Hackerspaces and libraries

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I originally understood the term “hacker” to mean someone who broke into computer systems with criminal or mischievous intent. For better or for worse, it seems to have broadened to include anyone who develops a detailed grasp of the inner workings of computer systems and networks. By this definition, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and the teams of people who devised the public Internet have been leading hackers. Hackerspace, then, is place where the non-criminal varieties of hackers meet to collaborate on projects, to learn from each other, or just hang out with likeminded people. What better place for a hackerspace than the library?

Starting a hackerspace is a serious commitment. it must provide a physical location with electric power and a computer network with Internet connectivity, with all the servers and other hardware required to build it. Beyond that, it must provide specialized tools for its members to work with: machine tools, audio and video equipment, game consoles, 3D printers, and other electronic instruments, as well as raw materials such as plastic for the output of those printers.

A company called TekVenture was looking for affordable space in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The director of the Allen County Public Library reached out to its president and offered a partnership. TekVenture’s hackerspace now occupies a 50-yard trailer in the library’s parking lot.

Not very many hackerspaces have yet teamed up with libraries, but the partnership makes sense. The Fayetteville Free Library in New York has even obtained a grant to start its own hackerspace within its building. Libraries have long been on the cutting edge of new technology. For even longer, they have involved in learning, expanding people’s minds, and providing resources to their communities that otherwise most individuals would not be able to afford.

Libraries gain from the partnership by being able to expand their services without, in most cases, having to purchase expensive equipment or train their staff in how to use it. It also fits within their role of building community. Hackerspaces gain from having a physical location at an institution used by people of every demographic in the community. They also gain visibility, free publicity, and potentially, active members.

See also: Libraries make room for high-tech “hackerspaces” / Jon Kalish

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by Chloester.

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