Remember when librarians used to hush you and tell you to be quiet in the stacks?
Those days are probably not gone, but the time when a library existed purely for warehousing information in dead tree format most certainly is. With the rise of online storage and ebooks that don’t have to be loaned one at a time, libraries not only need to find a way to stay relevant in the modern age, they have an opportunity to reinvent themselves.
It’s an international problem recognised by various academic projects and events like HackYourLibrary. Here in South Africa, the library at the University of Pretoria is the latest to adapting to change.
Under the auspices of current head of library services, Robert Maropa, UP’s library has just opened a Makerspace complete with 3D printers and scanners, soldering stations and design workstations in order to give students of all disciplines the opportunity to learn about these tools and the principles of maker culture.
“We are mindful of what’s coming,” says Maropa, explaining that it’s important to equip students with the ability to understand how the process of invention has changed. “The makerspace is the future of all libraries.”
Dennis Kriel, head of education and innovation at the university and a long time member of Centurion maker collective House4Hack has been instrumental in putting together the makerspace and equipping it.
“It’s about teaching people to create stuff and not simply consume,” Kriel says, “My son of 10 discovered recently that rather than spending his pocket money, he can [design and] 3D print new Hero Factory weapons. He already has the mindshift that he is not just a consumer, but a creator too.”
Kriel explains that it was important for the university to build the makerspace in the library because it’s “neutral ground”. Traditionally, a facility like this would have been attached to the engineering department – for example – and inaccessible to students in other faculties. Kriel and Maropa are keen to see people from different backgrounds coming together to share ideas.
We want students with maker characteristics to come together to learn,” he says, “People who are willing to change the world for the better.”
And they’ll be encouraged to publish designs and work as openly as possible.
“Makers do not create something and keep it for themselves, they share and open source it,” Kriel says, “That means there’s a low barrier to entry. You can go from zero to maker very quickly.”
The makerspace itself will be managed by Jaco Bezuidenhout, who demoed a radio-controlled device that can operate autonomously at the launch. On the roof of the car, there’s a GoPro camera mounted on a gimbal that pans-and-tilts with the movement of the ‘driver’s’ head. The vehicle is a prototype he developed as part of an Intel-sponsored challenge, which is designed for tasks like checking the inside of pipes and other areas humans can’t enter remotely.