with a converted bookmobile. 
       

  83. [...] Retooling Libraries: Make magazine calls out to rethink libraries. [...]

  84. [...] Read the entire article. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  85. [...] “So yes, turn my library into a makerspace. Please. I’ll go MORE often than I already do. But don’t do it because it is profitable; do it because it serves a need.” Is it Time to Retool Public Libraries and Make “Tech Shops”? [...]

  86. [...] Lab Italia, HackerSpaces, MakerSpace,  ma anche al pensiero di Phil Torrone sulla possibilità di trasformare le biblioteche pubbliche. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  87. [...] Is It Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries? Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  88. Wow! Lot’s of lively debate. I think that as there will always be a need for books, but I also believe that this need is diminishing, freeing up physical space in a library. Some of that space could potentially be converted to an onsite server farm, that would not only facilitate the proliferation of library eBooks, but also store/stream videos, audio and much of the same media that libraries house now, but in a electronic format.
    I would also like to see libraries branch into lending things that are traditionally not associated with libraries. Someone mentioned a tool library; awesome idea! The idea could develop even to include all sorts of items that people don’t need every day. Not just tools, but everyday items. “Honey, I’m just going to swing by the library to grab a muffin tin”.
    As Phil points out, the natural extension of this is to house things that people need, but are not practical to take to their houses. Why own a table saw if you’re only need to make a couple cuts every couple of months, let alone a laser cutter. And of course, you can’t just allow people access to these things without training, so I foresee it becoming a valuable new resource for education. Also, if the business model was sound, it could even generate revenue, while still allowing free access for the needy.
    I get it.

  89. hilbolling says:

    I refer to “MakingSociety on March 15th, 2011 at 7:27 am: Just saw that this already happens in France. Some libraries in Paris let people rent tools for 3 days for only 5 euros per year. Their name so far: bricothèque (like “bricolage” + “bibliothèque” = tinkering + libraries… tinkeries sonds great? )”

    I think this has to be taken one step further. The suffix thèque has associations with a place where items are arranged, stored, conserved, maintained and checked in and out, In French you could put all kind of item names in front of the suffix -thèque. For me it means that a library is a kind of a template for a community service. It provides to it’s members content on different media and a place to consume it in a low-cost way.

    The discusion about TechShops, FabLabs and MakerSpaces are in that sense a differentiation from content. But content is a whole different matter. It is more a sole brain activity in stead of a manual activity. Therefor the latter is not apt for the library.

    But the template of how the library works, can be copied to similar set ups for tools that we use. The current way of working is that everybody buys and owns it’s own drill, landmower, car, etc. The actual use of those tools is mostly not on an everyday base. Very inefficient. Most tools are stored and not used in a private-thèque so to say.

    What would happen if we all bring these tools, when we don’t use them, to the specialized public-thèques where they can be checked in and out under the members?

    The service of the public-thèque is just the missing link, because it will assure that the tools stay in good shape. I wouldn’t lent any tool to my neighbor for example, because he will destroy it. But I would trust the public-thèque to take care of giving me the tool back in the same state as I brought it.

    In short, one of the fucntions of a library: store house for physical content, will dissapear, but the model of it’s service would be applicable to all kind of sharing initiatives.

  90. Rick Thomchick says:

    Reblogged this on Metaholic Musings and commented:
    A compelling case for incorporating maker space into our libraries….

  91. [...] confines of the school day and the school curriculum? I’m reminded of Phillip Torrone’s proposal to turn public libraries into [...]

  92. [...] Lab to Westport Public Library’s Maker Space. Nearly a year and a half ago, Makezine.com asked, “Is It Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make ‘TechShops’?”.  Since then, I’ve seen everything from the hows, whys and why nots of makerspaces in libraries [...]

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  94. [...] to become or how they should change. A couple of years ago Phillip Torrone wrote an article about reinventing public libraries as makerspaces. I’m in support of the idea for no other reason than I love the idea of having makerspaces [...]

  95. [...] Is It Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make ”TechShops”? – Make [...]

  96. [...] (where I learned about Pittsburgh, PA’s MAKE SHOP at the Children’s Museum), in articles about libraries embracing this maker culture, including Fayetteville Free Library’s Fab Lab, [...]

  97. […] Un artículo sobre diferentes modos de organización en torno a la fabricación local y su conveniencia para […]

  98. […] Is It Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make ”TechShops”? […]

  99. […] Is It Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make ”TechShops”? […]

  100. […] Is It Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make ”TechShops”? […]

  101. […] not computers or technology, why not gardening? Sewing? Writing a sestina? (Dover Town Library incubated eggs, with each […]

In the Maker Shed