From Stacks to Hacks: Makerspaces and LibraryBox

The makerspace movement is gaining momentum in the library world. In his recent report on “Libraries and the informational future: some notes,” Lorcan Dempsey of OCLC noted how “space is being reconfigured around broader education and research needs, and less around the management of print collection. In effect, space is shifting from infrastructure to engagement…” Nothing represents this emerging trend more than the recent growth of makerspaces within libraries. 

Makerspaces can take many forms. They can be open areas in the library with tables, seating, and facilities to encourage collaborative work among small groups in an informal setting. They can also be more technical, workshop-oriented spaces that provide tools for creative activities, for instance lending musical instruments for audio recording, having 3D printers for “printing” tactile recreations, having souped-up computer stations for graphics and coding work, or supplying carpentry tools for object-oriented craftsmanship. 

ljx121001webMakerTop.jpgLest the concept seem too facilities oriented, makerspaces needn’t be entirely reconfigurations of physical space. Existing library space can be rededicated to hosting hackathons, writing salons (NaNoWriMo is an approach after all), craft classes, or other group making, sharing, and teaching ventures. In many ways, the makerspace concept builds upon things that libraries are already good at: bringing people together and providing instruction.

The shift, then, is more a change in mentality than in physical footprint, or, as one library administration said, it is an opportunity for libraries to be more “transformational” and not “transactional.” The key features of makerspaces is that they reorient the library towards greater user engagement, collaborative creative activity, and participatory learning. They also position the library as a place of building, inventing, and doing instead of a static location of consumption and acquisition. This holds great promise as libraries become less a storehouse of books or information and more a locus of community involvement, innovative forms of service and instruction, and as laboratories of ideas and invention.

A couple of recent articles provide a good overview of activities within libraries to create maker spaces.  The Digital Shift noted the momentum behind the maker movement within libraries in a three part article and provided some good examples of how institutions are envisioning reconfiguring existing space away from “the stacks” and more towards “the hacks” (as in hackerspaces – note here that that implementations of this idea can vary and, thus, the controlled vocabulary of how to them remains, er, uncontrolled; heck, visit a library and make up your own term. That’s what it’s all about!). There are a number of other recent articles discussing makerspaces in libraries and "creation stations" were on subject of a recent Library Journal three part series.

David Weinberger had an excellent article recently wrapping many of these trends into the conceptual notion of the “Library as Platform.” Two good blogs to follow to keep an eye on developments in this area are the excellent The Library as Incubator Project and the recently-launched Maker Librarian.

LibraryBox.jpgWe here at METRO hosted a demo by MakerBot last May. Also, on Wednesday of next week (10/24 2pm-3pm) we will be hosting a free webinar with Jason Griffey creator of the LibraryBox a DIY portable digital library and local-area network for libraries (or anyone) to share their digital materials. LibrayBox is a great project and an excellent example of of how the makerspace ethos can contribute to keeping libraries vital and engaging.

See the event announcement and registration page for more info.