I’ve been passing some of my windshield time by listening to the Steve Jobs audiobook. In fact, I’ve been pretty engrossed, and have been supplementing with documentaries on Apple Macintosh, Jobs, and his other endeavors like NeXT and Pixar.

In a Smithsonian interview, Jobs talks about some of the many innovations that came out of the Bay Area in the last several decades, i.e. the integrated circuit, the microprocessor, networking, and genetic engineering to name a few. It was his community that bolstered that innovation. In the biography, Job’s neighborhood, where the first Apple computer was built, is described as being full of outgoing and helpful Hewlett Packard and ex-military engineers. When the Apple-1 was first debuted, it was to the area’s active Homebrew Computer Club. Creativity, technical know how, the spirit of innovation, and  collaboration spawned the modern era, and some of the greatest American industries.

This rich environment of the Bay Area in the late 70’s and early 80’s that fostered so much innovation is not all that unlike what you would find today today, across the world, in hackerspaces.

They are spaces that help promote innovation and creativity. Tools, parts, networks, internet connections, spots where collaboration can take place, this would be the root of a hackerspace. Notice how dark basements where shady individuals lurk, stealing credit card data or trying to bring down large corporations with denial of service attacks is not mentioned in this description. Any beginner’s conversation on hackerspaces usually has to address the connotation the word “hack” has picked up in the last 20 years. A hackerspace is a maker space, a lab, and a lecture hall; “a hacker, in the original sense of the term is a person who takes things apart to learn about them, rebuild them and improve them”(from Founding a Hacker Space).

There have been recent discussions about the relationship of libraries and hackerspaces. Andrew Carnegie, the great library philanthropist, believed in giving to the “industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from others.” – sounds like the meat of a hackerspace to me.

Hackerspaces are coming: Topeka has one in its infant stages, Ad Astra Labs. The Cowtown Computer Congress of Kansas City  has been running full steam ahead for four years. One of CCCKC’s members, Noah Dunker, had thoughts about libraries and hackerspaces:

“I personally think that adding miniature hackerspaces to libraries is the way of the future, because hackerspaces give great thinkers access to something they can’t get from home or over the Internet quite so easily: Face time and getting one’s hands dirty with other great thinkers.”

It seems that Library director Jeff Krull of the Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Ind, would concur. His library has been hosting a mobile hackerspace in its lot.  When interviewed about the new space by NPR Jeff says:

“We see the library as not being in the book business, but being in the learning business and the exploration business and the expand-your-mind business. We feel this is really in that spirit, that we provide a resource to the community that individuals would not be able to have access to on their own.”

A hackerspace is a reflection of its users and its community, for one group that might mean robotics and 3D printers but for another community: industrial sewing machines or automotive and fabrication tools.

I look forward to investigating hackerspaces in the library, and plan to visit Ad Astra Labs on one of their open house nights in the near future. I believe we also plan to explore hackerspaces more this summer on Innovation Day 2012.


Photo Credit: “Gears.” by Flickr user ianmunroe under a Creative Commons license.