The Fab Library comes to the UK


“We want to create a generation of creators, not consumers” Fab Lab Devon‘s mission statement.


Yesterday I had the opportunity to visit the sparklingly refurbished Exeter Library‘s new Fab Lab. It is the first co-located public library/Fab Lab in the UK and it is awesome!

Funnily enough, for such a momentous combination of two learning and community movements, it felt pretty simple. Exeter  Library had a spare room on the ground floor that the library service were planning to use as a second meeting room and the Council were planning a Fab Lab that they thought they might locate on an out-of-town science park. The two came together and something beautiful, totally right and completely obvious-once-you-see-it was born.

The Fab Lab is a space you could mistake for a computer and printer room if you didn’t know what it was. The door is open to the rest of the library and people can flow in and out seamlessly, allowing for that serendipitous discovery of new things that libraries have always been so good at.

photo 3

(Image: Mike the Fab Lab manager in the Fab Lab)

It helps that the whole library feels fresh and airy and the kind of place you want to visit, now that it has been refurbished. In fact the whole place is buzzing with possibility.

This is what a library is and what a library can be. We are already getting there and that is so exciting.


(Image: newly refurbished Exeter Library)

There are limitations of course – you couldn’t do messy work or very noisy woodwork in here, but there is an impressive array of machinery – several 3D printers, a laser engraver, sewing machine, CNC Router etc etc etc… all controlled by computer. The software used to create the 2D and 3D files is currently all opensource (GIMP, Inkscape, Sketchup) – although Mike, the FabLab manager, has found some of it can be a bit glitchy and they might have to invest in some proprietary software (perhaps an opportunity here to work in partnership with Open Software makers to identify and fix problems?).

Another thing I love about the Fab Lab is the way it is managed and staffed. Exeter University is on the board and Exeter College (local HE institution) may well take on a key role in running the lab – which I believe are crucial partnerships for the success of any library based FabLab in building its economic development potential and providing seamless integration between serendipitous learning into more formal settings where that is appropriate.

There is one paid member of staff who has specialist product design skills and who manages a volunteer workforce paid in currency redeemable against Fab Lab machine use – essentially a time banking scheme. And you know how I feel about time banking in libraries.

One of the volunteers has experience in writing instructions and has developed a set of simple projects that people can complete in free 1 hr taster sessions being run every Saturday to introduce people to what the Fab Lab can offer. When you become a member of the Fab Lab (subscription £120 per year) you agree to write up your projects with instructions for other users, which will be stored in a Fab Lab wiki online, building a bank of local knowledge and expertise in product design and development.

Timebanking – tick.

Promoting opensource tech – tick.

Community knowledge sharing – tick.

Partnerships with HE/FE – tick.

What’s not to love?

On the day I was there Corrinne Hill from Chattanooga Public Library was talking to library staff from all over Devon about library innovation in the morning, and was also featuring in an evening of networking and debate for local creatives and businesses, together with Clare Harris, the British LIbrary’s Business Engagement Manager in the evening. Both events were packed.

It was one of the most inspiring mornings I have spent in a public library recently. It made me feel that being involved in public libraries was one of the best decisions I ever made, and it was pretty damn sexy.


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