Maker Labs are Helping Traditional Libraries Stay Afloat

Libraries across the U.S. are offering maker labs with a myriad of tools, including 3D printers.
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Libraries across the U.S. are offering maker labs with a myriad of tools, including 3D printers.

A public library in Fayetteville, New York became the first library in the U.S. to create a maker lab in 2011. The space has 3D printers, a laser cutter, Raspberry Pi computers, sewing machines, electronic kits and workshop tools. The atmosphere is something of a classroom meets startup incubator, and gives people from the area the opportunity to use state-of-the-art technology. 

Now, the American Library Association reports that one in six libraries in the country have a dedicated space to maker labs. With books entering the digital realm and research tools being available online, libraries have struggled to keep up.

"Since 2008, when the bubble burst and everything started to fall apart, we've never been busier," says Sue Considine, director of the Fayetteville Free Library. "It has snowballed into this really exciting rebirth for public libraries in many ways, as places where entrepreneurship and invention and discovery can happen."

These maker spaces require quite a bit of investment. Many libraries have to clear out a large portion of books to make space for the labs, and the equipment used is quite costly. However, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (a government agency) is supporting the movement and has already given $2.6 million in grants to support maker lab projects. 

Numerous entrepreneurial successes are springing forth from these reinvented libraries. At the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, users of the maker lab have developed prototypes for satellite trackers, guitar parts and dental hygiene instruments. In Nevada, one maker lab patron is trying to shop an original board game made with 3D printed pieces.