FryskLab: Europe’s first Mobile Library FabLab

Bringing digital fabrication to rural areas


We find ourselves in interesting times; we’re facing huge socio-economic challenges while at the same time we need to look ahead and design a society that meets our future needs. For this we need a renewed understanding of craftsmanship in relation to the design and production principles of the 21st century.

In the province of Fryslân (northern part of The Netherlands) we’re using a mobile lab facility, named FryskLab (a former library-bus) to bring making and 21st centurys skills to primary and secondary education, trying to find solutions for local socio-economic challenges.

FryskLab is Europe’s first mobile Library-powered FabLab. We have a team with a very diverse background. FryskLab is initiated by a public library service organization (Bibliotheekservice Fryslân, the place where I work) in close collaboration with team members with a scientific-, educational- and technological background, with two of them (including me) in the board of the FabLab Benelux Foundation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaJAmv7gxN8


We started the project in November 2012, after noticing that, especially in the US, libraries started to see the potential of working together with FabLabs and makerspaces or creating their own. Me and some colleagues received space and time to see if we could bring this development to the rural province of Fryslân.

FryskLab uses the FabLab environment to bring 21st Century Skills to primary and secondary education. With a dedicated educational program we try to tackle specific local challenges. In Fryslân we’re starting to pilot this program, titeled FryskLab Elements, next month. FryskLab Elements is focusing on digital fabrication in relation to watertechnology, sustainable energy and new craftmanship: themes that are locally important.

At the moment we’re in talks with a large number of educational institutions (from primary schools to university level) to realize three so-called life-long digital fabrication learning courses based on the aforementioned themes. The result should be a high potential of skilled young talents for local companies which will benefit the local economic development that is lacking in qualified staff. This dedicated local focus is in our view necessary to realize a sustainable (library-related) FabLab. Often we see examples of libraries setting up labs which are little more than a display for 3D printers and related machines. That’s perfectly fine, but we think the potential for digital fabrication in relation to libraries is much higher than just that. It’s about, and I quote David Lankes:

the mission of librarians to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities”.

That is especially the reason we decided to connect to the FabLab-community instead of becoming a regular maker space or medialab. Fablab is a worldwide hub of open design spaces and facilities where you can make (almost) anything. Fablabs connect digital craftsmanship with open source machines for digital fabrication. The underlying open design principles make it possible to easily share and reuse designs and blueprints over the Internet. This turns Fablabs into a networked structure for global collaborative design and production, sharing of knowledge and economic growth. In our educational program students learn use how to use these tools for digital fabrication and open design principles to come up with solutions for local issues.

The magic of 3D printing.

FryskLab received it’s official FabLab status a couple of months ago and we got quite some attention, also internationally. In April we will talk about our project in Roskilde (Danmark) at the conference Make of Die!, organised by Centralbibliothek. Via Skype we will be present at Computers in Libraries (Hack the Library!). In May we’re driving to Aarhus (again Danmark) to be part of the Mini Maker Faire and hosting sessions especially for library-colleagues.

Besides FryskLab Elements we’re also collaborating with the Mozillarian community, a group of librarians and technologists who explore the intersection between the Mozilla community and the library world. We got in touch with them through Wim Benes (@Fjoerfoks), a Dutch and Frisian (the language of Fryslân and the second official language in The Netherlands) translator for Mozilla products. He visited FryskLab and mentioned the beautiful Webmaker project. We’re very interested in incorporating Webmaker in our educational offerings. From a library standpoint their Web Literacy Map (a map of competencies and skills that Mozilla and it’s community of stakeholders believe are important to pay attention to when getting better at reading, writing and participating on the web) is extremely interesting and we want to make this available in Dutch, combined with interesting Webmaker projects for children. At the moment we thinking about how to set this up.

To not only take, bit also give something back to the FabLab community we will develop a Linked Open Data framework and Knowledge Base to make FabLabprojects better available for interested users. The starting point for this project is the notion that a FabLab as a physical makerspace is always connected to FabLab as an information space. In this project we co-operate with Dr. Peter Troxler (University of Rotterdam), semantic technologist Roland Cornelissen (MetaMatter) and another small Dutch FabLab, Rotslab.

“FabLab as makerspace is always connected to FabLab as information space”

We are also developing a program, titeld Fab the Library!, to make it easier for libraries to incorporate a FabLab. The pilot for Fab the Library! will start in April this year and we’re also thinking to making it available in non-Dutch countries. For both projects we received funding from two library-oriented institutions: Pica Foundation and The Netherlands Institute for Public Libraries.

Playing piano with bananas, using Makey Makey and Scratch.

Besides funding we’re working hard on a sustainable business model. To participate in our program schools pay for using educational material and working in the mobile FabLab. Furthermore we are collaborating with (local) companies in so-called challenges: students find solutions for their company-defined problems and try to solve them using open design principles. In the long run we expect companies to finance parts of our program. In return they can expect to find talented young people who are interested and qualified to work for them, motivated by taking part in the FryskLab program. Finding the connection with the already present local economic infrastructure and stimulating bottom-up innovation is our key proposition.

Personally it’s the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on and it’s far from over. To be able to do this as a librarian is extremely rewarding and I would like to see it becoming a global movement.


This article is a slightly edited version of a post on the Mozillarian blog.

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