Reflection on Hyperlinked Communities

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.

Here is a video about the hotspots in Spanish.


Mattern, S. (2014). Library as infrastructure. Retrieved from

Saarinen, R. (2019). Library to eliminate fines for 80,000 patrons. Retrieved from

Sonoma County Library. (n.d.). SonomaFi – WiFi hotspots. Retrieved from

sonomalibrary. (2019, April 11). SonomaFi español [Video file]. Retrieved from

Stephens, M. (2017). Libraries in balance. Library Journal. Retrieved from

West, J. (2014). 21st century digital divide. Retrieved from

7 thoughts on “Reflection on Hyperlinked Communities

  1. You give two excellent examples of our local library here in Sonoma County reaching out to its public: hotspots and fine forgiveness/ending. During the wildfires last semester, I didn’t have Internet at home for a week and was able to take a hotspot home and get my schoolwork done and work-work.

    I have had the same thought about 3-D printers, but it doesn’t bother me. I figure some people like having it to play with and maybe the best thing about it is it being a symbol for how the library is providing new technologies for patrons. We need symbols at the library and on the website: I didn’t know about the hotspots until I told a librarian I was having trouble connecting to the library wifi: The library was full of fire evacuees.

    I enjoy your storytelling writing style and how it is always well-integrated.

    • Thank you, @kathleenerickson. I know what you mean about the hotspots. At first people seemed a little puzzled by them, but now that they have caught on we can’t keep them in stock, even though we brought in more to deal with the demand. A lot of people have come to depend on them. That can be tricky when they have to return them and there isn’t another one to check out. I think 3-D printers teach people more about using technology than Mattern would like to admit. And if they bring people into libraries what is there to complain about?

  2. @philipmcgough Exactly. I think being bold is good, and then we see what patrons do with things like 3D printers. It’s not for us to decide their best use.

  3. Hi Philip,

    I agree with you and may disagree with Mattern a little more than most. I personally managed a makerspace and saw the power of technology in library often. Usually, the chain of events I witness go like this:
    – patron walks into the library and see’s a 3D printer; the patron stares but moves on
    – the patron returns to the library and asks a staff member what the 3D printer is and the staff member explains
    – the patron comes back to the library and has a bit a time and decides to print a predesigned file
    – the patron goes home and thinks about things in his home that are missing parts and decides to come back to the library to design the object and print it for an actual use.

    I love seeing patrons start to use technology to fit their lives. Designing 3D designs isn’t something that most people are taught but many can pick up the basics pretty quickly in a library and then they go home and continue to tinker with the software.

    In my opinion, it’s important that this technology be available for everyone – not just those that can afford a 3D printer in their homes or schools.

    • Hello @danielaleyva,

      Thank you for commenting. It’s nice to hear from someone who managed a makerspace. It sounds like 3D printers get people interested in technology. And then they interact with that technology with helpful library staff there to assist them. And then they learn something new. Maybe it doesn’t always happen that way, but it’s hard to argue that technology at the library doesn’t get at least some people involved and learning. I think Mattern makes some very good points in her article about balancing the different infrastructures of the library. But she makes it seem like makerspaces are taking over the library, rather than being just one of the library’s many offerings. Maybe they just get too much attention.

      • Hi Philip,

        I totally agree – when we have to sow off the library, we definitely highlight the makerspace and give it attention. I’m wondering if it’s because of the possibilities of a makerspace.. There are many tech companies that started off with makers working away in some type of makerspace including Square. I hope kids can get used to the idea of creating their own solutions instead of just using the world as it is.

  4. @philmcg Thanks for sharing the examples and your thoughts about the carful balance between tech and service. I agree with your comment above about maker spaces being one of many offerings. Circulating hot spots are the rage at our local library and the when the summer people come back, demand is through the roof.

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