Library builds a hackerspace

In March, MAKE's Phil Torrone argued that libraries should retool to become hackerspaces. The Fayetteville Free Library in Fayetteville, NY is doing just that. Here's the story from KQED's Mindshift:

201111091525Earlier this year, MAKE Magazine’s Phillip Torrone wrote a provocative article asking “Is it time to rebuild and retool libraries and make ‘techshops’?” In other words, should libraries join some of the other new community centers that are being created (such as General Assembly which we covered yesterday) and become “hackerspaces” or “makerspaces”?

“Yes!”, says librarian Lauren Smedley, who is in the process of creating what might just be the first maker-space within a U.S. public library. The Fayetteville Free Library where Smedley works is building a Fab Lab — short for fabrication laboratory — that will provide free public access to machines and software for manufacturing and making things.

So far, the Fab Lab is equipped with a MakerBot, a 3D printer that lets you “print” plastic pieces of your own design. The potential for 3D printers to revolutionize manufacturing as we know it is huge: imagine being able to design and then manufacture — or “print” — whatever you want. Moreoever, imagine the tools of manufacturing being in the hands of everyone, not just giant factories (and remember, since this is a public library, this is really putting the technology in the hands of everyone, not just those that can afford a membership at a traditional hackerspace).

The Public Library, Completely Reimagined


  1. We’re trying to do that in a limited way at State Library of Queensland, at The Edge, the biggest drama is safety concerns. and

  2. @google-0898bb664197d0f27e15f5677a183de7:disqus Safety should be a concern, but it shouldn’t override sensibility. We all drive cars but cars can kill people. It’s important to gauge and use Calculated Risk to assess the best possible solution.

    1. Yeah, but we don’t let twelve-year-olds drive cars for exactly those reasons. Or people w/out drivers licenses and insurance.

      How will you replicate those safety measures in a library? And will it still be a truly public space then? Lot’s of homeless people or those w/major issues of some sort in libraries.  What will be their relationship to the hacker-library-space? 

      1. @google-319da80a6f189dbb14780dd5febe988c:disqus many libraries now have tool lending and many have had photo developing classes with dangerous chemicals just to name a few counter-examples. 

        1. I might be wrong, but a photo developing class is a much smaller investment than a permanent hackerspace with power tools. Here is a wikipedia list of tool lending libraries:

          I’m not arguing against tool lending (it’s awesome), but that such an activity is an addition to the primary mission of a library – which has to do with information (not necessarily books). We wouldn’t want only libraries that only lent tools.  Also, that libraries need to change significantly – in ways other than incorporating hacker spaces – to respond to computers and the internet, and still serve as useful knowledge hubs open to the public.

          1. @google-319da80a6f189dbb14780dd5febe988c:disqus i’ll be around 5 years from now – and these comments will be here, we’ll see if i was right about what libraries, the good ones, will become.
            the photo developing studio(s) and tool lending actually required far more investment than something like a 3d printer – if you want to get the facts, interview a cross-section of librarians like i did – the link you posted to the list of tool lending libraries was in my article. one of the tool lending library is a few blocks from me and i know the person who runs it.lending “tools” is *part* of the mission of a library – not the primary, so we’re now agreeing on the same things.

            if you visit noisebridge in sf, they have a giant technical (book) library – so my next article may talk about how hackerspaces are becoming libraries :)

          2. Hey – I just posted a long response to you, and saw this post. But yeah, I think we have more points of agreement than our dialogue thus far suggests. I also think your language gives you away! A hacker space has a technical library? If a hacker space has a library, then what is a ‘library retooled to become a hacker space?’ Oh. Wait. Ok. That’s what you were saying just now at the end of your post. Yeah :)
            I really think hacker spaces and future digital libraries (somewhere I read a great article about how as technology advances libraries will become sites for the public to use advanced technology like the CAVE) should get together and gang up on schools. :/ Learning as play/as a game/through a digital library/a video game/makingAlso, what will a good library be in 20 years? Once computing technology, web design, and HCI becomes even more advanced (the CAVE example again) there may be compelling reasons to have physical sites dedicated to  certain kinds of information access and retrieval that people want to do but can’t at home.

          3. @google-319da80a6f189dbb14780dd5febe988c:disqus sure – i’ll eventually have an article that’s something like… “how libraries than became a hackerspace are the new public schools…”  :)

          4. Yeah, no best answer – but maybe the best model for the future we can come up with, understanding that it is a model?

            Heh. I commented on your original article, cutting and pasting a part of it here:
            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. The ideal user interface for an ‘online library’ would be so pleasant and so enticing that what we would in fact have is an educational game! So as digital libraries improve they may incorporate more elements of play into their user interfaces. 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’!

          5. One of our other projects is to create micro-schools at every public library on the model of the Public School ( ).

            This would allow people to create their own classes, learn and teach what they want to, self-organize and democratize the programing that happens at libraries.

            In regards to your earlier comments about improving the high speed Internet at public libraries, we’re also working on setting up freedomtowers to offer uncensored off-the-grid Internet access keeping with the ethic of public libraries.

          6. @google-8d29796e585239185dac3b5e98a2512c:disqus 
            That’s great! The Public School is awesome, unfortunately I haven’t gone to my local one yet but they have excellent classes. Machine Project in LA is on a similar tip. I’m curious, who is your ‘we’ you are talking about?

            freedomtowers just, as a word, reminds me of freedom fries. like there are tyranny towers (panopticons?) floating around somewhere out there.

          7. @google-319da80a6f189dbb14780dd5febe988c:disqus The ‘we’ is Meg Backus, public librarian extraordinaire, myself, and our students. Last year we taught a class called “Innovation in Public Libraries” at Syracuse University. Lauren was one of our students and this project began in our class.

            One of the things we want to do is re-think the university. Since we were severely disappointed in the lack of support we received for these kinds of projects from the corporate “university,” and in the way the corporate “university” was exploiting us (they paid us less than what our adjuncts union has agreed on as the minimum because we were team teaching the class) and in the way the corporate “university” was exploiting our students (in the form of outrageous tuition), we’ve decided that the corporate “university” is adding nothing to our class and is only taking value away from it. So this year we’re going to be teaching the same class outside of the corporation. We’ll be offering our students a “badge” through the Open Badges Project ( ) which we hope will be recognized among the library world. The class will be free to all students.

            This coming semester we’re really looking to put Freedom Boxes and Freedomtowers in libraries, expand our collective farm project at public libraries, run car share and bike share programs out of libraries, and much more. You can read more about how we’re leaving the corporate “university” and trying to build a true university in it’s place here:

            I suppose that a tyranny tower would just be Comcast.

          8. @google-8d29796e585239185dac3b5e98a2512c:disqus That is incredibly interesting. Ah, and now I see your connection to the subject of our fracas.  All the links I gleaned from your post are really super-fascinating. I’m browsing thru Syracuse and the blog and the Public School stuff. I looked at Open Badges a bit. It sounds like it boils down to a reputation-based system? That would be the ultimate blow to accreditation as it stands now – an accreditation algorithm/system robust enough to be of reputational value. 

            I totally agree about libraries as revolutionary sites. I’m interested in non-profit/subscriber (i.e. not govt) libraries because they seem to offer an opportunity for community funding; i don’t know much about them. Also in the confluence of the library and the school in the interface, or the line between a computer game and facebook or wikipedia. Harmonix ‘Rock Band’ is a good example of this – the game is, now, I think, a full-fledged composition tool, and actually has _some_ pedagogical elements.

            Are you going to be doing anything w/those projects in LA? Do you know Machine Project out here?

  3. I am moving away from Boston, but knowing a publicly-accessible 3D printer is in Fayetteville, only an hour away from where I will be, is kind of like a consolation.

  4. traditional hackerspace

    Maybe I getting old, but don’t things have to be around for more than a few years to become traditions?  :)

    Either way I’d love to see something like this in Cincy.

  5. What is wrong with libraries being quiet, public accessed, book depositories. This seems like a librarian read a half-baked article in Make and decided to make a grant/cash grab while ignoring the basic purpose of a library.

    Rather then rehashing what’s wrong with this (which were well covered in the comments of Torrone’s original article) I’d recommend reading Nicholson Baker’s fantastic book, Double Fold, which goes to great length on how librarians wowed by new technology and the cash that comes with it have made some terrible decisions.

    1. This project goes to the very heart of a public library’s purpose. A public library is a hackerspace avant la lettre. It’s a genuine commons in which people freely share knowledge, inform themselves, and then go out and form the world they live in by hacking the very social code that our society runs on. Public libraries are democracy machines.

      What’s so great about 3D printing is that it has the potential to turn the whole world into one giant public library where we have a truly democratic economy based on sharing and creating. Public libraries already understand this kind of economy, and they’re the perfect institution to usher in this future world.

      We made this video last year in support of Lauren’s project which goes into just how revolutionary this shift will be and how important of a role public libraries can play in making it happen:

      And the best part is that this project can be replicated at public libraries around the world. Every public library should be a hackerspace! This doesn’t mean giving up on books (who’d think that anyway), it’s just the natural organic outgrowth of libraries as democracy machines.

      1. I don’t think libraries are fundamentally ‘democracy machines’ (as if such a thing could exist, as if we can put people in a machine and they come out reliably changed in some form), though supporting a democratic society may be one of their benefits.

        I’d argue that fundamentally libraries are records of human knowledge (for the general public – with archives being less accessible and more specialized) and also are places of LEARNING. For individuals. A library is a blessing because a person can go there and learn.

        The form of knowledge is certainly in flux right now, and libraries need to reflect that. But a 3D printer would seem to come after, say, high-speed wireless, dealing with the current snarl of IP issues to make works more available to patrons, and more computers for people to use when they come to the library. I’m not arguing against 3-D printers, and I’ve read ‘The Diamond Age’ and Charles Stross, but I think it’s weird to proselytize for them (and hacker spaces) as being THE thing a library needs right now, which is what it sounds like. 

        1. “I’d argue that fundamentally libraries are records of human knowledge…and also are places of LEARNING. For individuals. A library is a blessing because a person can go there and learn.”

          But that’s exactly what a hacker space is: a place of learning.

          People with wide-ranging skill sets get together, share what they know, and work together to make a crazy idea a reality.
          Hackerspaces aren’t about making things, they about sharing education and outreach.  The “making things” part is just proof that members really understand what they’ve been talking about.  To quote Richard Feynman, “What I cannot create, I do not understand”

          1. Hey Kyle,

            Yeah, definitely, one can learn through doing, through collaborating, through praxis, or through playing a musical instrument or writing a poem. I didn’t mean to imply that those forms aren’t learning. I should’ve been more clear.  I do challenge your assertion that ‘Hackerspaces aren’t about making things…..’, are there many hacker spaces where things aren’t built? 

            Maybe a better way to express my thought would be: ‘Libraries are organized or curated repositories of information which patrons can search through in order to find certain kinds of knowledge.’ 

            Doesn’t each hacker space have its own ‘library’ (a technical or specialist library) of technical books? Do you call that collection of books a ‘hacker space’? 

      2. You are right, libraries are commons in which people freely share knowlege, inform themselves and then go inform the public. So are universities, farmer markets, community centers, the internet, and this blog’s comment section. What makes libraries special is they preserve and provide books.

        You can have your free public hackerspace in any other place, where it doesn’t compete with the limited personal, physical, and financial resources of a library. A local library could even participate with a special collection. Perhaps a full run of Popular Mechanic, Make Magazine, 2600 and the defunct Craft, and ReadyMade. Plus, you know, books about 3d printing, machine operation, computers etc.

        Their collection will be a lot more practical, inexpensive and longer lasting then any cutting edge work space, which will be obsolete in 15 years.

        1. The mission of a public library is to provide free and open access to information. We used to get information from books, now it comes in a variety of formats. Libraries are centers for knowledge exchange and as such are the perfect place to develop a fabulous laboratory or makerspace or hackerspace. To say that libraries, particularly public libraries, exist solely to “preserve and provide books” is absolutely wrong. Books are a part of the library–a small part. What makes a library special is the community–not the books. Perhaps your community has no use or need for this type of programming. However, we  do. Libraries offer Intro to Word, why shouldn’t they offer Intro to Digital Fabrication or Computer Programming? Makerspaces belong in libraries for the same reason that computer labs belong in libraries–to provide free access to information, technology and ideas.

          1. Libraries offer Intro to Word because there was a time when Libraries were investing huge amounts in computers to give their users access to remote materials. At this time very few people had computers so some enterprising librarians decided to start using the machines to teach computer skills. This helped justify the expense, since a large proportion of the patrons either couldn’t or wouldn’t use the new digital materials.

            Jump ahead 25 years, and you see what happened. Libraries are the soup kitchens of the digital realm, ladling out bandwidth and computer time to a small minority in their community at a huge expense. This isn’t the library’s purpose, it is just a role they accidently found themselves filling, after hundreds of steps by well intentioned librarians trying to make the most of their limited resources.

            It, however, doesn’t change the fact that computer labs don’t belong in libraries.

          2. I appreciate your point and agree – to an extent – but your ideal vision of a library as a low-maintenance repository of information isn’t viable either (and anyway, there are plenty of libraries like this – most university libraries and the like are basically filling this role, and far better than your local public library ever could hope to).

            Libraries are constantly under attack from politicians looking to cut budgets wherever they can. How long do you suppose a locally-funded repository of books and things that nobody actually used would last, no matter how little it cost to run?

            Why would the local government approve a separate community computer lab, when there is already an under-utilized library infrastructure?

            Your argument makes sense from a very idealistic perspective, but falls apart under the least bit of strain from practicality.

          3. You are right about the research libraries, but I think my position is more principled then idealistic.

            I would say local government is right to attack under-utilized library infrastructure, but lets look  at how it has got that way.

            Where I live we have a very good library system. You can request books online, they are delivered to your local branch in a web based queue system. When you get to the library you scan your card, put the books on a RFID reading pad and the book are automatically checked out. You don’t have to browse stacks or talk to a soul. I happen to be a bookseller who works in a shop less then a hundred yards from a satellite library branch. Daily, I have customers purchasing books because the queue for the title they are looking for is over 300 people long. The branch is about half the size of our store, but we probably have 100 times the number of titles. The library has a handful of bookcases with a few current magazines, general titles, movies, music, and a children’s section. The rest of the space is filled with couches, big screen tvs, wifi, and a large bank of computers.

            What does this Library offer to the average patron? It doesn’t have the titles they are waiting for. It doesn’t have alternative titles to browse. All it has to offer is internet access. A majority of people don’t need to leave home for internet access.

            Don’t get me wrong. I think it is a great system. They do a lot of literacy out reach. They have a great program where children’s books, are given and returned rather then loaned so low income parents don’t have to worry about their children causing late fees. Requesting titles is easy and efficient. It is nice to have  a local pick up  spot, and the computer access does serve a purpose. But, when it comes to creating a community it misses the mark. The library is often full, but it is full with the daily loiterers at their places on the couches and a rotating cycle of individuals jacked into the computers. The librarians are almost entirely removed from their role other then taking fees and fixing the printer. There are no lofty discussions of democracy or literature. The sharing of ideas is purely online.

            I think the solutions is making the library a destination for information you can’t find online. Perhaps specialized collection are in order, more copies of current popular titles, a bigger selection. But, for them to succeed they should try meeting the needs of their more patrons before jumping into new technologies.

    2. I appreciate this sentiment, and there are many days working on the desk that I wish people would just stick to this narrow idea of a library.  But the truth is that people are turning to public libraries for their technology needs, and every day we have people streaming in with a wide variety of requests.  Times have changed, and if libraries want to stay relevant to society we have to stay ahead of the curve.

      I think this is a splendid idea – providing tools to the public that might otherwise be impossible to access helps foster creativity and innovation in populations that have the talent but not the means.  There are so many authors who credit their librarians for helping inspire them and support their work – why not computer programmers and inventors too?

      1. Frankly, people are misusing the libraries technology. While computers seemed like a great idea for libraries to reduce space constraints and increase their catalog size by accessing to online resources. In practice, libraries have become free, come-as-you-are cyber-cafes, where patrons are more focused on Facebook posts and online games, then research databases.

        1. @boingboing-dce8af15f064d1accb98887a21029b08:disqus many libraries told me their biggest issue is people just using the computers to look for for jobs… and not actually learning skills to get jobs.

        2. True, but I see many more people over 20 using the library as their job search resource. Accessing their Google Doc resume, researching jobs and catching up on their prospects via email and more. The library right now is closer to being a person’s office when cash is too tight to have Internet service at home.

          As to the online research, there’s nothing I love better than to logging into the free Wi-Fi at my local library and getting access to a couple dozen, good, pay-for research sites straight to my laptop. I do miss the library of old, but I love the modern library as well.

          1. Adding computers to libraries have caused people to conflate the issues of access to information, access to technology, and censorship.

            Libraries should not be offices. If the community needs a free computer room with a technician who can train people on MSWord the should build one and not shoehorn it onto a library. I think computers use in libraries should be limited. Social networking blocked etc. 

            People may scream censorship, but libraries already limit access to certain material unless the librarian is given good reason it is access is necessary (i.e. fragile and valuable documents). The same should be the same for the internet. If you are writing a dissertation on Facebook, fine, but otherwise, you are not updating your status.

          2. @boingboing-dce8af15f064d1accb98887a21029b08:disqus  I dunno. In an ideal world, maybe. Maybe. But we can’t even have that ideal discussion because in the real world libraries have been providing some of the vital social services you decry (free computer room).
            BUT maybe it makes more sense to talk about different kinds of libraries. Like the Library of Congress vs your local library. An academic or research library vs a technical library. So, for local, public libraries I don’t agree w/what you say. For more archive-oriented, specialist, or research institutions it is different.

    3. @boingboing-dce8af15f064d1accb98887a21029b08:disqus  half-baked article in make – what data did i leave out? i interviewed librarians, city officials, techshops, fablabs and hackerspaces – and now there are many many libraries moving towards skill sharing. read the article, look at the actual data points – look at how people are (and will) consume information.what specific issues to you see with libraries supporting things like 3d printers? there are already successful tool lending libraries, what specific issues do you have with that?if you really think the future of libraries are “quiet, public accessed, book depositories” you’re just wrong.

      1. It seems your prime purpose is to “save” libraries through increased patronage by adding techshops. Why not adding movie theatres and food courts.

        I think the best way to help libraries is make them better libraries. All money that could be used putting in a techshop would be better spent on providing patrons materials not easily found or read online. Buying more copies of current releases to reduce wait time. Maintaining welcoming facilities etc.

        Your article simply makes a good argument for free hackerspaces, it doesn’t give persuasive reasons why libraries should be the host. 

        1. “Why not adding movie theatres and food courts”

          You’re kidding right? If you can’t see the difference between movie theatres and food courts on the one side, and public libraries and hackerspaces on the other, then you are completely totally missing the point.

          The public library is, above all, a set of ethics and values. The library is not a commercial space. It’s the very opposite of a commercial space. It’s a space that operates under a different logic than most of our society. I have no problem saying that hackerspaces already are libraries because they are built around the same core ethics and values, there is already an affinity between the two. A hackerspace at the public library is not an “add on,” it’s just the library being a library.

          1. @google-8d29796e585239185dac3b5e98a2512c:disqus  I’m halfway there with you. Same core ethics yes, similar values. Think library of today vs hackerspace vs school vs community center vs arts center maybe. Same ethics, but different values in the sense that different things (information, making, learning, community space, etc) are privileged. 

        2. @boingboing-dce8af15f064d1accb98887a21029b08:disqus  you’re “best way” and idea is to get more books, that’s fine. but that’s not what the librarians i interviewed want.

          1. To be fair, they might not be very good librarians. For example, the one above. Have you looked at their website. There is barely a mention of books on the homepage, but they definitely have computer classes, a cafe, a techlab and what not. These things are great, but they are not the purpose of libraries.

            It seems you value libraries based on patronage. I value libraries based on posterity. I feel it is their job to collect and maintain and provide access to books and other documents for as long as possible. A library with zero patronage which merely steadily adds to its collection would be fulfilling its public duty (and very inexpensive). A lot of librarians have decided that libraries should operate as community centers. I disagree.

          2. as a library employee who is disillusioned enough to have abandoned my mlis schooling at about the halfway point (due in no small part to of the push toward the “community center” model you mention that has become so prevalent both in library school and amongst librarians), i am in complete agreement with you. i wanted to be a *librarian* — a cataloguer of books, maintainer of books, guide to books. not a babysitter, computer technician, wiper-upper-of-spilled-cappuccino, employment counselor, english teacher, or machine shop supervisor.

    4. Libraries should be places to disseminate knowledge, not simply to store books. Books wound there there as a form of knowledge. People seem to have forgotten why we have libraries and just decided they should be places for the public to get books. At least some librarians are smart enough to know otherwise.

  6. This doesn’t seem like it fits libraries to me but maybe I’m old fashioned.

    Besides, if the acceleration of tech/price/performance is true then you’ll be able to by a 3d printer at Walgreen for $50 in a few years  (you can by a color printer at Walgreen now for $50)

  7. I was so excited to discover TechShop Portland, and so disappointed to discover how much it cost to get any use of it. THIS, however, is what I had really been hoping for. Community funded, free to use spaces for all with the imagination to use them. It’s things like this that might just give us fighting odds to beat some of the persistent problems of human existence, IMO.

    Besides, this is just so cool, I want one in my library!

  8. Imagine if many of our public libraries became virtual MIT Media labs, affiliated with each other & schools of Higher Education?

        This uplifts Libraries from a public space that is potentially obsolete to many citizens to a refreshing new outlet that may encourage innovation & exploration.

    1. …’potentially obsolete to many citizens’ ? So, in other words, may not be obsolete at all? 

  9. I don’t understand the opposition to this idea. I think turning libraries from “a place to get free books and be “shhh”ed by old ladies” into “a community hub for sharing knowledge, skill-sets and experience” is a fantastic idea.

    1. I don’t understand the opposition to this idea. I think turning libraries from “a place to get free books and be “shhh”ed by old ladies” into “a community hub for sharing knowledge, skill-sets and experience” is a fantastic idea.

      Then stop calling them libraries.  My local library rarely has the book that I want because the whole budget goes to special programs or to pay the librarians who are too busy processing movie rentals to inventory the collection and replace all the stolen books.

        1. You’re confusing libraries with free bookstores.

          The word ‘library’ has a definition.  In fact, it’s derived etymologically from the word for ‘book’.  Other uses of ‘library’ are similes for its primary meaning as a collection of books and related artifacts, kept for the purpose of reading.

          Since you seem to have a definition of ‘library’ that has come unmoored from any functional or historical context, can I assume that you’re also using the word ‘confused’ in a heretofore unknown fashion?

          1. Considering you are so picky about word meanings, I assume you use the other thousand and one words which have changed meaning correctly?

            At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter, life is too short to be worrying about semantics.

  10. 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.  

    1.  Why must knowledge-seeking be passive (reading/listening/watching)? Many of the best lessons I’ve learned are from doing things wrong the first time. There is no first when the tool needed is not available. The results from using the wrong tool are more bad art than function.

      Libraries aren’t machine shops, but if they were in addition to libraries, people would use the tools. There is no place at all I can go to use a table saw for 5 minutes, unless I buy a used one, which is about the same cost as hackpgh.

      1. @drewzhrodague:disqus Reading, listening, or watching aren’t necessarily passive. And to pose a counter-argument, why not have writing classes and workshops in libraries – another form of ‘making’  – instead of tool using? I’m not saying it should be that way, but that posing the question will illuminate the core issues here (what is a library? what is a hackerspace? what are their similarities and differences?). And as others have pointed out, why have a hackerspace in a library and not a school? What makes one space better than the other for this purpose?

  11. I’m all for this sort of thing as it fits nicely into the source of knowledge and education category.

    For all the nay-sayers,  if libraries of today did nothing more than make books available I have a sinking feeling that the patron flow would drop significantly(and funding wouldn’t be far behind). In any case the introduction of computers and internet access is logical and very useful(keep in mind a lot, A LOT, of people can’t afford decent internet). Fab labs / hackerspaces are just a logical extension of this concept. And it’s not like you would have unruly kids building noise-makers in the middle of the stacks.

    So, yes go forth (to the library) and make stuff, for instance your future.

  12. Furthermore, libraries are fundamentally about LANGUAGE (though new media have complicated this relationship). Which, more than anything, would argue for them being spaces where people could learn to program – not physically build things – in addition to their more traditional elements.

    I don’t mean to hate on hacker spaces but it seems utterly bizarre to focus on them in the context of a LIBRARY when the hacker space is entirely capable of standing on its own merits (though one reason may be the type of cachet and acceptance libraries carry which the hacker space desires), and when the library has such huge potential for change in other forms. For instance, Library Science is in many  ways being absorbed by Information Studies and Informatics  as a field. To me this points more in the direction of what libraries will become, information centers and sites (virtually or physically) of  sophisticated interfaces between people  and information systems. 

    Hacker spaces have their own argument to make as to their public good, and it overlaps with that of the library, but they are not the same. Unless we just want to throw up our hands and call it a school ;)

    1. Pedantic complaint: It isn’t “hacker space” or “hacker spaces.” It is “hackerspace” and “hackerspaces.” It is a Germanic language. We conjoin words that go together properly.

       – A hackerspace founder and president ( )

      1. @albill:disqus after talking to a hundred or so hackerspace, hackerspaces and hacker spaces i’ve learned to accept that there are a lot of people that call it different things – but i’ll gladly call it a hackerspace here…

  13. @ptorrone:disqus Phil, I think your solution to the very real problem/crisis you point out is not sufficiently supported in your article. Why are hacker spaces, specifically, the BEST possible answer to what a library of the future should be, and the BEST solution to what ails libraries? How do we know they’re even a SUFFICIENT solution?

    However it does seem that your claims in the article are not total – it doesn’t sound like you want every library to become a hacker space, or necessarily have one.

    In part I sense a conflict of science and humanities here. It’s telling that your example of how important libraries are was the kid who became an astronaut (undoubtedly somewhere there’s an equally inspiring story about an author). The sciences and the humanities share more than they realize, but I still find it strange that (irrespective of its other values) the hacker space is touted as something that will ‘save’ the library. If so, will it still be a library? Are literacy, access to culture (knowledge, information, art, science, etc) and critical thought no longer central concerns of the library? Certainly ‘Making’ can contribute to those things, but so do writer’s groups, study groups, programming, blogging, and, I daresay, reading. And more directly. Again I question the centrality of technical skills and production in this context.  Don’t get me wrong.  They’re essential and have an important social role. I think it makes more sense to see a ‘hacker space’ as an institution serving a function coequal to that of the library, possibly with some form of formal partnership or affiliation.  Or, more radically, to begin re-imagining what a school is (which would encompass this discussion).

    Hacker Space in Library = Poets in Laboratory

    It’s like the saying they should have sent the poets and the artists to space.

    1. @google-319da80a6f189dbb14780dd5febe988c:disqus it will be interesting to see how this specific library adopting a hackerspace-like environment will do right?

      there isn’t a BEST answer to what a library can be, it’s very local and specific since that’s how they’re run. we’re seeing more tool lending since there are more people who want that, it’s the first step towards more skill sharing.

    2. “It’s like saying they should have sent the poets and the artists to space.”

      Given that it’s Carl Sagan’s birthday today and you’ve given me the perfect setup, I have to share my favorite line from “Contact,” when Jodie Foster’s character whimpers and says “they should have sent a poet.”

      Also, I think we should send artists into space and I nominate myself.

  14. @google-8d29796e585239185dac3b5e98a2512c:disqus Though, strictly speaking, treating the library as a medium to be hacked is a different endeavor than divining it’s way forward. Well, maybe not. I guess it is applying that style of development to an institution.

  15. The library in question is my former employer and I have to say, I am very proud of the innovations that they have brought in recent years to our library system.  They were also the first to introduce lending e-readers and mp3 players to the public, so people can try them out and learn about them with the help of a skilled librarian.  (Certain e-readers are difficult to walk through all of the steps using a public computer, due to the software restrictions)  The library is one of the few that I know that has extra space to work with.  Built in a former furniture factory, there has been ongoing work for the last 10 years or so to renovate, with the last renovations in the wing where the lab will go.  Their director is a savvy businesswoman who has a talent for finding and writing grants to fund extra projects.  Their Friends group also does an amazing job of fundraising, which also helps finance projects.  Therefore, no books or media funds were cut to finance this operation.

    Speaking as a librarian, I feel that several people who commented on this piece have not been to a library recently and if so, have never spoken to the librarians.  The library is a changing place due to a changing world.  Library patrons need to learn more about new technologies, and so we are doing our best to meet this demand.  I work at a small library in a depressed area where many people do not have access to even a “basic” desktop computer with internet, unless they come into our library.  When students come in for research, I go first to the books, but then next to our databases, to show them how to research articles to get more quality information.  We have bookworms coming in, but also movie buffs and audiophiles.  We have book groups and storytimes, but also movies and crafts.  This summer, I had a group of teens making mini catapults, and plan to create new programs that use science and math.  When libraries were first created, they were for books, yes.  If you want to go back to those first libraries, we would need to chain the books to the shelves just like they were.  The world has changes, and the library is changing with it.  I suggest that anyone with concerns should stop in to their local library to see how you can help instead of worrying about the semantics.

  16. I am =far= more in the “Oh, neat! Let’s spread free knowledge and capability any way we can!” camp than the libraries-are-for-books purist camp. As a wee lad in the 70s, I would walk a couple miles in the Florida heat to get to the library, not because I loved books, but because I loved stories, I wanted to know things, I wanted to know how to do things. Books happened to be the major medium there at the time, but computers, dvds, free internet, or a free maker shop with a 3d printer would all have served my exact same needs and fueled the same excitement and growth.

  17. It is a great idea for public libraries to offer digital fabrication tools, but I dont think they could ever offer the types of machines that are needed to actually make or develop all types of things. Offer 3D modelling and CAD/CAM courses to interested people and see what a difference that makes to the national economy!

  18. I am thrilled with the idea of a MakerLab like the one in Durham, NC; is a library the best place to install one?  Right now, libraries across the country are strapped for cash.  We are having trouble performing our basic functions being a storehouse and dissemination point for information because we can’t afford high speed Internet and multiple copies of the most recent bestsellers.  A Makerlab is a great idea, but requires money, space, and qualified people to run it, all of which are in short supply.  An all-volunteer project, without a central ongoing organization, would rapidly devolve into the commune where no one wants to wash the dishes.  Can you reasonably attach this concept to your local library without disrupting any of its core functions?

    1. @boingboing-eef9fa61d7854421853b079467523d57:disqus
      actually it doesn’t cost all that much money to get started. The way the FFL FabLab is getting set up is somewhat special because they’ve got such a unique building and are in the process of securing the funding to bring the space up to code. They will end up with something truly special when their done. But the actual equipment is very reasonable. You don’t need the most expensive CNC, there are several good low cost DIY versions appearing. But this is an idea that a very modest budget can put into action. MakerBot’s only cost about $1000 and don’t take too much training to use. Trust me, lots of skilled volunteers will come out of the woodwork and get involved. Lauren secured donations to buy equipment from local tech folks. It’s really not hard once you get started and give it a go.

      And isn’t this the best way to secure public libraries, by making an active argument in practice for what they are capable of. If you get a successful small hackerspace set up with a dedicated group of hackers involved you’ll have some strong allies making the library more vibrant and helping to fight the privatization beast which especially comes out to feed in bleak economies.

  19. Thomas Maillioux, a public school librarian in France, is also working on turning libraries into hackerspaces. He recently shared his experience working with middle schoolers in the suburbs of Paris:

  20. I support non-computer-based hackers and acknowledge that they exist independently from what most laymen would consider hackers (usually exclusively limited to the computer-based kind).  After all, the internet was intelligently designed to be used exclusively for Facebook and other commerce.

    So what I’m saying is that this is potentially a great idea, but please call it something other than a hackerspace (or a hacker space, as per comments above).  I don’t want to change the idea, just what we call it.  I love libraries (And am glad that my community is building another one as we speak, bringing the total to four within 5 miles of me (three county, one city)), but so do old ladies who don’t read boingboing or really understand much about the internet or computers.

    Old ladies are terrific until they band together to oppose something.  Then they can be terrifyingly effective.  Let’s not neglect the fact that these otherwise really supportive, very wise, community members may watch Faux News, and their only understanding of what a “hacker” is may come from “news” stories such as this one:

    (By the way, direct quote from video:  “Bank of America:  Great Bank!” (among other gems) should probably have given away that it was farce, but apparently not).

    Call them hackerspaces when talking to people who get it and support it.  But please, for the future of projects like this, please either enlighten the masses or choose a different outward-facing title.  One of these alternatives is infinitely easier than the other.

  21. What if you could go to the library and it was full of nice e-readers and while you were there you could access any book in the world on your e-reader for free? Maybe, if the IP deities were really, really, nice, you could even check that e-reader out for a week or two and have access to some limited number of books you’d loaded into memory back at the library at your home.

    How wonderful would that be? 

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