Libraries Make Room For High-Tech 'Hackerspaces'

As information becomes more digital, public libraries are striving to redefine their roles. A small number are working to create "hackerspaces," where do-it-yourselfers share sophisticated tools and their expertise.

The Allen County Public Library, which serves the city of Fort Wayne, Ind., has a modest hackerspace inside a trailer in its parking lot. Library director Jeff Krull says hosting it is consistent with the library's mission.

"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," he says. "We feel this is really in that spirit, that we provide a resource to the community that individuals would not be able to have access to on their own."

The 50-foot trailer is known as the Maker Station and belongs to TekVenture, an educational nonprofit that had struggled to find a building it could afford before it was approached by the library. TekVenture signed an agreement with the library to operate in its parking lot for a year. TekVenture President Greg Jacobs says this partnership made sense.

"The library is a well-established, respectable institution in the area. The library is used by everybody," he says. "Regardless of your stripe in society, you're going to use library facilities."

The Allen County facility includes a CNC router, a computer-controlled power tool that cuts wood, plastic and some metals. The Maker Station also has a lathe, scroll and band saws, an electronics bench and an injection molding machine, which makes objects by heating up recycled plastic chips.

Like any hackerspace worth its salt, it has a 3-D printer, which can produce plastic objects based on a computer file. In recent years, there's been some chatter on the librarian blogs about the rise of 3-D printing. Meg Backus has a blog about "interventionist librarianship" and teaches a course at Syracuse University called "Innovations in Public Libraries."

 

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What are Makerspaces?

Makerspaces (also known as Hackerspaces, Creative Spaces, Fab Labs, Makelabs and in California - Makerhoods), according to Wikipedia,  are open community labs where members with common interests (e.g., engineering, computer programming, inventing, graphic design, etc.) gather to share resources, knowledge, career networking and build new devices.  Generally, makerspaces are designed to meet the following needs:

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