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Now that information is widely accessible is it time to replace public libraries with public workshops? To make things instead of reading about them?

I’ve just been listening to The Life Scientific with materials scientist Professor Mark Miodownik. He has an idea – replace public libraries with public workshops where people can go to make things. Genius!

Public libraries were originally established to democratise access to books. Before public libraries, rooms dedicated to storing and reading books were the preserve of the wealthy and religious elite. Public libraries were pivotal to education and a huge benefit to populations. But their relevance has diminished now that information is widely accessible.

There is a new technology that could benefit from being democratised. Access to 3D printers and other such tools for experimenting and making stuff is hard, mostly limited to academic institutions, large corporations and wealthy individuals. i.e. just like books were before we had public libraries. So shouldn’t we be converting those public libraries into public workshops?

It’s a brilliant idea rooted in the argument that too much of funded academic research ends up in paper form rather than outcomes.

And it ties in with technology trends. Computers are outperforming humans when it comes to processing information. Some technologists believe this will ultimately lead to an event known as The Singularity:

By 2029, computers will be able to do all the things that humans do.
Only better. – Ray Kurzweil

Such a belief has a couple of flaws: 1) that all there is to being human is the volume and velocity of information we can process, and 2) what outcome are we hoping for from such an event? I’m all for automating as many ‘jobs’ as possible, particularly those that threaten and damage the health of the people involved. But is that all there is to life?

Nearly a decade ago, I attended a fascinating lecture by neuroscientist Professor Daniel Wolpert. He posed a question:

Why do we have a brain?

We have brains to interpret and act on our senses. And our senses are dependent upon movement. All known lifeforms with brains on this planet also have motion, the ability to move. Mimicking how a brain works creates an artificial intelligence. Not better, equal or worse than the human brain, just an alternative method for interpreting information that will sometimes lead to better outcomes and sometimes worse. The singularity makes as much sense as the multi-verse to humanity.

Back to the concept of replacing public libraries with public workshops. Such an idea fits neatly with one of the trends coming out of the global recession: creating a circular economy – making new things out of old materials, recycling rather than throwing away, servicing and repairing rather than replacing. As Professor Miodownik said:

The ideal city doesn’t have a land fill

At the heart of most family homes is the kitchen. And what do you do in the kitchen? Throughout time – through the arts, sciences and engineering – we have made things. Including outcomes that have enabled us to explore new possiblities. Converting public libraries into public workshops to encourage and enable craftsmanship and creativity for everyone is a brilliant idea.


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Flickr image - makerfaireFlickr image ‘Mini Maker Faire – Manchester 2012’ kindly shared by Les Pounder


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