Create a Library “Tech Shop”
By David Lee King and Michael Porter
Tue, 02/14/2012 - 15:09
Digital media labs, hackerspaces, and coworking spaces put tools in customers’ hands
We librarians are experts at collecting. Our jobs, our departments, our very buildings have been designed to acquire content. There is, however, another side to content that many libraries haven’t yet fully explored, and that is content creation.
Yes, we have books about how to create a graphic novel, how to learn a musical instrument, and even how to set up a small business. Why not take it one step further and supply the tools necessary for your community to design the artwork for that graphic novel, record that song, and launch that start-up business? Some libraries are already doing just that, inspiring us to experiment as well. Here are three different but connected areas we have seen libraries create:
- Digital media labs
- Coworking spaces
Digital media labs
These spaces have content-creation tools that allow people to produce and share video, music, photography, and design projects. Not only do customers have access to computers with software that enable editing videos, images, and audio, they can also often use—and sometimes check out—equipment such as camcorders, musical instruments, microphones, and digital cameras.
The best examples of digital media labs we have seen are Skokie (Ill.) Public Library’s Digital Media Lab and Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia lab. Skokie’s lab includes a painted chroma-key greenscreen wall to aid in video production projects; CPL’s YOUmedia lab offers a small studio space for teens to record podcasts and music projects.
A hackerspace is a place where do-it-yourselfers with an interest in computers, technology, science, or digital art can share resources and expertise to build things. Hackerspaces tend to be public spaces with tools and teachers—tools such as 3D printers, drill presses, electronics equipment, and computers. The teachers are usually people from the area with an interest in assembling things. Some hackerspaces focus on community projects, while others simply provide tools and space. For two examples, check out Fayetteville (N.Y.) Free Library’s Fab Lab—short for fabrication laboratory—and Allen County (Ind.) Public Library’s partnership with nonprofit TekVenture.
Coworking brings together independent workers, freelancers, small-business owners, and others who need workspace. These folks regularly gather to brainstorm ideas, team up on projects, and get work done in a more social setting. It’s an alternative to meeting at home or at a coffee shop.
Although libraries have unofficially provided this type of service for years, some are now becoming more formally involved by embedding librarians in an already existing coworking space or by setting aside coworking space in the library. Meg Knodl, who recently moved from community management work with Hennepin County (Minn.) Library to performing similar work for county government as a public affairs officer, worked one day a week for part of 2011 as an embedded coworking librarian in a Minneapolis coworking space. She was able to start a “genius bar” with rotating community experts on a variety of topics, helping start-up companies with market research needs.
Finland’s Helsinki City Library has also created coworking spaces. Clerk Roberto Corsini said, “A large part of our clientele consists of mobile knowledge workers who don’t have their own offices—people ranging from students to C-level executives who have spare time between meetings. There isn’t that much space for work in the city, and it can be hard to concentrate in a café.”
David’s library has been investigating these types of spaces, too. The library has participated in a community meeting to brainstorm ways to create a coworking space for Topeka, and it is investigating ways to add a digital media lab. David has also met with an organization interested in partnering with the library to create a hackerspace.
Content creation is much more than just a passing fad, and it’s not just for teens, either. Offering these tools has the potential to draw in your local small business and nonprofit community, especially if your library provides access to equipment, software, services, and space these organizations normally can’t afford.
Is your library thinking about creating similar spaces for your customers? Do you already have a hackerspace, media lab, or coworking space? Or do you offer another space that fits in the content-creation paradigm? Please let us know.
For more information, check out these related articles:
- Are Libraries the Hackerspaces of the Future?
- Is It Time to Rebuild and Retool Public Libraries and Make “TechShops”?
- Hackerspaces and the Evolution of the Public Library
- The Public Library, Completely Reimagined
- Library Builds a Hackerspace
- Coworking at the Public Library
DAVID LEE KING is digital branch and services manager for Topeka and Shawnee County (Kans.) Public Library.