People Interact

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

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.


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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.

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