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(2013) - Library High Tech News, Hot off the Press (9) : "Fab labs and libraries"

Hot off the Press! is a column dedicated to new trends and tendencies in information technologies and social networking with a note of the items’ value to technologies in libraries. Also mentioned in the column are new books on topics such as mobile computing, social networking, and even novels with a focus on technology. Also highlighted are some technology blogs, websites, archived webinars, movies with a technology theme, and more. The main topic for this issue is about “Fab labs and libraries”.

The Fab Labs or the library as a place for creation

Are libraries places for creation? Yes if we consider how many people are self-trained being simply users of a public library which is one way to get one-self educated, discover different kind of knowledge and practice them. Libraries are also access points to Internet which is the easiest way to get information and to participate to the Web activities (Facebook and social media in general). They can offer space for new activities and then for the creation of new contents. The Fab labs (contraction of Fabrication Laboratories) in libraries are the example of a vision of the library as a new place for creation.

Traditionally, the library is an institution that has worked top down: librarians decide what they acquired for the users, lend under conditions, offer resources and all kind of activities. In short, libraries share content and information, but this movement operates one-way, users generally have the status of beneficiaries and do not collaborate.

But now, times have changed tremendously, libraries are listening and exchanging with citizens via social media, surveys or consultations for all kind of occasions:  during the construction of a new equipment, in order that users recommend books via online reading clubs, or asking them to index photos… All these participatory activities generate traffic that works in both directions. The user tends to become the new friend of librarians on social networks and even beyond.

Today, libraries are not “passive” institutions, but they see themselves as places for interaction and experimentation. They wish to be places and spaces for the production of knowledge based on participation. The new brand for the library is to expose itself as a technological and social laboratory where citizens experience and interact with each other or with the professionals. Citizens and librarians have then a new status, the status of creators: this promotes the construction of a highest vision of the user and, more generally, of subcultures. Reading there is no longer the primary purpose, users and librarians become the authors of their own books (or other creations: a movie, a documentary, a music play, a video game and so on). “Do it yourself” (DIY) is THE philosophy, learning together through workshops onsite or offsite which often lead to digital creation.

In Fab labs, you have Fabrication

Speaking of Fab labs, the first name that comes to my mind is naturally the name of Neil Gershenfeld: besides playing the bassoon, ski patrolled and raced, and swam competitively, he is the originator of the growing global network of field fab labs that provide widespread access to prototype tools for personal fabrication, and directs the Fab Academy, the associated program for distributed research and education in the principles and practices of digital fabrication.

The Fab Academy (http://www.fabacademy.org/diploma/) is defined as “ a Digital Fabrication Program directed by Neil Gershenfeld of MIT’s Center For Bits and Atoms and based on MIT’s rapid prototyping course, MAS 863: How to Make (Almost) Anything. The FabAcademy began as an outreach project from the CBA, and has since spread to Fab Labs around the world. The program provides advanced digital fabrication instruction for students through an unique, hands-on curriculum and access to technological tools and resources.” At the FabAcademy, you will learn how to envision, prototype and document your ideas through many hours of hands-on experience with digital fabrication tools taking a variety of code formats and turn them into physical objects. To my eyes, it is not surprising than Fab labs have spread out around the world so widely, as it is a real vision of what can bring to us the technology and the digital world.

Neil Gershenfeld has written several books on computing and the advances of technology, one in 2000 “When Things Start to Think” where he explored different ways to integrate computing power into our lives. Wearable computers, smart coffeepots, tennis shoes with CPUs, all of these are ideas which have become much more accepted (and real) in the 5 years since this book was published. And as Peter writes in a readers’ comment on Amazon: “It is only when computing power starts to change the way we live our lives -- for better or worse -- that the true digital revolution will occur” (see http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/154145187). A second book by Gershenfeld was published in 2007 “Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop-from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication” : the book presents interesting examples of people building things that most would assume were beyond their ability. But the book lacks focus and deeper research into what is being done by parties to come up with a personal fab lab that as individuals we can, lets say, "print" our personalized whole shirts, coats, shoes and beyond and when. What I like most in the book is the idea of teaching students hands on.

Fabulous Libraries

Lets” turn now to libraries with Fab included labs who have adopted the philosophy of do it yourself, DIY. These different laboratories offer spaces and resources that coexist with collections aimed at facilitating local entrepreneurial initiatives and the amateur practices. More generally, those libraries offer to lend tools as they lend books… More expensive than books, and therefore less accessible, tools, softwares, and resources related to digital creation contribute to the development of media skills and to the capacity for innovation which are strong needs in our contemporary society. This vision takes the form of various services that give users, young people or adults, the possibility of making movies, create digital stories or other artistic manufacture of 3-D models productions, robots, etc. As it is said in the following blog “The Unquiet Librarian * ”  : “I believe that makerspaces can provide students AND teachers opportunities to exercise these elements of participatory learning and to form what James Gee calls affinity spaces, communities formed around passions and shared interests. Tinkering, collaborative learning, play, conversations for learning, intergenerational learning, experimentation, inquiry, the act of creation, and problem solving–these are just some of the qualities that can happen in makerspaces and encourage participatory learning.”

* http://theunquietlibrarian.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/makerspaces-participatory-learning-and-libraries/

Many of the technologies are not accessible to the general public. For instance, there are not a lot of places that provide free and open access to 3D printing technology, which has the power to revolutionize society. The public library will provide a safe and accessible space where anyone in the community can interact, understand and develop through use of the technologies available in the space. The most well known library Fab lab is FFL Fab Lab so called Fayetteville Free Library (http://www.fflib.org/fablab) inspired by the lab of MIT but in a more accessible version which provides software and equipment including a 3-D printer. This Fab lab is also preparing to offer tools to digitize for the community.  The Digital Creation Lab of FFL  includes:

  •          Borrow-a-Bot programs – one-on-one sessions with librarian, where patrons become "3D Printer Certified"
  •          BristleBot programs – participants learn to make robots out of toothbrushes
  •          Creation Club – an afterschool club focusing on using digital creation technologies to make videos, podcasts, and more
  •          First Lego League – an international competitive LEGO Robotics team for 9-14 year olds that involves programming LEGO robots, completing a public service research project, and learning teamwork and cooperation
  •          Mission: Lego – introductory LEGO Robotics programs; students program robots to perform specific missions
  •          Pinterest Craft Club – craft programs for adults based on upcycling projects found on Pinterest
  •          STEAMpunk Club – part reading club and part science club; teens discuss steampunk books and engage in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) experiments relating to the books
  •          Take Apart Tuesdays – patrons take apart donated electronics, to see how they work

Among other Fab Labs in libraries, lets go to the Cleveland Public Library and its “TechCentral” (http://www.cpl.org/TheLibrary/SubjectsCollections/TechCentral.aspx) offering a wide range of services, among them:

-          Computer Instruction and Computer Lab

-          3D Printing: this technologyallows users to create objects in three dimensions using a plastic ‘ink’.

-          MyCloud Personalized Computing Experience: MyCloud allows users to have a personalized computing experience that stays with them each time they visit the library. It is possible to checkout a MyCloud devices and access a personalized desktop anywhere in the library.

-          Tech ToyBox: TechCentral offerssome of the latest technology gadgets and get hands-on with devices like the iPad 3, Kindle Fire, Kindle Touch, NOOK Color, or Samsung Galaxy Tablet. Users can borrow one of the devices to take home for one week and learn about the device on their time.

-          Flexible Learning Space & SMART Board:  it is an open learning space complete with an interactive SMART Board provides a flexible learning space that can be used in a variety of different and innovative ways. A trainer is at disposal for one-on-one assistance, or users can work collaboratively with a small group.

Besides these two previous examples, some other US libraries have their Fab Labs: Anythink Brighton was awarded a Library Services and Technology Act grant for ,849 funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services to design a makerspace for teenagers in its library. Makerspaces, also known as hackerspaces, are creative community workspaces where people can build and experiment with art, craft and technology projects while sharing tools and ideas with other community members (http://www.anythinklibraries.org/news-item/anythink-brighton-awarded-grant-design-teen-makerspace) ; I Street Press at the Sacramento Public Library is a writing and editing/Publishing Center accessible to all. Users have access to writing classes and tools of self-publishing and publishing as well as an espresso Book Machine placed at the disposal of the community for print on demand (http://www.saclibrary.org/istreet/) ; Digital Arts at the Salinas Public Library is offering focuses on the creation of digital art software, music, video, photos, websites, etc. with training to map and support for the development of portfolios (http://digitalartslab.blogspot.ch/).

Young people have also their Fab Labs: YouMedia of the Chicago Public Library is a space designed to reflect the cultural practices of youth. There is an area equipped for socialization, another for hackers and a third for the training. Different digital media are available to create podcasts, web literary productions, music in recording studios, etc. Workshops more structured with the help of professionals and mentors are also available with direction by project according to the interests of young people. The Youmedia in Chicago has been developed in partnership with the Department of sociology at the University of Chicago and was such a success that President Obama has decided to support the creation of dozens of these new labs across the United States in the years to come.




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