Folkeverkstedet: Making a workshop for the people of Oslo, Norway
The overall aim of Oslo Public Library MakerSpace is to bring new forms of knowledge production into the library, through creating space that is available for anyone who wants to come to the library to learn, create, tinker, fix, and share.
Background of the MakerSpace
On January 31st 2015, Oslo Public Library opened a small workshop, or makerspace, in the main library. Called Folkeverkstedet (“The People’s Workshop”), the makerspace is intended as a space where people can work together and share their knowledge of new technology and other creative endeavors. The space is open to all. It is funded in part by the National Library of Norway. The project aims to facilitate new forms of knowledge production. Furthermore, an overall goal is to contribute to democratization of technology in a digital society. We want to empower the citizens of Oslo and give people an opportunity to know and control the technology that is increasingly part of their daily lives and society as a whole. The project is two-fold. On one hand, we have built a physical space where tools are provided. On the other, we have created a social space where people can come together to share and create. The latter is by far the most challenging aspect.
In an increasingly digitalized society, it is necessary for the library to guide people toward knowledge in new ways – not only via books and literature. Folkeverkstedet represents an attempt at expanding the notion of what a library can and should be, but is still firmly rooted in what has always been the Public Library’s main function: to provide access to knowledge and information to the general public. However, our goal of bringing people together in various forms of face-to-face dialogue and action-based knowledge is no less traditional than is knowledge-sharing via the written word or the act of lending books in a library. It builds on traditional craftsmanship and knowledge dissemination from generation to generation, or peer to peer. Opening up our own perspective on these matters also transforms our view of the core functions of the library in a broader sense.
Spaces: Creating a place for sharing
Mapping the field during the project’s planning phase showed us that the maker scene is alive and well in Oslo with a growing number of hubs and spaces for innovation, co-working and cooperative endeavors. However, these tend to be somewhat less accessible than the public library. Several require that users are members, some are commercial, some are clearly aimed at users who already possess quite a bit of knowledge, and some are open only to specific groups, such as students.
What, then, could be the role of our library workshop in the greater ecosystem of Oslo makerspaces, fablabs and hackerspaces? We wanted to establish a space that would be available for anyone who wants to come to the library to learn, create, tinker, fix, and share. We wanted to make a space that could function as a portal to technology and creativity in general and the maker scene in Oslo in particular.
The space is approximately 40 square meters, and its interior has its point of departure in our current building, from 1933. While mapping the field during the project’s planning phase, we got in touch with a makerspace whose employees helped us produce furniture. Hopefully, this has served to give the space a distinct identity that inspires its users to create, learn, and share. It also works on a symbolical level. The integration of digitally designed and CNC-milled furniture directly fitted into the decades-old bookshelves mirrors the integration of the technologically advanced workshop into the library space as a whole. The furniture is flexible, and consists of modules that can be arranged in various setups. This allows us to use the same basic interior for different uses and events. It also makes it easier to respond to user needs on a basic level. The initial setup consists of three working tables that each fit eight people, twenty-four people in total, to signal that this is a space for creative activity as opposed to a silent reading room. We have noted that the tables are big enough to accommodate strangers working side by side at the same table, which hopefully makes it easier to approach each other for help and socializing around common interests.
Photo: Frank Michalsen, Oslo public library
Tools: Engaging young users
The workshop is located in a partly open space on the second floor, which houses a mix of cultural expressions such as music, board and computer games, youth literature, fantasy and science fiction, comics, and film. This larger context will hopefully be attractive to children, youth, and young adults in their twenties and thirties, which are the main target group for the Oslo Public Library as a whole. We are also fascinated by the idea that strangers from differing backgrounds can meet and help each other with their common interests. Therefore, our target groups are, above all, defined by their interests in for example programming, crafts, music technology, or fixing old electronics, and by their level of knowledge, not just by age. Hence, the workshop's basic tool selection can be divided into four areas:
Play and exploration
The workshop aims to encourage learning through the users' own creative activities. We seek to facilitate this by providing tools for simple play with form and function, such as LittleBits, MaKey MaKey, and Strawbees. This part of the tool selection is intended to lower the threshold for beginning to use the workshop.
Programming and interaction
Arduino and Raspberry Pi are developed with educational purposes and leisure activities in mind, and were included in our tool selection for precisely those reasons. This type of equipment functions well as learning tools for beginners, and can furthermore be used in more advanced projects. This area also includes an Oculus Rift DK2.
The workshop aims to give people access to knowledge and technology to which they would otherwise not have access. In the long term, we want to offer our users a broad selection of production techniques. Like many others, we have chosen 3D printers as a beginning. We have also located the library's plotter for advanced 2D printing in the workshop, which was previously only available to the library's staff.
The library's music department has for some time had tools for converting VHS tapes and LPs into digital formats. This service is now part of the workshop's tool selection.
Finally, we should add that our understanding of tools is closely linked to the overall aim of facilitating processes of sharing, participation and working together. In this regard, the space, events, machines, furniture, books, wireless network, projectors, and canvas are all equal tools.
Folkeverkstedet was not fully equipped tool-wise upon opening, nor will it ever be. Just as the library in general is constantly maintaining and developing its collections to meet the needs of the public, we aim to keep the workshop alive by treating our tools the same way. When introduced to interesting event ideas through partners or user initiatives, we acquire the tools necessary for such events. The opposite is also true: we introduce tools along with an event, in order to help users who are getting started.
Activities: Events as catalysts
After nearly six months of operation, the workshop draws many types of users at differing times of the day and with differing approaches to the services. While adults may drop in to have a specific need met, such as 3D-printing of parts for a broken flea market find or printing out parts for building their own 3D printers, children tend to use the workshop in other ways. Children from age 10 to 13 dominate the space after school hours (1-4pm). They flock around the 3D printers, recognizing them as a fascinating technological tool they can get to know through tinkering and experimenting. After having shown off the new and exciting technology to yet another friend, or having printed out even bigger plastic models, in every available color and at every speed and level of detail, the interest may be exhausted, and they might move on to something completely different.
We want to offer these children new challenges that can keep them in the flow of expanding their knowledge. Successfully encouraging young people to take the step from low-commitment 3D-printing after school, to joining a three-week robot building workshop, or a programming club under the Norwegian initiative Kodeklubben, is quite a challenge, and we have yet to fully crack the code. We do, however, believe in developing partnerships, being open to feedback and user initiatives, and the importance of a knowledgeable, approachable and flexible staff that knows how to talk to young people.
We are currently exploring one possible strategy to draw new users in, and more importantly, to take them to the next level after they have tested the 3D printers. This strategy is centered on events as catalysts for other processes, such as building community by bringing people with the same interests together, sharing knowledge and learning how to use the workshop, and creating, expanding, and adjusting services and tools.
The events can be divided into three categories:
Focusing on introducing users to the equipment in the workshop. Examples are various types of 3D-printing workshops, 3D-modeling and animation introductions, circuit bending workshops, and Arduino workshops. These are popular, and participants include children, youth, adults, and families. To realize these events, we have reached out to other actors in the maker movement of Oslo.
School class visits
This part of our event portfolio might benefit from being more streamlined, and we are considering developing these events further. For instance, it might be interesting to see if mathematics and technology classes are interested in borrowing our space, and whether or not they can benefit from the tools we have amassed.
Partner-organized and user-initiated events
For now, these are rather few in number, but those that have been held have been successful. In the future, we hope to facilitate this form of co-creating within the library to an even greater extent. Some of these events are led by highly skilled, self-taught youth.This is an event model we would like to explore further. Based on our experiences so far, we believe the manifestation of role models in this event model to be very inspiring to the young people participating. This model is strongly inspired by some of our partners’ work with youth-led courses. We aim at developing the partnership-driven events to an even greater extent in next six months.
The events are held in the open workshop space, alongside users who use the tools and machines on a drop-in basis. They can also be expanded into the adjoining area. While some events have a limited number of spots and require preregistration, everyone is welcome to peek in, as they are situated in the open library space. In this sense, it can be said that holding events in an open library space also opens up the fields of making and technology to people other than those who would be inclined to make a goal-oriented effort to visit a makerspace. Finally, events generate stories that can be shared across digital platforms and social media, see example video and another video. Our hope is that these stories will serve as examples that instruct and inspire new and potential users in how to use the workshop.
Photo: Frank Michaelsen, Oslo Public Library
As the project is still ongoing until the beginning of 2016, we have not yet reached any final conclusions. We do see that the workshop is appealing to children and youth who want to experiment with the 3D printers. Engaging these users once their initial interest is exhausted, is key to building a place that young users want to come back to. We try to do this through working with partners in hosting events, and facilitating user initiatives. Exploring the potential of this strategy will be central to developing the workshop in the future.
Opening up the field of making and new technology to the people of Oslo has generated a lot of enthusiasm from both users and library staff, and we hope this work will continue to transform our notions of what the library is, and can be.
Kaia Nielsen Kjøs
Consultant, Oslo Public Library, Norway
Jan Magnus Klafstad
Consultant, Oslo Public Library, Norway