People Interact

Blog about people-centered design by Lisa Chow and Sandra Sajonas.

Monthly Archives: November 2011

Fayetteville Free Library Fab Lab: Guest Post by Greg Belvedere

A recent post and conversations about hackerspaces led to this guest post by Greg Belvedere about the Fayetteville Free Library Fab Lab.


On October 20th I attended Contact, a kind of un-conference for next generation p2p projects organized by writer and media critic Doug Rushkoff. While there I had the opportunity to participate in a discussion about hackerspaces in libraries. Lauren Smedley from the Fayetteville Free Library in upstate New York led the discussion.

I have heard a lot of people talk about rethinking the library as a space, but the hackerspace is the first of these ideas I have actually liked. The Fayetteville Fab Lab will be “a collection of commercially available machines and parts linked by software and processes developed for making things”. The idea behind this, Smedley explained to me, is that libraries are not just about information, they are also about access. She wants to make libraries places where people don’t just consume media, but also have access to tools to help them create things. At the heart of the Fab Lab is a device called the Makerbot, a relatively low cost 3D printer which can produce any object the user can imagine.

I had heard about Makerbots before, but I actually got to see one in action at the conference. It assembles a 3D object from plastic spools. It is undeniably neat, but I don’t know what kind of widespread practical uses patrons in a public library would find for it. In some ways it seems kind of gimmicky. I have heard it might be convenient to reproduce a broken part for a household appliance. Instead of ordering and waiting for an overpriced replacement part that might not even be available, or buying a new appliance, a patron could print out a new part that day. I think it has a lot of potential and uses will probably arise that nobody has thought of, but right now it might take people a while to catch up to this idea.

I was curious how librarians at FFL would assign usage of the equipment in the Fab Lab. When I asked Lauren this she did not really have the logistics worked out. I guess this can work in a quiet rural library, but I think if we tried something like this in Brooklyn we would need a well thought out system for assigning how long someone could use the Makerbot. Despite my reservations I was glad to see such a strong showing from a librarian. She ended up winning one of three $10,000 prizes given out at the conference for the best projects.

Greg Belvedere is the founder of Our Bookshelf, the DRM-Free ebook lending social network. He is also an adult librarian who works for Brookyn Public Library.

DC: The Most User Friendly City in America?

During a recent visit to DC, I noticed several things that made me wonder if DC is the most user-centered city in the USA.

Here’s a list of things I discovered:

1. Bike Share Program.  Admittedly, DC is a bit late to the game in comparison to Europe, Asia and even smaller US cities like Portland.  However, NYC and LA are even later.  For $75/year, people can bike on demand.   Members can pick up a bike and return their bike at any of the stations throughout the city.

2.  Videophone Booth.  I saw this booth when I went to the public library. Deaf and hard-of-hearing users can place video relay calls to hearing friends, family, or business associates through an interpreter over a broadband Internet connection. This allows users to communicate in their first language: sign language.

Just as I was beginning to be impressed by DC’s ability to provide for its many users, I saw something that reversed my opinion.  A green “Do Not Enter” sign.  Need I say more?

Library Career Q&A Survey

Susanne Markgren/The Library Career People are working on a book about managing a successful career in libraries. Help them help us by filling out the Library Career Q&A Survey.

Hackspace Prototype in the Library

While on a recent trip to DC, I decided to check out the LibLab prototype.  The LibLab is based loosely on FanLab and is meant to be a “hackspace for knowledge”.

“LibLab has a modular design, with up to a dozen research and collaboration modules. Each module provides the tools and space needed to work on collaborative knowledge production, research, or learning and teaching.”

Admittedly, I was not very impressed when I finally saw it:

1.  On the wiki, it sounds very impressive and built my expectations overly high.

2.  The wiki description is a little incoherent and I’m not completely sure what exactly LibLab is.  It sounds like it’s trying to be everything.

3.  By calling it a “hackspace”, it implies that this is going to be very tech-centered, maybe beyond the comprehension of average people like me.

There are some redeeming qualities to the LibLab:

1.  The project is very loosely defined and flexible and seems open to suggestions from the public.

2.  The project emphasizes roundtable collaboration and community learning.

3.  Despite its seemingly intellectual intent, the LibLab does have workshops and modules meant to educate the general public.  On my visit I had the chance to see their Wikipedia workshop for the community.

All in all, the idea of LibLab is exciting.  The execution just needs some work.

Visit LibLab at the Martin Luther King Library in DC before it disappears at the end of December.

German Traces NYC – Guest Post by Jill Goldstein

German Traces NYC is an exciting new web project designed to reveal the German influence in New York City from 1840-1945. A mobile website guides you through locations in the city where, via podcasts and augmented reality, German traces are brought to life. German Traces NYC is designed to be a learning experience that investigates German cultural heritage in New York City. Using historical photographs and multimedia narratives, the history of the city’s German immigrants is brought to life. All content is published under a Creative Commons license.

German Traces NYC is the very first application of the GeoStoryteller platform, an open source platform that combines elements of Internet pages, mobile website, podcasts and augmented reality.

The project is a collaboration between the Goethe-Institut New York and Pratt Institute, School of Information and Library Science. The Goethe-Institut, the Federal Republic of Germany’s cultural institution operational worldwide, promotes the study of German abroad and encourages international cultural exchange. Additionally, it also fosters knowledge about Germany by providing information on its culture, society and politics. Pratt Institute, School of Information and Library Science (SILS), builds upon Pratt Institute’s reputation as a world-renowned school of art and architecture. SILS encourages students to reinvent the role of libraries through the field of Cultural Informatics.

Join us on December 2 at 6pm at the Goethe-Institut New York, 72 Spring Street, 11th floor, for the launch of German Traces. Please rsvp by November 29 to For more information on “German Traces NYC” please contact: Brigitte Doellgast, Library Director, Goethe-Institut New York, tel: 212.439.8700, e-mail or Jill Goldstein, Assistant for Marketing “German Traces NYC”, tel: 917.750.3502, email:

Jill Goldstein is the Assistant for Marketing and fellow Pratt alum.

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