Blog Post

Durham County Library: Small System, Ambitious MakerSpace

I haven't posted in this blog in quite a while. In fact, I don't it has been since 2011, when I received my MLS. For a while there for all intents and purposes I was DONE. Done writing about technology, humanities, and especially library science. I found work, started doing said work, and enjoyed it.

However, it occured to me this morning that I have rather a lot to say. HASTAC provides an ideal platform, and I'd love to share some news and thoughts, and collect some input from my fellows. So, back into the breach.

In 2012, I started my position as a System Support Technician for the Durham County Libraries. It's an interesting and varied position. Sometimes I'm out installing printers, resetting passwords, answering my phone and asking "Have you tried turning it off and on again?" And sometimes I'm afforded exciting opportunities. I'm a NextReads editor, for example. I helped organize last year's Durham Comics Fest and am again helping with Comics Fest 2014. And I'm helping to set up a new MakerSpace for the public library.

We've already had a couple of small programs, allowing teens to come in and get a crash course in computer-assisted design. Our local hackerspace SplatSpace volunteered to provide the training. Then, after forty minutes of playing around, we let them submit 3D designs that we printed out for them. The most impressive was a penguin, wholly improvised by a 13 year old girl with no design experience. She just silently watched as the other teens put together their nametags and pentacle necklaces (they kinda fell apart-- it's hard to get good sharp points on the stars and keep them joined to the outer ring) on the screen, and then she dragged the shapes down, joining them and doing some freehand shaping until she had a beautifully rounded 3D aquabird.

We saved that design. We'll ask before we use it, but no way are we letting such a thing of casual beauty disappear.

We're training the library staff on 3D printing for the next couple Fridays; I'm practicing by printing out some samples for the staff to see, starting with some very simple designs. I've never soloed on this stuff before, so it's kind of exciting. I've already found that there's a learning curve on loading the filament. Also worth noting: 3D printing is hardly instantaneous. The 2"by 2" box I'm currently printing is set to take around an hour and a half to complete. If you're doing any printing of your own, plan accordingly.

The samples I mentioned are also going to be put to good use afterwards. My friend, Adult Services Librarian John Davis, has started a monthly "D&D in the Library" program which finished its first year in July to great acclaim. He's asked us to print out some set pieces for him. Just between you and me (and him if he reads this) I'm going to surprise him with a dragon figurine. Instead of doing a lot of difficult redesigning I'm using an existing model downloaded from Thingiverse and welding it onto a base (a modified poker chip design) with a 3Doodler pen.

At this point, we've gotten to work with:

Our Makerbot Replicator (3D printer)

The 3Doodler 3D pen (we have these for the Teen Librarians at each location so they can create programs)

Cameo Silhouette (paper, cloth, and vinyl cutter-- I made a Riddler decal for my car; my friend Bryan took on a much more difficult Homer Simpson head which turned out beautifully.)

Arduino open-source hardware kits.

We own, but do not yet have running:

A Shapeoko, computer-assisted 3D milling and carving machine.

We plan to have our first open-to-the-public Maker Day on Saturday, September 27*. We'll be letting people create their own designs and printing them out at a cost of $0.25 a gram**. This is in downtown Durham, serving a diverse population that includes a lot of economically disadvantaged folks. People who don't often get experience with this kind of technology. I like to think that this makes the new MakerSpace more valuable, a unique resource that wasn't there before. Now just to get people to use it!

I'll let you know how it goes and-- when my phone's not dead-- include a few photos as well!

* Originally, this post read "in 3 weeks." I had misheard the date.

** Originally, this post listed the price as $0.25 an oz. Ounces are about 28 times larger than grams, so this is a pretty big difference.



I think public libraries are a WONDERFUL space to launch makerspaces...what a great idea! I do hope you'll keep us updated on your progress, share photos, etc. This is a great way to get young people into the library today and I hope a trend like this catches on. Best of luck with the Maker Day!


Thanks for sharing, Matthew.

I think it's fantastic that the library system is embracing this idea and banking on the approach of open access to some otherwise out-of-reach tools (and space to use them). The introduction of "creating in the physical realm" to kids (and others), is a win for everyone. It's unfortunate that so many among us have never had the access or opportunity to build / make / create "real things" before, but this move by the library goes a long way toward alleviating that deficit.

The days of learning to create under the tutelage and apprenticeship of Practical Necessity are gone for most of us. What's more, most spaces that have been set aside for making, creation, and invention have been (mostly) accessible only to the more-privileged among us. That illustrates what I love most about this idea -- that library is creating a space and providing "permission" of sorts for anyone to have this adventure, to play with and master their own innate skills and potential. This permission to experiment (and even to fail along the way), is the essence of the "maker" concept itself. Giving access to the needed spaces, tools, etc. is the opening that people need to start experimenting.

Until recently, I've felt like this wonderful outlet for creativity has primarily existed in just a few places: a fairly narrow (but devoted!) subculture and their shared, common workspaces, some university labs and libraries, and in private maker-spaces (places like TechShop, which I deeply appreciate, but) which offer access for a not-insignificant fee. The opportunity offered by this public space in a public place is a demonstration of Making at its best.

Well, as you can see I'm pretty excited as a Durhamite, erstwhile maker, and as father of curious kids. I'll be following this story with eyes wide open.



Hey from a former SILS colleague. It's great to see this effort at the Durham County Libraries. I think your approach of starting with programs and events and building toward a dedicated space is great. I run our Makerspace program at the NCSU Libraries, but I live in Durham. Let me know if there's anything I can help out with!



It's really great to get such a positive reaction from folks. I'm really hoping that we'll get to see all of you at this upcoming Maker Day (September 27-- I just edited my original, less-than-correct, post). There's no sign up needed, just drop by before 3:30 that afternoon. We're focusing on 3D design for this one-- making things in TinkerCAD or FreeCAD that can be printed at a later date.

Adam, as one Durhamite to another, I certainly appreciate the offer of help! We will be in need of knowledgeable volunteers in the near future, I'm sure. We've already started talking with the Duke Makers' Club, and we'd be very happy to work with NCSU as well, if we can. I'll be in touch!