Is the library the factory of the future?

Posted by LDonia on 12/03/2012


The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) has often emphasized the importance of a well-educated manufacturing workforce. In fact, “enhancing our workforce” even has its own section in our National Manufacturing Strategy.

Often such efforts focus on high school-aged students, or older. So it was exciting for me to attend an event last week that focused on education for people of all ages.

The event, a “Maker Meetup” at West County Area Library in Odenton, MD, connected “makers” with libraries to begin finding ways their work could overlap. Attended by such disparate groups as video game makers, the Object Lab at Towson University, and people working with Geographic Information Systems, among others, the Makers hosted workshops and demonstrations for the librarians.

The idea behind the event, as explained by Nini Beegan, of the Maryland State Department of Education, was to begin evolving the concept of the library, from a place people go to receive knowledge, to a place they go to create knowledge.

By finding ways Makers of all stripes could use the library as an outpost, library-users would be able to learn by doing, participating in the creation of new things. Beegan also emphasized the empowerment gained through making things, and how powerful an experience it can be to have the skills to create something how, when, and where one wants. This theme was reiterated throughout the day.

Rose Burt, of the Digital Harbor Foundation, for example, shared plans for a rec center her organization has taken over in Baltimore. They are setting up an all-purpose space. Already they are running after school tech programs, but additionally, they hope to open their doors to the community and allow residents of any age to use their equipment to create projects of their own.

Another representative at the meetup, Jan Baum, shared a slide presentation about the Object Lab at Towson. Her 3Dstudents are learning rapid technology and additive manufacturing. The students are able to laser-scan objects and print out 3-D facsimiles. Their state-of-the art lab has allowed both corporate and educational partnerships. The students have collaborated with companies like Under Armour and Stanley Black and Decker, as well as the Corcoran College of Art & Design. I spoke to one of Baum’s students who told me that as an aspiring jewelry maker, she loved her program. She felt confident that when she graduated college she could easily find a manufacturing job, but would still be able to make and design jewelry.

Matt Barinholtz, who runs an organization called “Futuremakers” finds aspiring manufacturers in an array of people. He teaches building skills to incarcerated young people in D.C. He also has a mobile maker space for children. Barinholtz is concerned that STEM education starts in high school, and thinks it’s important for kids to begin making things young, so they’ll want to build more things.

Overall the workshops and demonstrations were intended to encourage librarians to reach out with Makers in their communities, however Barinholtz mentioned that anyone who considers him or her self a Maker should also consider reaching out to their local library.

“There's a shortage of maker-educators,” Barinholtz said. “(There’s) nothing wrong with makers approaching libraries - but I believe that there's an opportunity to create a community of makers and educators (this includes folks in all trades, arts, engineering, design and manufacturing fields and all ed settings, including libraries).”

In the new year, AAM will check back in with some of the participants in the meetup and post updates on their work.

Photos: Left - Jan Baum from the Object Lab at Towson University; Right - Replicas made on 3-D printers.

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