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Libraries as incubators of manufacturing

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Justin Lynch writes in The Weekly Wonk:

In the Chicago area, there’s a nearly exact replica of a 10 year old boy’s head. It’s not an exact replica because last year, he had a cranial defect. Doctors needed to perform craniofacial surgery on his skull to protect his brain.

Operating on the brain or skull leaves little room for error. “If something goes wrong I can destroy that person’s character…forever,” said noted neurosurgeon Henry Marsh in the 2009 documentary The English Surgeon.

It helps to make a model. A team of doctors at the Loyola University Medical Center wanted to do just that to assist the doctors performing the operation, but ordering a replica of the boy’s skull would have taken 2 to 3 weeks and cost about $4,000. Instead, they went to the Chicago Public Library as part of a trial study and printed out a replica of the boy’s skull using a 3D printer. The model of the skull was sanitized, and took just 12 hours to make. It cost $20 and the surgery was successful.

The surgery is an example of how people are using public libraries in new and important ways. Public libraries are becoming a one-stop shop for manufacturing in the digital age. Because libraries are investing in machines like 3D printers, someday soon everyone with access to a public library could become an inventor or create something.

Did a car part break? 3D scanners can digitize the part and create an exact replica of it. Need to make a cheap prototype of your invention? You can work with a library specialist to design it. Want to make your own custom jewelry? Use a 3D printer and sell it on Etsy.

“It is about making knowledge available and initiating the public to make knowledge themselves,” Jeroen de Boer, co-author of the upcoming book Makerspaces in Libraries, told me. “Makerspaces are the places where knowledge exchange happens in new ways.” Libraries are increasingly inviting places for these areas, which are essentially DIY spaces where people can go to access resources and exchange ideas in order to create and invent things.

With new technology, libraries are not necessarily doing a different job—they are doing the same job, just better. Public libraries in the U.S., dating back to the 19th century, have always given people greater access to ideas. Before the Internet, those ideas could be found back in the stacks among the books. They were a collection of past knowledge, available free of charge to anyone with a library card, as Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting explained succinctly to an over-privileged grad student:

“You dropped a 150 grand on a [expletive] education you could have gotten for a $1.50 in late charges at the public library.”

What’s different about this new trend is how it incorporates a focus on inspiring the future. Libraries that invest in commercial manufacturing technology give patrons access to past and future ideas. An inventor doesn’t have to spend thousands of dollars and wait weeks for a prototype–they can go to a public library and make a prototype for a few cents. Many inventors who work in libraries use a website called, a repository of 3D designs for anyone to upload or download. Just like book collections, it is free to access, and the only cost to library users is for materials.

In 2013, around 109 libraries in the United States offered makerspaces—also called maker labs or hackspaces—but that number is on the rise and likely much higher today. Some makerspaces consist only of a single 3D printer, like how the Chattanooga Public Library in Tennessee started, and operate on a shoestring (3D printers cost around $2,500, not including materials). Other makerspaces can cost $250,000 or more, like the one at the Chicago Public Library. The maker lab there has digital design software, 3D printers, laser cutters, milling machines, and vinyl cutters.

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Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2015 at 11:31 am

Posted in Government, Technology

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The race to the bookshelf

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Google, Amazon, Open Content Alliance: what’s happening?

The Race to the Shelf Continues
The Open Content Alliance and
by Beth Ashmore, Cataloging Librarian, Samford University &
Jill E. Grogg, Electronic Resources Librarian, University of Alabama Libraries

Internet giants such as Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Amazon are in the middle of nothing short of a modern-day space race: Who can scan the most and the best books in alliance with the biggest and brightest libraries in the U.S. — nay, the world! — while simultaneously providing print on demand, “find in a library,” and “buy the book” links as well? The amount of press and controversy surrounding the Google Book Search Library Project tends to overshadow one detail — while these companies may have begun the race to the shelf, they certainly did not invent book digitization. Look no further than Michael Hart’s Project Gutenberg, which celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2006 and expanded its reach to Canada in July 2007, to know that book digitization is nothing new. But, as with almost all things these big internet companies touch, the stakes have been raised significantly.

While Google seems to rack up an increasingly impressive list of library and industry partners [See “Google Book Search Libraries and Their Digital Copies: What Now?” for a description of the Google Book Search library partners — then], the Open Content Alliance, or OCA, is giving Google a run for its money. OCA comes armed with an open access philosophy and its own impressive stable of partners, including Yahoo! and, at least initially, Microsoft. Amazon, the dark horse in the race, as scanning and making books available for free online would seem antithetical to its book-selling roots, has gotten into the act, offering to partner with libraries to help scan and sell rare and hard-to-find books from library collections. Under Amazon’s model, the libraries retain their own digital copies along with a portion of any print-on-demand profits. Ultimately, librarians now have choices when it comes to large-scale digitization partnerships.

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Written by Leisureguy

4 January 2008 at 9:38 am

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