Monday, 25 May 2015

Fab Futures : non-library-FabLab founders

At the Fab Futures conference at Exeter Library there were talks about the FabLabs in Devon and Chattanooga libraries but there were also speakers involved in FabLabs that aren't in libraries.

Inside Exeter Library

Richard Clifford, MAKLab (Glasgow)
Interestingly, Richard's background is in architecture and design: he even taught architecture at the Glasgow School of Art! When establishing MAKLab, the founders were primarily interested in bridging a gap in education (getting people "job-ready"), but also wanted to look at social and economic issues by engaging groups such as disenfranchised young people and unlocking their potential.
In his talk "The power of collaboration", Richard drew from his experience at MAKLab to make us think and ask ourselves the right questions about why and how we would want a FabLab in our libraries.

Sharing experience: the team in Glasgow (currently 8 people) all started as volunteers and are now in full-time employment. They bring a diverse set of skills with them. As Richard said: "You can buy as much equipment as you want but in FabLabs the real value is the knowledge base, what the people know".
Think: what experience or skills in your team are underused? Who goes home at night and does something different?
What skills are missing from your team?
Space is expensive: so is electricity, a cleaner... MAKLab has a co-working space so everyone shares the costs and helps out.
Do you have spaces that are under- or unused? There is a lot of pressure on libraries to maximise space but are the spaces in your library being maximised for the right goal?
Who could use those spaces?
Sharing resources is important, as the equipment and technology change quickly; equipment is expensive and so is the knowledge on how to use it. You need to understand what equipment/machines you truly need.
What do you need?
Who has it? Is it being used where it is?
FabLab Exeter

There are other organisations out there that need the same things and have the same aims as you. MAKLab got together with four other local social enterprises to form The Wood Cooperative.
What benefit would you have in collaborating with a particular organisation? How does it make you stronger?
MAKLab is working with the NHS to prototype medical products such as 3D-printed teeth. FabLabs are where the real innovation is happening, because they are more nimble than the big organisations - therefore you should value your contribution!
What sets you apart? What are the reasons people come to you?
FabLabs - like libraries! - are about social empowerment e.g. empowering unskilled people to build something themselves, together. MAKLab helped a community design and build a boathouse - the people involved leave with new knowledge and confidence in themselves.
Another initiative (which I'd first heard of thanks to Marc De'ath of St Botolph's The Waiting Room) which has spread across the UK is Men in Sheds where older men come together in a workshop for some woodworking or other similar activity, but also for socialising. What is interesting is also to use it for intergenerational dialogue and transfer of skills by inviting school children in as well.
What groups do you want to work with?
What did you talk about on day 1, are still talking about and why have you not done it yet - what's the barrier?
Innovate quicker and don't be afraid of high risk: Richard said there is a culture shift in funders which means it is now ok to fail (though I'm not sure it has reached Councils yet?) Start small and prove your point: get some seed funding or borrow a piece of equipment from someone for a week and do something with it.
At this point, Richard also mentioned that highly innovative products do break down a lot!

Compliance and de-risk: you need to learn and design through the risk. Risk is always present, there are just ways of mitigating it e.g. programme a machine to stop as soon as you touch it.

Libraries are in the best position to develop FabLabs and maker spaces because we are already talking to the groups that need these things most (job seekers, young people...)
3D printers and laser-cutter at Exeter Library FabLab

Phillippa Rose and Joss Langford, MakeSouthWest
MakeSouthWest is a network of community-led maker spaces, educational establishments and industry partners in the South-West of England. Its members include a library (FabLab Exeter), a secondary school (KEVICC in Totnes), the Plymouth College of Art...
One of the initiatives mentioned is Open Devon: an open week for the local engineering and manufacturing sites (as far as safety and intellectual property protection allow!) It is an opportunity for the participating businesses to showcase their work and potentially find people who may be interested in working with them (either individuals - as future employees - or other businesses).

Eddie Kirkby, FabLab Manchester
The FabLab Manchester opened in 2010 and was the first of its kind in the UK. The FabLab is about empowerment: enabling members of the public to design and make their own things, but also inspiring them. It offers access to equipment and educational workshops as well as - to fund its free open days - a range of commercial services e.g. prototyping. It is very much about telling people and businesses: what do you want made? and we'll teach you how to make it.
In its first 4 years, the FabLab has seen about 2,500 visitors a year (numbers for both visitors and members keep growing), helped bring 20 new products to market and has even seen its first millionaire!
"Libraries are about access to knowledge. First they had books because that's where the knowledge was. Then they got computers because that's where the knowledge moved to. Now it's digital making." Eddie Kirkby

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