The 3D printer craze is part of a movement to make libraries into “maker spaces,” which is fascinating, if a bit mystifying. It’s cheering that libraries are moving beyond the 1990s fad of studying Barnes and Nobles shelving and looking to retailing for inspiration. But libraries have always been about more than consumption. We have long supported creation. That’s what information literacy is: practice making knowledge.
True, we have sometimes let our lessons in creativity become instructions on how to use tools to gather pre-processed stuff from library databases. Learning how to write a research paper by gathering and assembling a certain number of pre-published ingredients is about as creative as learning how to cook using cornflakes, canned vegetables, and mushroom soup. Yet undergraduates can learn a lot when they fabricate new ideas using the library’s tools and materials. They can go well beyond seeing the library as a user-unfriendly shopping platform.
Things are changing, and changing fast. We fought for this moment, but I’m not sure libraries are ready to do what it will take to shift our work from procuring published stuff to supporting the creation and public sharing of knowledge.