Hackerspaces: Are They Keeping Libraries Relevant in the Digital Age?

As public libraries struggle to stay relevant in the digital age, some of them are experimenting with hackerspaces. These are places where people can work on and/or collaborate on technology-centered projects, boasting unique technological tools such as 3-D printers and computer-controlled power tools. See the NPR article here: http://www.npr.org/2011/12/10/143401182/libraries-make-room-for-high-tech-hackerspaces

The Allen County Public Library of Fort Wayne, Indiana is one of these libraries. According to its director, Jeff Krull, “We see the library as not being in the book business, but being in the learning business and the exploration business and the expand-your-mind-business.”

As libraries become less book-centered and more tech-centered, are hackerspaces a worthwhile investment to keep libraries viable? Is there a significant demand for hackerspaces? Do you think they will become more common, or are they a fleeting experiment as libraries try to adapt to their new role? If not, what should libraries do to remain relevant to their patrons in a rapidly changing world?

 

Resources

Gershenfeld, N. (2006). Neil Gershenfeld on fab labs. Video on Ted.com. Retrieved from: http://www.ted.com/talks/neil_gershenfeld_on_fab_labs.html

Kalish, J. (2011). Libraries making room for high-tech ‘hackerspaces.’ NPR. Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/2011/12/10/143401182/libraries-make-room-for-high-tech-hackerspaces

King, D.L. (2011) Content creation, media labs, and hackerspaces. Retrieved from: http://www.davidleeking.com/2011/12/15/content-creation-media-labs-and-hackerspaces/

O’Leary, A. (2012). Worries over defense department money for ‘hackerspaces.’ New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/06/us/worries-over-defense-dept-money-for-hackerspaces.html

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4 thoughts on “Hackerspaces: Are They Keeping Libraries Relevant in the Digital Age?

  1. If libraries can acquire the resources necessary to set these sort of spaces up I can see this being an excellent investment. They require dedication and time on the part of librarians and those who can volunteer their knowledge of how to use these spaces to the public, but as this article has shown the end result can be simultaneously very cool and an excellent source of exposure for libraries. I’m not sure exactly how much demand there is as of now (having just learned about what “hackerspaces” are), but it seems to me that it’s an interesting enough idea to fall under the “if you build it, they will come” principle.

  2. I do not know if this is something that libraries could universally adopt to make themselves viable, as I imagine the start-up and maintenance costs for hackerspaces is pretty high. However, if a library has the funds, the personnel resources, and an agreement with an organization such as TekVenture, like the Allen County Public Library did, then I could imagine it being a worthwhile investment for individual libraries. I am also curious about any usage fees associated with hackerspaces such as the Maker Station – the article does not mention if it is free to use for library patrons or if TekVenture assesses fees for using materials associated with 3D printers and the like, which can be costly.

    Overall, I see hackerspaces as a cool thing that libraries can implement if they have the resources and community demand. In the future, I imagine that technologies featured in these spaces will be implemented more into the regular infrastructure of the library, rather than being a standalone novelty program, but in the meantime these spaces can be used to make users aware of new technologies and the ways in which libraries can help facilitate access to knowledge development tools other than books and the Internet.

  3. In particular, I think the idea of the library supplying the community with a 3-D printer is quite interesting. Indeed, it could be used to design and create art which would deepen the community’s involvement in the library. Also, I wonder if the 3-D printer could be used to make useful items for community. This could be very useful if for poor communities as the printer could be used to produce household goods, for example.

    However, there is a potential dark side to this, too. There are people currently developing the schematics to use a 3-D printer to create firearms.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/3d-printer-guns-morality-2012-11

    I’m not sure how I would feel about the community using library resources to create something that is intentionally designed to be a weapon—particularly since it would be unregistered and without a serial number. Perhaps it would be necessary to limit the products that could be produced in the library? Again, I’m not sure how I would feel about that from the standpoint of freedom of information.

  4. As libraries become less book-centered and more tech-centered, are hackerspaces a worthwhile investment to keep libraries viable? Is there a significant demand for hackerspaces? Do you think they will become more common, or are they a fleeting experiment as libraries try to adapt to their new role? If not, what should libraries do to remain relevant to their patrons in a rapidly changing world?

    I agree with Smedley in the article who states in regards to the Hackerspace “It’s really whatever the community wants to use it for is how we’ll support it.” If the community could benefit from spaces such as this, and there is funding in place, then, yes, it could be a worthwhile investment. I do not think there is a significant demand around the country for spaces such as these. Using things like a 3-D printer or computer-controlled power tools requires specialized knowledge. I think there could be a future for spaces such as this. It all depends on the technology trends. If 3-D printers end up becoming very important tools to use, then libraries will most likely invest in these products.

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