Learning, the act of gaining knowledge, is a craft unto itself. It starts with questions - the what ifs, how abouts, whys, . . . leading from the unknown to the known, through inquiry, experimentation, travel, and of course pure accident.

This is about how it happens in my life.

Fabricating a Fascinating Future

The recent announcement of a Fab Lab at Fayetteville Free Library has created a lot of buzz - and justifiably so! It is a huge investment of multiple resources, and from what I can see on the MIT list, will be the only one run by a Library. I really like how the folks at FFL talk about their Fab Lab as an enhancement of existing collections and services. 
I agree.
There are huge opportunities to extend the creative potential of Libraries in new and dynamic ways using a wide range of technologies.
When I first saw a 3-D printer on Daily Planet or some such show I was impressed - it's a pretty cool technology, without a doubt.  Mind you, it wasn't fast, involved large, expensive pieces of equipment, and was expensive to use as well.  But the things you could make with just a few taps on a keyboard! 

After the initial ooooohhh factor wore off I found myself thinking of The Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, and  Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine.

And then I found myself thinking: how is this different than what is already done in wood and metal shops around the world, and for years at that?  You want to reproduce the original 19th century trim and wrought iron for your heritage building? No problem, we'll just program the profile into the computer and run the raw material through the ________ (lathe, router, break, plasma torch . . .)
Mind you, fabrication shops with such modern automated systems tend towards the industrial scale, or fill a niche that allows for a premium price. 

Yet for many people who make their livelihood with the crafts and trades, the tool kit is much more basic and hands-on. Myriad physical things that make up daily life - clothing, furniture, buildings - come to us via centuries old techniques combined with modern day materials and tools. 

So imagine this

Jane logs on to her Library account and looks for books on figure drawing.  She loves to "doodle" as her nephew says - he keeps asking her to draw him, and now the notion of trying something like that is stuck in her head! 
She finds some materials that look useful, and places holds on a few of them.
The Library catalogue notifies Jane that the library has additional holdings relating to this book:
1) drawing pencils
2) charcoal sticks
3) pastels
4) samples of paper
5) poseable figurines for humans and other animals


Realizing that purloined hotel pens and stubby eraserless pencils may not be the best tools, Jane requests pencils, charcoal and a human figurine.  She'll practice on what ever paper she can find for now. 
Finally, Jane sees this in the catalogue:
Expertise Library: portrait artist
A note on the site explains that The Expertise Library is a collection of people who have skills, knowledge and experience covering a range of  trades, crafts and other areas of expertise, all of whom want to help others learn that same thing. The lending conditions for each human book vary, and may permit consultation on specific issues.
Jane sees an open time slot in the following week and considers for a moment.  She'd heard about this Expertise Library from a friend who needed to make a theatre costume for her son. The daunting task was demystified when her friend was able to check out a sewing machine and a seamstress human book. It turned out so well other parents asked for help! 

With a few clicks Jane has booked her human book visit with a local portrait artist.  The confirmation screen encourages Jane to bring along materials, works (in progress or finished) for discussion/assistance.
Just a Jane logs off she receives an email with a calendar reminder for next week, and notice of when she can pick up her holds.  She can already picture the smile on her nephew's face when she hands him his portrait! 




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