Makerspaces just might take over libraries. School of Information Studies professor Dave Lankes seems to think soIn his presentation to New York State librarians earlier this month, he  asked the roomful of librarians to imagine libraries as places for people to learn and create, not consume and check out. In another talk he gave in October, he declared, “What will kill our profession is not ebooks, Amazon, or Google, but a lack of imagination.”

What’s a Makerspace?

So what’s a makerspace? Also called a hackerspace, a backspace, or a hacklab, it’s any sort of creative space where people gather to make stuff and share ideas about making stuff. These labs, often equipped with tools and materials, allow users to practice a 21st-century sort of DIY., a wiki connecting makerspaces around the world, defines them as “community-operated physical places, where people can meet and work on their projects.” The ideas behind makerspaces—community-driven, open-access, shared resources and tools, knowledge sharing—make them a natural fit for a library community.

The iSchool is Training Future Maker Enablers

Students in the graduate program in Library and Information Science (LIS) at the iSchool are challenged to think beyond the typical ideas of librarianship and ignite the imaginations of our communities to better society. Maybe it’s the allure of radical librarianship. Maybe it’s Dave Lankes’ #Daveheart speeches in class that get me and my fellow students charged up to go out and find ways to improve our communities as librarians, whether we end up working in libraries or not. Maybe its the pumpkin spice coffee at the iCafe. Whatever it is, the iSchool is pushing its students to think innovatively about how a library can support a community in its access to knowledge. One way is to enable community members to grow and share their own knowledge through creating things with others, whether it’s art, written stories, small businesses, or extruded pieces of plastic. Yes, you read that right: extruded plastic. Read on.

A 3D Printer In a Public Library

One  recent iSchool LIS graduate has come up with an innovative project meant to engage the imagination of her library’s community, and it’s been getting lots of press in places like Forbes online, Boing Boing, and KQED. Lauren Britton Smedley (iSchool alumna, 2011) is installing a MakerBot Thing-o-Matic 3D printer in the Fayetteville Free Library (FFL) near Syracuse. The idea for an FFL Fab Lab, a fabrication laboratory, was born out of a class Britton Smedley took at the iSchool. From the FFL website:

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. Lauren Britton Smedley is the Transliteracy Development Directory at Fayetteville Free Library. Britton Smedley states, “I first learned about 3D printing in a class called Innovation in Public Libraries at Syracuse University where I was working on my Masters in Library and Information Science.” Britton Smedley wrote a graduate school project paper/proposal for creating a maker space within a public library. FFL Executive Director Sue Considine liked it and hired Britton Smedley to make it happen.

Britton Smedley continues, “Building a makerspace (what we’re calling a Fabulous Laboratory) at the FFL will provide our community with the opportunity to have free access to this world-changing technology.”

FFL is using IndieGoGo, a crowd funding site, to raise $20,000 for more technology for the FFL Fab Lab including more MakerBots, a CNC Router, Lazor Cutter, and MAC Lab, and some ABS plastic. (The printer melts down the plastic and extrudes it to form the shape of the object it’s printing.) The $20K will also fund lectures by experts in 3D printing and making.

Video: Britton Smedley talks about the FFL Fab Lab

A Makerbot Allows Library Members to Be Imaginative Makers

If you’re wondering how the MakerBot will work, watch this video. The whole cool process involves a model or digital design, which you can make yourself or borrow from someone else at Thingiverse, some aforementioned ABS plastic, an extruder, and a sprinkling of awesomeness. Any shapes you can imagine and put into a digital design, the printer can…er, extrude. (You’ve got to watch the video.)

A 3D printer allows you or me to print things like a rubber-propelled x-wing car! Or an Apple earbud holder, a contraption for spinning yarn skeins into balls, a new lid for your popcorn popper, eyeglass frames, and even a tiny robot. (I’m not sure how I feel about a small robot making a tiny robot. I saw The Matrix at an impressionable age.)

Lankes, Britton Smedley, and my fellow iSchoolers aren’t the only ones who see libraries morphing into places for communities to create stuff. Earlier this year, MAKE Magazine’s Phillip Torrone wrote an excellent article asking “Is it time to rebuild and retool libraries and make ‘techshops’?”

I can’t wait for the Fab Lab to be up and running so I can pop over to Fayetteville and take a look. I’ve still got a little time to decide: should I print a marshmallow sifter for my Lucky Charms or sneaker spurs?

Learn more about 3D printing at and