How libraries can be the hub of a young maker revolution? What is the role of libraries in the 21st century? The following is an except from Canadian author Cory Doctorow’s blog entry for Raincoast Publishing, to celebrate Freedom to Read Week, 2013.
Every discussion of libraries in the age of austerity always includes at least one blowhard who opines, “What do we need libraries for? We’ve got the Internet now!”
The problem is that Mr. Blowhard has confused a library with a book depository. Now, those are useful, too, but a library isn’t just (or even necessarily) a place where you go to get books for free. Public libraries have always been places where skilled information professionals assisted the general public with the eternal quest to understand the world. Historically, librarians have sat at the coalface between the entire universe of published material and patrons, choosing books with at least a colorable claim to credibility, carefully cataloging and shelving them, and then assisting patrons in understanding how to synthesize the material contained therein.
Libraries have also served as community hubs, places where the curious, the scholarly, and the intellectually excitable could gather in the company of one another, surrounded by untold information-wealth, presided over by skilled information professionals who could lend technical assistance where needed. My own life has included many protracted stints in libraries — for example, I dropped out of high-school when I was 14 took myself to Toronto’s Metro Reference Library and literally walked into the shelves at random, selected the first volume that aroused my curiosity, read it until it suggested another line of interest, then chased that one up. When I found the newspaper microfilm, I was blown away, and spent a week just pulling out reels at random and reading newspapers from the decades and centuries before, making notes and chasing them up with books. We have a name for this behavior today, of course: “browsing the Web.” It was clunkier before the Web went digital, but it was every bit as exciting.
That is to say that society has never needed its librarians, and its libraries, more. The major life-skill of the information age is information literacy, and no one’s better at that than librarians. It’s what they train for. It’s what they live for.
But there’s another gang of information-literate people out there, a gang who are a natural ally of libraries and librarians: the maker movement. Clustered in co-operative workshops called “makerspaces” or “hack(er)spaces,” makers build physical stuff. They make robots, flying drones, 3D printers (and 3D printed stuff), jewelry, tools, printing presses, clothes, medieval armor… Whatever takes their fancy. Making in the 21st century has moved out of the individual workshop and gone networked. Today’s tinkerer work in vast, distributed communities where information sharing is the norm, where the ethics and practices of the free/open source software movement has gone physical.
At first blush, the connection between makers and libraries might be hard to see. But one of the impacts of building your own computing devices (a drone, a 3D printer, and a robot are just specialized computers in fancy cases) is that it forces you to confront the architecture and systems that underlie your own information consumption. Savvy librarians will know that our access to networked information is mediated by dozens of invisible sources, from the unaccountable search algorithms that determine our starting (and often, ending) points, to the equally unaccountable censoring network “filters” that arbitrarily block whole swathes of the Internet, to underlying hardware and operating system constraints and choices that make certain kinds of information easy to consume, and other kinds nearly impossible.
Damn right libraries shouldn’t be book-lined Internet cafes. They should be book-lined, computer-filled information-dojos where communities come together to teach each other black-belt information literacy, where initiates work alongside noviates to show them how to master the tools of the networked age from the bare metal up.
February 24, 2013
Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
as cited from Cory Doctorow’s blog entry on http://www.raincoast.com/blog/details/guest-post-cory-doctorow-for-freedom-to-read-week/