Turning Libraries Into “TechShops”

| March 24, 2011

I recently read a fascinating article: “Is It Time To Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries And Make ‘TechShops?’” After reviewing some basic information about public library usage and funding and showing some examples of technology-driven shared workspaces, the author argues that we ought to consider converting at least some public libraries into TechShops. This would primarily involve reducing the large share of library space and funding currently devoted to paper books and reallocating it to the purchase and display of technology and tools for making and manipulating both digital and physical objects.

This argument has some force. Libraries were established as public goods to increase access to books which, in the past, were out of reach to many for financial or other reasons. However, today much of the information contained in physical books is easily accessible to most citizens via the internet. As such, the library is kind of redundant, fulfilling a need that is much less significant than it used to be.

However, the need for valuable tools, equipment, and public/collaborative workspace remains unfilled. Although the number of hackspaces and other similar ventures is growing, many of them are membership-based and cater to more specific groups than the general public. Public libraries could provide similar resources, but to all.

Academic libraries, like ours here at TC, have a different institutional purpose, however. They are set up to serve specific academic communities, not the general public. Does this argument extend to academic libraries? How would TC students benefit or be harmed by shifting from a traditionally structured library to a TechShop?