It’s understandable that not everyone is thrilled about how trendy it has become to have a 3-D printer at the library. Mattern (2014) wonders, “What knowledge is produced when I churn out, say, a keychain on a MakerBot?” (Library as Technological-Intellectual Infrastructure section, para. 9). Mattern (2014) also asks, “Can an institution whose technical and physical infrastructure is governed by the pursuit of innovation also fulfill its obligations as a social infrastructure serving the disenfranchised?” (Reading Across the Infrastructural Ecology section, para. 1). This is more or less the same point as the unnamed student at the beginning of Stephen’s (2017) article. Libraries pursuing the latest technology and also serving vulnerable communities can seem like they don’t fit very well together.
Stephens (2017) writes that technology offerings are part of the library’s services to the vulnerable. Being literate in certain technologies has become a necessary part of daily life, and some people depend on the library to help them reach the threshold of technological know-how, which includes becoming familiar with new technology (Stephens, 2017). West (2014) makes a similar point about the digital divide: helping people get online is helping them do so much more than just surf the web.
Mattern (2014) worries that libraries should be less like startups and more like libraries. If we worry too much about pursuing the latest trends we might lose makes libraries special. I would argue that libraries have been serving vulnerable communities for a long time, and 3-D printers are not going to change that. Stephens (2017) writes that innovation in libraries should include being kind to our users in innovative ways. This is a key difference between a library and a startup. My own library has recently done away with late fees entirely (Saarinen, 2019), and also started offering WiFi hotspots for people to check out (Sonoma County Library, n.d.). I can say first-hand that both are very popular, especially among library users who need a little kindness in their lives right now.
Mattern, S. (2014). Library as infrastructure. Retrieved from https://placesjournal.org/article/library-as-infrastructure/?cn-reloaded=1
Saarinen, R. (2019). Library to eliminate fines for 80,000 patrons. Retrieved from https://sonomalibrary.org/blogs/news/library-to-eliminate-fines-for-80000-patrons
Sonoma County Library. (n.d.). SonomaFi – WiFi hotspots. Retrieved from https://sonomalibrary.org/sonomafi
sonomalibrary. (2019, April 11). SonomaFi español [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/34OeEHH88sU
Stephens, M. (2017). Libraries in balance. Library Journal. Retrieved from https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=libraries-in-balance-office-hours
West, J. (2014). 21st century digital divide. Retrieved from http://www.librarian.net/talks/rlc14/