The role of the public library in its community is simple: to provide free and open access to information. Over the past fifty years, the manner in which we process information has changed. New technological developments have changed the way our patrons interact with information. There are few places that currently provide community access to new, innovative and world-changing technology. These spaces, such as Hackerspaces, Fabrication Labs, and Tech Shops, often provide services to a specific and/or targeted group that is not easily accessible to ‘outsiders’ (Hackerspaces have membership fees, traditional Fab Lab’s are tied to MIT and are generally found in under-served communities and Tech-Shops, on average, cost around $1.5 million to start). Each of these places share common goals: collaboration and ‘making’. They exist to give their specific communities the ability to ‘make’ through sharing knowledge and skills. They provide the technology necessary to make almost anything.
I am currently working with the Fayetteville Free Library to create its own fabrication lab, or the FFL in the FFL (the Fayetteville Fab Lab in the Fayetteville Free Library). Imagine if the Fayetteville Free Library had the same tools as MIT at its fingertips (at an affordable cost), with the knowledge necessary to use them? According to Neil Gershenfeld, the Director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms and author of Fab: the Coming Revolution on Your Desktop-From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication, not only is it possible to create a Fab Lab, it is fairly simple. A fab lab is “a collection of commercially available machines and parts linked by software and processes we developed for making things (Gershenfeld, 12).” Further, “fab labs show that it is possible to bring the tools for IT development, in order to develop and produce local technological solutions to local problems (Gershenfeld, 13).”
The mission of the Fayetteville Free Library is to provide free and open access to ideas and information. There is no place in the state of New York that provides free and open access to this technology. This technology has the power to revolutionize society. The public library provides a safe and accessible space where the community can interact, understand and develop through use of the technology.
The Fayetteville Free Library has the unique opportunity to be the first library in the United States to build a free, public access Fab Lab. A Fab Lab is, in essence, an evolution of a computer lab. A Fab Lab does not detract from more traditional collections; rather it enhances them. It is both possible and necessary that the Fab Lab and traditional collections coexist. Fab Labs encourage local innovation, collaboration and education. It provides a space and context to offer intermediate and advanced software and hardware training that our community does not have access to. As Neil Gershenfeld said, the future of technology lies not in thinking outside the box, but in making the box. I would argue that the same can be said for public libraries.
Gershenfeld, Neil. Fab: The coming revolution on your desktop-from personal computers to personal fabricators. Basic Books, 2007.
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