A Very Brief History of Libraries and Maker Space

As I continue to prepare for my upcoming course on maker spaces in libraries, and as I continue talking about the role of maker spaces in libraries, I am reminded of one very important detail about our history.  You see, the maker and DIY movement in the United States can trace their history back in parallel with the founding of libraries in the United States.

Two figures stand out when discussing the birth of libraries in the United States.  Yes, I’m talking about Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.  Both of these men sowed the seeds for what would eventually become the modern free public library.  What is extremely fascinating is that both of these men were also makers.  They were die-hard tinkerers and DIYers.  And much of what they learned, created and invented is the result of the libraries that they created and supported.

The Library Company that Franklin helped create in 1731 was so much more than just a library of books.  Did you know that it also housed geological specimens, scientific instruments, an air pump, and telescopes and microscopes that were frequently used?  This was a library in the sense of warehousing books, yes, but it was also a true maker space.  Members met there to talk “shop” hack new inventions, share ideas and teach each other.  Heck, nine of the library members / makers went on to hack one of the greatest inventions of all time, American independence.

Maker spaces and libraries have an intertwined symbiotic relationship in the United States.  It is a relationship that can be traced all the way back to birth of this nation.  When I am asked if libraries should have maker spaces, I remind the questioner that American libraries have always had maker spaces.  In many ways a library cannot exist without a maker space and a maker space cannot exist without a library.

An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest. – Benjamin Franklin

And note that the investment in knowledge can come through the solitary endeavor of the mind through reading, or through the act of creating and hacking the world in which you live.

 

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