3D Printers and Maker Spaces in Libraries

3D printers and Maker Spaces are relatively far more common in the USA than in the UK.  Fayetteville in New York State was the first public library to have one in the US (2011). A list of resources on Maker Spaces in libraries can be found here and Maker Librarian Wiki is, as the name suggests, a whole website on the subject. See also a report on the practical aspects of 3D printers in libraries published in Public Libraries News.

Situation in the UK

There are more than a score of Maker Spaces in the UK but almost none are in libraries. Gateshead Library has had some experience, (2012) although these appear to be one off events.  In addition, Brighton Jubilee Library has held a 3D printing facilities as part of a festival (2013).  From conversations held on Twitter, I am also aware of actual 3D printer spaces being developed in but these have not been formally launched yet as to my knowledge. The following article, published here with the kind permission of Amy Jackson goes into this in more detail.

  • Cardiff Central Library to receive 3D printer as part of £150k grant from Welsh Government. (May 2015).  Cardiff Central Library is now open, with a “digital learning floor”.
  • Carillion (Croydon, Ealing, Hounslow and Harrow) is developing “Creative Work Spaces” including using a borrowed 3D printer.
  • Exeter (Devon) –  #FabLabDevon is creating a network of fab lab facilities and outreach activities, including a high profile Fab Lab Exeter in the refurbished Exeter Library. (funding from Devon County Council, Real Ideas Organisation, NESTA). Launched 22nd May 2014.
  • Dundee – 3D printer being used to produce items to aid in storytelling for those with additional needs, also for producing items for reminiscence packs etc.  Launched 20th May 2014, becoming the first 3D printer in a public library in the UK, bearing Exeter by two days.
  • Manchester – Manchester Central Library has a 3D printer but (currently as of March 2015) it is only used for demonstrations.
  • St Botolph’s (Essex) – “The Carnegie Trust is sponsoring an exciting project, led by The Creative Coop and Colchester School of Art, which involves establishing a library/hack/maker space”
  • Staffordshire Stafford Central Library installs 3D printer (August 2015). In fact they have two in their “innovation suite”. Charging was an issue: they’re going for full cost recovery but it’s unclear as to exactly how to calculate that.
3D printers at Stafford Library

3D printers at Stafford Library

 

  • Stirling – Mobile makerspace ordered (as of August 2015) 4 x 3D printers, 2 x 3D printers, 12 x 3Doodlers, cameras and even a drone (source: tweet 18/8/15)
  • Suffolk Ipswich – “Located on the recently adapted second floor of the library, the hub provides three main services: hireable meeting space, business advice and information, and a communal ‘MakerSpace’ (named ‘The Lab’) which contains 3D printers, computer coding kits and professional sewing machines” (June 2015)

See also

Maker spaces in public libraries: An introduction by Amy Jackson

What are Maker spaces?  

Maker spaces are designed to “democratize the act of making something from scratch” (Cavalcanti, 2013). They typically include tools; e.g. lathes, computer controlled cutting machinery and 3D printers, and a community of volunteers with expertise in using them.

Public libraries and Maker spaces 

Since the first public library created a Maker space in the USA (McCue, 2011) many more have become involved – from running workshops to having permanent Maker spaces.

Reasons given for getting involved include the ethos that libraries should equalise access to technology as they do to information (Groenendyk, reported by Anstice, 2013a),  to keep up to date with the way we interact with information (Smedley, reported by McCue, 2011), and that literacy doesn’t solely apply to information (Rist, reported by Rusch, 2011)

The UK 

UK Hackspace Foundation (2013) lists 38 hacker/ maker space communities. Arts Council England (ACE) mentions Maker spaces in its “envisioning the library of the future” document (no date), fitting into their priority for libraries to “make the most of digital technology and creative media” (ACE, 2013). However, thus far Maker spaces and UK public libraries have only held one-off events together; e.g. Gateshead library’s Gadget day (Ed, 2012) and a 3D printer at Brighton Jubilee Library during Brighton’s Digital Festival. Initiatives have taken place without library involvement; e.g. Fab Labs, containing purely digital fabrication technology, at 7 UK locations (Cheshire West and Chester Council, reported by Anstice, 2013b).

I received one response (Gateshead library) to my plea on the Public Libraries JISCMAIL list for librarians to share their Maker space experience, suggesting Maker space activity from public libraries is minimal. I received no responses giving reasons libraries had considered and rejected Maker space ideas. I am aware of one other potential project, a Fablab for Exeter library (Eastell, 2013).

Considerations

Thompson (2013), the librarian behind Gatehead’s Gadget Day, explained that it was held to try to meet an objective to encourage more men and teenagers into the library, which was achieved. This highlights the need for plans for a Maker space to be aligned to stakeholder objectives to have chance of consideration, and ultimately success. Thompson feels the event had the effect of changing perceptions of what a library can offer.

Edgar (2013), the LibrariesWest Systems Manager, suggests the biggest factor that could hinder public library involvement in a Maker space is the technical infrastructure that libraries need to work with from a local authority policy and technical point of view (e.g. wi-fi provision). He suggests a successful event would necessarily require limited specialist infrastructure from the library and willingness from local experts in the specialised technologies to support the space.

 Conclusion 

A library located Maker space is an opportunity to engage the public in a new way whilst maintaining the ethos of equalising access. With constrained budgets and difficult technical environments, the only way to do this successfully may be by creating partnerships (for funding and running spaces) with existing organisations – technical, educational and commercial.

References 

 

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CAPTCHA Image

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>