Reflection on the Library as Classroom

The Library as Classroom model turns the library into an active laboratory for creation, as seen in Makerspaces, Hackerspaces and the like. Criticizing the emerging trend of 3D printers in libraries, Hugh Rundle offers a harsh reality check against the Library as Classroom. As Rundle contends, libraries are in the business of information, not object making. The 3D printing craze steers librarians away from the mission of information advocacy. This shift toward fabricating objects makes Rundle question if any limits remain: “You might lend out ‘Guns of the world’, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to lend out a community gun. Your 3D printer might be used to make chocolate bunnies, or prototypes for local entrepreneurs, but what will your policy be on people printing dildos?” (NSFW). There’s an obvious shock value to his rhetoric. It’s irreverent and evocative. The sting makes you take pause.

7/28/14 - 3D printer technology for student use at the NDSU Library.

3D printer or MakerBot Replicator 2

Yet Rundle’s stinging language might also be his downfall. There’s no subtly in his critique of the Library as Classroom; he punches the reader across the face. When the sting wears off you come back, re-read the entry, and see the message for what it really is. This is biblio-Conservatism, plain and simple, revealing a certain suspicion of non-traditional library services. Rundle advises libraries to focus on the “intangibles” of information, which he purports is the province of librarians. He says: “There has never been such an abundance of information, ideas and stories. It’s not enough any more for information to be organised – it needs to be made available in new and meaningful ways.” In other words: know your role and stick to it, librarians.

Children gather around the library MakerBot

It behooves Library as Classroom advocates to understand Rundle’s critique because his position neatly captures the counterargument against the Library as Classroom. The counterargument says Makerspaces, MakerBot Replicators, and media labs are not within the library’s purview. Purists express rather conservative concerns over these kinds of hands-on learning spaces. “The teens can make WHAT?!” The Library as Classroom looks like an attempt to stay relevant in a time of increasing competition for information and learning. “Stick to your mission,” they snort.

The library MakerBot captivates

Thing is, education IS the library’s mission. And the Library as Classroom is one of best platforms for education. The Library as Classroom is about collaboration, experimentation, and action. Learners work together. Knowledge and skills are shared in an open environment. The education is robust, happening through convivial trial and error. Librarians play an active role facilitating learning in the Library as Classroom. What’s more, learners apply information to make tangible creations, like a robotic hand for a person in need. The model takes the library to the next level. The Library as Classroom advances the library’s mission from “study for the sake of knowledge” to “study for the sake of action.”

YAs repair an overhead project at their school library Makerspace

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12 thoughts on “Reflection on the Library as Classroom

  1. I love what you say, that education is the library’s mission. It involves technology and advancing the learning skills of our users. Our Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants are forever improving and advancing their skill sets. Having Makerspaces and digital labs help progress our call to our community-we have what you need, print, digital and lab environments. Great post!
    Casey

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    • Taking learning to the next level is what libraries are about and you make a good point about applying this knowledge through creating. So many people blog, etc., and feel like authors/creators–they expect librarians to treat them that way.
      If the library staff doesn’t buy into supporting these technologies, the library is better off not (sadly) investing in it. Services work when the staff are willing and able to troubleshoot and sustain use.

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  2. You make numerous excellent points in your discussion post.

    For instance, a librarian knowing their role and sticking to it is the worst thing that could happen. By doing that libraries will undoubtedly become irrelevant in a constantly changing world.

    Also, as librarians of the future it is essential that we embrace new technologies even the 3D printer while also embracing education in every form that it takes. You summarize this perfectly with the sentence, “Thing is, education IS the library’s mission.” Well done.

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    • @april Good observation. If librarians stay fixed somewhere, avoiding trends and sticking to Information proper, we will become irrelevant. It was surprising how obvious that point seemed, yet Rundle blew it off. He gave a starting point for great discourse.

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  3. Libraries, especially public ones, are about providing information AND exposure/experience to things people might not otherwise be able to experience. People what to experience 3D printing, just as some libraries have art work or LPs, maps, etc. I think what the Rundle misses here is that the focus isn’t on the product printed, it’s on the experience.

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  4. Thank you for these thoughts and for the rich discussion. I am over the biblio-conservatism. 🙂

    I also feel there’s a bit of scare tactics going on here . Any time something new starts to make waves, the first thing people focus on is the worst possible scenario. Blogs=mean comments, IM Reference=weirdo trying to chat librarians up, gaming consoles=dumbing down the populace, 3d printing=guns and dildos! I can’t imagine a this argument holding weight much longer.

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    • @michael Indeed! “New is scary, uncharted is dangerous, so let’s just hunker down with Information proper”… What a strange perspective to advance in the 21 c. Rundle hit a nerve. He received responses from librarians defending new models of library service — responses that were better argued than Rundle’s Mission Creep article. I especially liked David Lankes’ scathing response: http://quartz.syr.edu/blog/?p=2538. This Lankes’ quote had me like HELL YEH: “Librarians are radical positive change agents that work with their community, sometimes following, but often provoking and pushing. A good librarian challenges what could be, not simply reifies what is.”

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