August 7th, 2012
bookmobility
What Do Making and Reading Have in Common?
Over at GOOD, there’s a great little piece up about maker spaces in libraries. These ones are bricks and mortar (or metal and glass), unlike the SparkTruck I wrote about yesterday, but it’s all part of the same movement in education and librarianship. The article is a good introduction to some of the exciting new projects being undertaken in places like Westport, Connecticut, and Oak Park, Illinois.
One thing stood out to me, though, and perhaps raised an eyebrow. The author, Zachary Slobig, begins by describing childhood experiences of his local library, “a modest brick building filled with stacks and stacks of books and a few big tables where we would read or do our homework.” He then moves into talking about the new maker spaces, and later write this:

A dynamic participatory experience was not what was waiting for me at the local library I grew up with.

I get what he means, I think, and I agree that maker spaces are something of a shift in library practice—from, as I wrote yesterday, acquisition and preservation to creation and production.
But.
As you know I’m committed to thinking about seemingly new developments in context. (It’s sort of my job.) So what came to my mind immediately on reading that sentence was, “No!”
What is reading (from among “stacks and stacks of books”) but precisely “a dynamic participatory experience”? The human mind shapes and is shaped by the process of reading. Readers engage with texts in unpredictably participatory ways.
In short, making is not the opposite of reading. Both are opportunities for people to engage creatively with materials at hand and produce something new. Whether those materials are polymers fed into a 3-D printer or Charlotte Perkins Gilman stories fed into a mind is, well, almost immaterial.
Indeed, that’s why it makes sense for libraries—which are expert at facilitating citizens’ creative, productive relationship to the world through objects like books—to be taking on an active role in this turn to the making of physical things.

What Do Making and Reading Have in Common?

Over at GOOD, there’s a great little piece up about maker spaces in libraries. These ones are bricks and mortar (or metal and glass), unlike the SparkTruck I wrote about yesterday, but it’s all part of the same movement in education and librarianship. The article is a good introduction to some of the exciting new projects being undertaken in places like Westport, Connecticut, and Oak Park, Illinois.

One thing stood out to me, though, and perhaps raised an eyebrow. The author, Zachary Slobig, begins by describing childhood experiences of his local library, “a modest brick building filled with stacks and stacks of books and a few big tables where we would read or do our homework.” He then moves into talking about the new maker spaces, and later write this:

A dynamic participatory experience was not what was waiting for me at the local library I grew up with.

I get what he means, I think, and I agree that maker spaces are something of a shift in library practice—from, as I wrote yesterday, acquisition and preservation to creation and production.

But.

As you know I’m committed to thinking about seemingly new developments in context. (It’s sort of my job.) So what came to my mind immediately on reading that sentence was, “No!”

What is reading (from among “stacks and stacks of books”) but precisely “a dynamic participatory experience”? The human mind shapes and is shaped by the process of reading. Readers engage with texts in unpredictably participatory ways.

In short, making is not the opposite of reading. Both are opportunities for people to engage creatively with materials at hand and produce something new. Whether those materials are polymers fed into a 3-D printer or Charlotte Perkins Gilman stories fed into a mind is, well, almost immaterial.

Indeed, that’s why it makes sense for libraries—which are expert at facilitating citizens’ creative, productive relationship to the world through objects like books—to be taking on an active role in this turn to the making of physical things.

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This is a site about information in motion.

I'm Derek Attig, a director of communications at a non-profit and scholar of media history and American Studies. I am writing a book about bookmobiles in America.

I was a 2012 Google Policy Fellow. I'm also a contributor to Book Riot.

You can also follow me on Twitter @bookmobility or explore the menu tabs at the top of the site to find syllabi, links, and other information.

Comments? Questions? Ideas? Contact me at derekattig[at]gmail.com or @bookmobility

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