The New Library

I had the pleasure of attending the American Library Association’s annual convention in Washington D.C. this year. The ALA’s annual convention is a smorgasbord of the latest and greatest products for libraries in addition to thoughtful presentations on industry topics. There were quite a few publishing houses present showing off the collection of authors they have. There were hardware and software companies demonstrating their products ability to assist the librarian in carrying out their duties. There were furniture companies that were presenting unique pieces aimed at making the library experience even more comfortable for the patrons. Not paying attention to where I was walking, I almost ran into Henry Winkler on my way back from the bathroom. Needless to say, it was a very informative trip.

I was happy to see that many libraries are not sitting back and relying on the historical practices of a library, but enhancing the definition of what a library does for its community. For libraries to continue to perform a vital function for the public, they must adapt with the changing trends of society at large. They have experience with this from when the digital resources, including the internet, came to town and altered how people accessed information. Many libraries carved out space to offer internet access to patrons that may not have had access at home. In addition to this, they created ways for patrons to check out digital resources through the library. While this transition to more of a media center instead of just a repository for books may not have been easy, it has kept the library relevant to the trends of our world. Libraries are already starting to accommodate the next transition, the maker movement.

The maker movement aims to empower every person to be not only a consumer of things, but the creator. The author Chris Anderson in his book Makers: The New Industrial Revolution talks about how we are witnessing the birth of a new way to procure things we desire. Instead of waiting for an artisan or corporation to develop the thing we want, we can do it on our own through new and cheaper methods of manufacturing. We get to skip the long development times and cookie-cutter results associated with historical products and move right to mass customization. This tectonic shift in our ability to make our ideas become a reality is due to the availability of the incredibly powerful digital creation tools of tomorrow. Laser engravers/cutters, 3D printers, CNC machines, vinyl cutters, micro-controllers, and more are now available for everyone, and not just the engineers in the research and design departments at major corporations and universities. Couple these powerful tools with the wealth of tutorials on how to create with them, and you have endless possibilities.

Many libraries have realized that they are the ideal location for their patrons to get access to this suite of tools. Libraries already are accustomed to opening new worlds of information to their patrons and helping them on the path to growth or enjoyment. Just like the digital revolution before it, libraries will need to carve out some space to house the maker resources that stand to benefit their customers. The beauty of these new pieces of equipment is that just like all technology, they are simultaneously getting much more capability and falling in price.

The difficulty for libraries lies in selecting the right equipment for their space, the correct furniture to house the equipment, and training the staff and patrons on its use. Many libraries purchase equipment that has been either marketed to them or was most prominent when searching the internet. Ultimately, this method of decision-making may not result in the equipment that is best for the library or the patrons. Once the equipment is purchased, many librarians find it difficult to find the time to train themselves on how to use it, let alone feel confident enough to teach others. Just like other new resources in the library, there is a need to orientate the patrons on its proper use and availability. These issues can limit the utilization of the resources and ultimately doom them to obscurity in your library if not addressed.

Librarians should look at this new area of their world with eagerness at the potential that it offers to their clientele. If you would like to learn more about how your library can confidently implement a makerspace in a comprehensive manner, contact our PHabLAB experts at Happy making!

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