A few years ago I started working with Annemarie Naylor on a project called Community Knowledge Transfer, a pilot programme working with Locality members exploring how community groups could use digital technologies to harness latent local knowledge and know-how for social and economic benefit. Many of our programme participants explored the basics of packaging up specialist knowledge and local heritage using networks, web based software and mobile apps. Ultimately, the aim was to generate new income at a time when other forms of revenue were becoming increasingly stretched.
From building the UK’s biggest open mesh network along the Jurassic Coast to digitising the UK’s largest sheet music library, there was no lack of ambition. However, something really struck me during this project.
The digital age and the YouTube generation has meant that we, as consumers, place little or no value on the knowledge of our peers. For example, it is taken as a given – news should be free and if you want a recipe, it’s as simple as googling ‘Jamie tikka masala’ and, hey presto, the information is at your fingertips! No cost, glossy lifestyle photographs included and hassle free.
An combination of watching community groups and publishers grapple with these problems, observing the challenges facing our libraries and launching a Maker Space in the Waiting Room in Colchester led to the birth of an idea.
If libraries are to compete in a ‘read/write world’ they will need to becomes places of knowledge production and well as consumption. It’s not enough to offer books and information; contemporary users want to comment, tag, share and consume content in a viral and, most importantly, ‘social’ fashion. Not only that – but, they want to have a go at publishing themselves too.
The lack of (perceived) value where digital information is concerned, the growing currency of sharing information on social networks and increasing desire for citizens to venture into self-publishing, led me to develop the concept of “Maker Boxes” for what are now termed ‘Common Libraries’.
I began exploring…what could a contemporary self-publishing platform for local or common knowledge actually look like, and could it help underpin the future viability of a local library service?
Using a template we created at the Waiting Room, we invited 5 local makers (Jack, Alex, Clare, Phil and Emma) to devise a prototype Maker Box. These now contain a profile, contact details (should you need some specialist one-to-one support) and some simple instructions to help you learn something new and take a peek into their craft or passion. A premium version includes some of the materials required to complete the step-by-step process.
If you’ve joined the National Science Experiment for Libraries you’ll have received some sample Maker Boxes in the post. For the moment, these little snippets of self-published knowledge come in physical rather than digital form. These are our minimum viable product (or, paper-based prototype, if you like) and the Common Libraries initiative would like your help to see how customers interact and engage with the content as well as to the idea of creating their own.
Already, by assembling and posting out the sample boxes we’ve learned an huge amount. From registering ISBN’s, licensing content, observing health & safety regulations, the ins and outs of library management systems and securing an element of quality control, to the world of micro manufacturing, assembly and distribution – we always knew it was going to be a steep learning curve!
However, every time we learn something new and overcome another barrier, our product gets that little bit better.
Please take our Maker Boxes, put them in front of your staff as well as library users, and push, prod, rip them apart. Tell us what you think, what you like or how you want them improved. We look forward to hearing from you.
Image Michael Peter Edson, Smithsonian Institute