Public Libraries, 3D Printing, FabLabs and Hackerspaces

Is It Time To Retool-1

Public Libraries, 3D Printing, FabLabs and Hackerspaces, Thomas writes in…

We do not share the malaise of many librarians who worry that the Internet and e-books are going to make public libraries obsolete. On the contrary, these shifts liberate libraries to spend more of their resources on their essential purpose within a democracy. A public library is a hackerspace avant la lettre. It is a democracy machine where people inform themselves and then literally go out and form the world they live in. It is a place that empowers people to actively hack the social codes they live in. There has never been so much work for libraries to do! The harvest is plentiful (literally, one of our projects is to collectively farm ½ acre of public land at the Northern Onondaga Public Library) but the workers are few.

We want to see 3D printing, FabLabs and Hackerspaces become a regular feature–in addition to its other services–at every public library in the country. This video was made in support of Lauren Britton-Smedley’s proposal to create a pilot FabLab at the Fayetteville Free Library. This is Lauren’s final project for the “Innovation in Public Libraries” class taught by Meg Backus and Thomas Gokey at Syracuse University’s iSchool. In this class we looked at avant-garde art from the past 60 years (social sculpture, relational aesthetics, institutional critique, interventionist practice, and hacker/maker/DIY culture) and used it as a way to rethink what the library of the 21st century could be. We remain committed to the essence of a public library as a genuine commons, as a “university of the people,” as a place where the knowledge of past generations is preserved for present and future research. Our class explored what this essential function means today. The class was, in some respects, run as a studio where each student proposed and then actually created a project like this one.

Other students are working on organizing CSA drop offs through the public library network, redesigning the bus schedules for our local public transit (badly needed), making a library’s piano available to the public, and creating a self-watering, self-tweeting network of cacti with an Arduino (so that you don’t over-water your cactus). You can view are class website here.

-Meg Backus and Thomas Gokey

Is It Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make “TechShops”?

30 thoughts on “Public Libraries, 3D Printing, FabLabs and Hackerspaces

  1. “We do not share the malaise of many librarians who worry that the
    Internet and e-books are going to make public libraries obsolete.”

    I would argue emphatically that any librarians who suffer from the afore-mentioned malaise are in a small and gradually shrinking minority. In fact, of the 50+ librarians I know personally, I can think of exactly one who believes electronic materials are a burden instead of a blessing (though she’s slowly coming around). One is not many. To characterize this “malaise” view as widespread serves no purpose, and in fact undermines librarians everywhere, because it characterizes a significant portion of them as Luddites.

    1. johngineer is so right about this, everyone should pay attention. It’s what I know to be true, and I’ve been working in libraries for 30 years.

      When I read the offending sentence (the “malaise”) I thought “This person doesn’t know any librarians; but they do seem to know some stereotypes and cliches”

      1. @Folksnake, honestly, you have to believe me, I sincerely do not mean to offend any working librarians. The opposite. All I have is enthusiasm for librarians and libraries.

        What I was trying to get at with the offending “malaise” comment was that there is an existential dread that is just “out there” in the library world. We encounter it all the time in the kind of work that we do, we think it is depressing and unhelpful and we want to destroy it with enthusiasm (watch our video, I think the enthusiasm comes through. All I have to offer is enthusiasm and it can cover a multitude of sins).

        It goes beyond the normal existential dread of budgeting woes. In a way it is wonderful, the whole world is becoming more like a giant public library, but this does leave us with the problem of how to transition to such a world and where it leaves the role of librarians and libraries. Nobody is quite sure of the answer to this question, and this understandably has left people feeling anxious. If the whole world is becoming one giant library, does that mean we won’t need the ones we’ve got? Where do we go from here?

        I’m not a public librarian, I’m a visual artist. But Meg is a public librarian, and our students are all going to be some kind of librarians very soon. My art has moved in the direction of public libraries because I share the basic values that public librarians have always defended. Public librarians are my heroes. They are, literally, the first and last defenders of democracy.

        If I could attempt an analogy between the art world and the library world it would go like this: In the 20th century, art reached a kind of crisis because anything could be a work of art. Some artists despaired. If everything could be art, what was left for them to do? I like a story that the experimental composer John Cage tells. It was in the 1950’s and he was driving cross country with another composer who was sleeping in the back seat of the car. The composer woke up, still half asleep and said “now that anything can be art there is so much work to do!” and then immediately fell back asleep.

        I think there is something similar going on with libraries right now. Libraries are coming into their own by becoming universal. The whole world is becoming more like a public library. Some (and yes, I would say many) are feeling some dread about this. Where does this leave them? Some (and we hope you join us in this spirit) take the attitude of John Cage’s passenger. Now that the whole world is a public library, there is so much work to do.

    2. @johngineer:disqus I think we’re allies here, all believing in the importance and competence of librarians. But do we not see and hear evidence of uneasiness among librarians? We librarians feel plenty comfortable with electronic materials (yes, blessed by them), but don’t we worry that we’re increasingly perceived as inessential? What do you make of the anxiety around “remaining relevant” (has anyone personally witnessed an ALA conference session in the past few years where this phrase was not used)?

      Now. About library funding.

      “…the convincing argument must be made to the municipalities…”

      Be made. Passive voice. The focus of the conversation here needs to be around who is making that argument and how. This project starts making that argument. Actively, and with robots. That’s the takeaway.

  2. Personally, I think we need to rethink the book, itself. No, I am not talking e-readers (e.g. Kindle). I thought of using 100% recycled paper (some sort of polymer base) that can be recycled over and over. Use washable/biodegradable/reuseable inks. The library itself could just be a printing office and a used book just gets recycled. Print any book instantly. User read and returns. Books gets washed and agitated until broken up back in pulp. Eventually returning right back into the printing machine. Just a thought though.

    1. This is an interesting thought. I would think that it would be easier to keep the form of the book intact (possibly some kind of plastic rather than paper for longevity) and use an erasable ink. It would allow a library to save tons of space. That being said, there is something about the permanence of books passing information down to later generations. Electronic media tends to shift in format and may not be accessible in 20 yrs. A book is just a written word and as long as there is a way to translate it into the current language, it will still contain all of the same information in a readily accessible format.

  3. This is a great idea, trying to build a full tekshop might be a problem due to all the training required, but 3d printers and laser engravers are made for this since they don’t take up much room, they are quiet and it’s pretty easy to measure the supplies used and charge for them.

  4. Great discussions! I see public libraries as being very essential to the fabric of a community. I see them shifting from being a place for knowledge consumption to being a place for knowledge production. I say yes to 3D printing, FabLabs, and Hackerspaces.

  5. Manufactures printers and laser engravers for this because they do not take up much space, they are quiet and it is very easy to measure the supplies used and the charge for them.

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