Innovative libraries across the US are establishing areas for "makerspaces." Although few consumers have ever heard of them, they could change the way governments and residents view libraries.
Makerspaces are, well, spaces to make stuff. In a sense, this is nothing new. Craftspeople have been making products for hundreds, thousands, of years. Sometimes they will work together in communal locations, sharing tools, assisting each other, and just being social.
Today's modern makerspaces, which have been around for fewer than 10 years, often have a more techie orientation. The makers (as these new-generation craftspeople are called), can employ computer-aided design, 3D printers, robotics, and other high tech tools. An entire subculture has sprung up from the concept of makers.
In 2005, MAKE magazine was launched. A year later, the first "maker faire" was held. Maker faires have been held around the world, including last year in Palo Alto, Calif., as part of the National Day of Civic Hacking, which I discussed in January and June.
In 2009, MAKE teamed with Twin Cities Public Television and American Public Television to produce episodes of a maker TV show. The same year, Cory Doctorow, science fiction novelist/journalist/anti-digital-rights-management activist, published Makers, a novel I enjoyed about a global product and social revolution sparked by 3D printing.
This month the White House announced it would sponsor its first Maker Faire later this year, and it publicized other initiatives to encourage students and entrepreneurs to "make things." The White House said that it also will launch "an all-hands-on-deck effort to provide even more students and entrepreneurs access to the tools, spaces, and mentors needed to Make."
Discussing cities, the press release said:
Mayors and communities could pursue initiatives like design/production districts that allow entrepreneurs to create more jobs or initiatives that would expand access to Marker [sic] spaces, mentorship, and educational opportunities through their schools, libraries, museums, and community organizations.
Well-equipped maker spaces are expensive, costing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, a partial list of equipment in Missoula library includes a Makerbot Replicator 2 3D printer, a Next Engine 3D scanner, a digital oscilloscope, a USB oscilloscope, a Bernina model 1008 sewing machine, a Cricut Expression 2 craft cutter, two power supplies, two variable-temperature soldering irons, computers, and a host of other hardware and software packages.
Some of the costs could be subsidized by makers paying to use the equipment and materials, such as plastic filaments used by 3D printers, metals, yarns, and leather required to produce different products. Also, libraries could charge fees for maker classes. Libraries could apply for sponsorships and grants from private corporations and public organizations.
There is a variety of educational resources for libraries. For example, the American Library Association in conjunction with Instructables.com have launched the Make It @ Your Library Website. Makerspaces are discussed at library conferences, maker faires, and a library Facebook page.
All of these efforts, however, don't address the key question for public libraries: Should they be in this "business" of creating makerspaces?
Ever since the rise of personal computers and, especially, ebooks, libraries -- essential public spaces for cities everywhere -- have been pondering how they could and should evolve in the digital era. Many libraries now offer ebooks to download via the OverDrive service, and some lend e-readers and tablets. In January 2013, I wrote about Bexar County, Texas, creating what is probably the first "bookless" library, offering only digital books.
But regardless of whether the medium is paper or a screen, the product is still a book. Makerspaces, however, are a different animal and don't fit within a narrow definition of a library's purpose. But many librarians take a much broader view of their mission, which encompasses providing a host of community learning resources and a place to foster creativity.
Will libraries eventually be considered the free or inexpensive place in cities for residents to create physical objects, just as libraries are the place for borrowing books, magazines, CDs, and DVDs? Libraries and techies certainly are actively exploring the idea. But the more important question for cities is whether the future of libraries should include makerspaces.
Thanks again for noting another makerspace in the area that I didn't know about in Arlington. I haven't read about any library charging a fee just for visiting a makerspace, but many libraries charge for the use of materials and classes.
Re: I like it Okay, Alan, I had to share another maker space article. Gosh, it was news to me when you mentioned the term just the other day, and now I see it everywhere!
TechShop Arlington (VA) is opening next month. So here is a purely commercial model for the maker space, though it appears they seek to price the spaces for use at competitive rates. People sewing dresses or building shelves generally lack CEO-type bank accounts, so this is nice to see. Again, using a library as a base location theoretically encourages more folks to participate since they are not paying a monthly or weekly fee as in this model.
A friend has a breadmaker and it makes noises. But so does my friend.
Thanks for the links to those two sites. I didn't know about them.
I'm sure there are places in many cities where makerspaces could be established. But that still doesn't address the main question of whether they should be a standard feature of libraries. I'm still not sure, but keeping an open mind.
In the meantime, today I picked up the complete version of "House of Cards" (okay, so I'm slow to get around to it) and the movie "Europa Report" from the library. Yes, it's good the libraries offer DVDs to borrow.
Re: I like it Breadmakers are terrific, though some of them make a repetitive wheezy noise as they work, so see if you can listen to one before you buy :-)
I thought of two other spaces, both in greater DC. One is an old converted prison, and the other an old warehouse that was once a printing plant and train station and is now a vintage furniture shop plus workspaces for artists and artisans and entrepreneurs. Again, neither started as a library, but I think it's cool to have an array of models to consider.
There must be comparable places in SF, NY, Seattle, Singapore, London...
All I know about leather is that when I was growing up in New York, Mark Cross and Dunhill on Fifth Avenue had great leather wallets and Bally had butter-soft shoes. I let the professionals craft my stuff, and keep my hands out of the process! (That said, I have pondered getting a breadmaker, as long as I don't have to do much work.)
But enough about me.
I forgot about the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, which isn't too far from me huddling in the savage environs of Chevy Chase. I've gone there for years, wandering around the works that painters, sculptors, photographers, potters, jewelers, etc. have produced. It's great fun, useful for craftspeople and a benefit to the area. Thanks very mentioning it.
As I said, I'm not sure libraries should evolve to offer makerspaces, but I'm very open minded about that and look forward to seeing where it's going. The Martin Luther King Library in Washington, D.C. has a makerspace. And just a few days ago I spoke to a librarian at my local library (Bethesda), which sponsored a one-day makerspace last year and is planning another one. In fact, the librarian was planning the upcoming makerspace and wanted the URL to my article.
Re: I like it They tool leather, Alan. Or tan it (though that involved dangerous chemicals, so never mind).
Mixed-use spaces like the Torpedo Factory (where you can get married, buy crafts or take art lessons) seem to be a commercially driven equivalent to a library-centered makerspace. One is not better than the other, just different motives and means.
What other public space could support such an endeavor? We could hardly convert City Hall into a makerspace. Subway stations are too hectic, public parks subject to weather. The more I think about it, the more I like the library as the starting point for such a movement.
Yes, manufacturers could help subsidize the cost of equipment for library makerspaces. Grants also are available from private and public companies, as well as some government funds.
With libraries offering computers and WiFi, it's not too much of a leap to offer computer-based makerspaces with their 3D printers and computer-aided design software. But for most libraries, the cost is prohibitive.
As I wrote, I'm not completely sure that makerspaces should be the "next big thing" for libraries. But I'm keeping an open mind. Perhaps if I were a do-it-yourself guy, I would be more excited by the prospect of building things!
I'm glad you're happy with the Cambridge/Massachusetts e-book system. In suburban Washington, D.C., I've found the physical libraries to be fine, but as I noted, I can never find an e-book I wanted.
That's not a big problem for me because I buy 99 percent of the books I read. But it would be nice to be able to download a library book every once in a while, especially one that I'm not sure if I'd want to purchase. For example, a week or two ago, for the first time I put on hold a library e-book, the new book by Robin Cook, "The Cell." Do you know how many people were ahead of me in the queue? 40! I think I'm No. 38 now.
I have hundreds of books to read, mostly digital but also paper, but having to wait so long for a library e-book, when a virtual unlimited number of copiess could be available, is ridiculous.
Anoter reason I'd like to try library e-books is because they would be a lot "cleaner" than a library physical book that has passed through many (grubby) hands!
E-books are the future -- and the present -- and it should be a major priority for libraries to offer books and devices to patrons to help usher in the age of e-publications and familiarize people with the concept.
Many libraries in the U.S. are very good for offering computers, different types of classes, speakers and WiFi. I think makerspaces are an interesting idea, but I'm not absolutely positively sold that they should be the "next big thing" for libraries. However, I'm certainly willing to be convinced.
Re: I like it As pointed out it's an expensive proposition. Most likely the manufacturers would have to subsidize big time to get this plan into most libaries systems, expecially in less prosperous libraries around the country. With libaries now hosting lots of internet users, and that expense, I can't see a quck transition to "maker" facilities anytime soon, except for a limited amount of well funded or special interest subsidies.
Re: ebooks Alan, the publishers' restriction of 26 borrowings is correct. That was part of the agreement with Overdrive and Amazon.
I've been borrowing ebooks from the Minuteman library network (I have a Cambridge, MA library card) for Kindle and they have a very good selection. They buy several copies of popular books, although sometimes I need to wait a few weeks for a new title. I keep 3-5 books on my "hold" list and they email me when one is available.
Here in Barcelona they don't offer ebook rentals yet. The city has been investing heavily renovating and building new libraries. Most of them are very busy, and people go there to work and study, or just to read. They offer workshops, language exchange, conferences and many hold exhibitions.
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