Makers: The New Industrial Revolution is a book that argues that the rise of digital manufacturing constitutes what can be considered to be the third industrial revolution, and lays out the way that the digital age has allowed for this to take place and the possible benefits and challenges that such a momentous change in how products are created and distributed could bring to the modern economy. Anderson speaks about how it used to be much more difficult to be an entrepreneur, and notes that with the web any kid with a laptop and an idea can create what may one day be a world-changing company from the comfort of their own home, garage, or workshop (Anderson, 2014, p. 7). Communities of people who make use of digital manufacturing using tools like 3-D printers, laser cutters, and CAD programs such as Sketchup and Autodesk are called Makers, and these Makers make good use of the fact that these technologies and tools are readily available to purchase, and are able to engage in a community market that values and competes for innovation over cheap labor.
Librarians reading the book should automatically see the idea of a third industrial revolution and think to themselves, “Libraries need to be a part of that,” especially when they recognize that markets of innovation which Makers thrive in are prime opportunities for the library to become involved. Imagine if instead of saying “I started this business in my garage” that the next CEO of a major company’s success story started with, “It all began in the Makerspace at my local library.” Innovation is a messy, sometimes expensive process, and there are always going to be people who are innovators at heart but who don’t have access to the means in which to express themselves and (crucially) be allowed opportunities to fail and learn from their failures without it breaking them financially. This is a role that libraries can readily take on, as it builds off the already existing idea of libraries as infrastructure. All libraries need to do is ensure that the informational and social infrastructures of the library align with the physical infrastructure that supports the Maker program (Mattern, & Shannon, 2014). Communities are eager to explore STEM courses and expand those offerings, and having the library more closely align itself with that trend is well within the overall mission of the library project.
How can libraries do this? Libraries can support their Maker communities by building Makerspaces, and by seeking feedback from the communities they serve. For example: What kind of courses can libraries teach that helps them become a part of this vital community resource? How about free lessons that teach interested people how to use 3-D CAD tools, printers, and laser cutters that the libraries provide access to when local schools are lagging behind and are only offering classes on Excel and PowerPoint (Anderson, 2014, p. 55)? Asking the public for feedback and encouraging them to take a role in the purchasing decisions of these important physical pieces of technology invites them to be more active in shaping their library, and would benefit both the community at large and the Maker community of innovators, which is very much in line with the participatory library model. By fully committing to the participatory library model, libraries also can ensure that they are places that provide the insights and infrastructure that can empower people to create, share, curate, and reflect on their learning within the Maker communities that they are connecting with (Matthews, Metko, & Tomlin, 2018).
The last thing libraries want is to be left out in the cold if there is something potentially as revolutionary and earth-shaking as the digital manufacturing age dawning, and luckily many libraries have heard the call and responded to it with gusto. The LAPL reached out to its community and asked for guidance on what kind of Makerspace technology it thought was needed to ensure that the community could experiment and explore these new tools together, and libraries across the country have already installed Makerspaces and are offering courses for interested people all the time (Mack, 2013). As an equalizer and firm believer in the idea that knowledge and information are supposed to be for everyone, libraries should strive to understand the informational and material needs of the Maker community in order to support what Anderson argues will continue to be an incredibly disruptive and powerful technological movement.
Anderson, C. (2014). Makers. Random House USA.
Mack, C. (2013, July 2). Crowdsourced Design: Why Los Angeles Is Asking the Public to Create the Library of the Future. Retrieved from https://www.good.is/articles/crowdsourced-design-why-los-angeles-is-asking-the-public-to-create-the-library-of-the-future
Mattern, & Shannon. (2014, June 1). Library as Infrastructure. Retrieved from https://placesjournal.org/article/library-as-infrastructure/
Matthews, B., Metko, S., & Tomlin, P. (2018, May 7). Empowerment, Experimentation, Engagement: Embracing Partnership Models in Libraries. Retrieved from https://er.educause.edu/articles/2018/5/empowerment-experimentation-engagement-embracing-partnership-models-in-libraries