Makerspaces in the U.S. and China

By TRobinson

Recently, I visited 3 libraries, on a tour of makerspaces in Northern New Jersey: Parsippany Public Library, West Caldwell Public Library, and Hillsdale Public Library. Parsippany’s makerspace was strictly high-tech (a scanner, Mac laptops, a laminator, a scan and cut machine, and a high-quality printer). Every piece of technology was purchased with funds from a $10,000 grant that was awarded by the New Jersey Library Association. The Head of the Teen Services Department informed me that most of their patrons use the makerspace to create “unique greeting cards.”

West Caldwell Public Library calls their $12,000 worth of audio recording equipment (packed away in boxes) a “makerspace,” as they work toward a community-based oral history project (participation by invitation only). This space was also made possible by a grant, from the Rotary Club of the Caldwells (RCC), a local association.

Then, there was Hillsdale Public Library, with the most effective implementation, the highest engagement, and, as you may imagine, the most inflated funding. Their makerspace includes the following:

  • High Tech:
    o Makerbot Replicator 2 (~$2,000)IMG_6272
    o Button Maker (~$300, Gifted from The Friends of the Library)
    o 27” iMac (~$1,800 plus accessories: Yeti USB microphone by Blue ~$115, JVC headphones ~$50, Logitech USB HD camera ~$100, and loads of expensive software, Gifted from The Friends of the Library)
    o Singer Curvy Sewing Machine (~$200)
    o Brother PE-770 embroidery machine (~$700)
    o Silhouette Cameo Cutter (~$300)
    o 4 Premium LittleBits Kits (~$150/each)
  •  Low/No Tech:
    o Tools: scissors, razor blades, needle nose pliers, wire cutters, rulers, cutting mats, screw drivers, glue guns, paint brushes, Rainbow Looms.
    o “Connectors”: Elmer’s glue, glue sticks, duct tape, masking tape, scotch tape, paper clips, magnets, wire, soldering irons, string, fishing line, yarn, thread.
    o Other: paper, cardboard, origami paper, corks, ping pong balls, golf balls, wood craft sticks, springs, fabrics, metal bottle caps, plastic bottle caps, polymer clay.

Most of these supplies were made available via the efforts of The Friends of the Library organization, who also donated funding to develop elaborate “Makercamps,” as well as library furniture, museum passes, all summer reading programs, and more.

Throughout the afternoon, I watched an elementary-aged child 3D print a superhero emblem ring, and an elderly woman make button magnets out of her watercolor paintings (under a sign that read, “Express Your Quirky Personality”). I was inspired by the creative energy, but I was also trying to imagine how a similar space would be achieved, and made useful, by urban, low-income areas like my own. It would not be possible for my community to pool seemingly endless funds from an organization like The Friends of the Library, and anyway, they have far different needs, and objectives, than those expressed through the creation of do-hickeys on a $2,000 3D printer. It just did not seem realistic.

Looking for guidance on how to adapt Hillsdale’s model to suit my own library, I asked David J. Franz (Director) about their policies regarding the theft of materials. He curtly said, “What do you mean? We’re giving this stuff away!” I was confused, but supposed that he was referring to supplies such as paper or, glue, and so, gave the example of LittleBits, of which they had several kits sprinkled across a table, any of which would be rendered useless with the absence of one, tiny piece. He stopped to think, and said, “Theft just isn’t a problem for us. I guess that you would have to consider your community.” Exactly. Once, my library tried to set-up a “Bookmark Contest” station, and within 8 hours, every pen, pencil, marker and cardstock template disappeared, without a single entry in the box. Now, my point is not that our patrons steal; my point is that I was struggling to imagine this type of makerspace in our community.


While on the bus (full of 30 white, female librarians… but that is a different blog post), riding between each library, I was reading Larry Diamond’s “Liberation Technologies,” and thinking about how publicly accessible technologies present new possibilities for social action. Diamond writes, “Liberation technology enables citizens to report news, expose wrongdoing, express opinions, mobilize protest, monitor elections, scrutinize government, deepen participation, and expand the horizons of freedom” (2010). Some examples of this “liberation technology” resemble offerings within makerspaces, including digital cameras, audio recording equipment, access to YouTube, etc. Also, makerspaces have emerged, and are utilized, in the same authoritarian states discussed by Diamond, including China. Knowing the larger realm of possibilities for makerspaces, and inspired to learn more about how they may be put to use in other areas, I did some reading about their implementation in China.

In 2010, China’s first makerspace, XinCheJian, was established, with 6 more to follow over the next 6 months. Each included 3D printers, laser cutters, and other machinery, but the similarities to Hillsdale Public Library stop there. Co-founder, David Li, says that, within XinCheJian, and even on the streets in the surrounding city, there is

“a real-dealing with e-waste. Not just this elite form where people promote reuse, because they want to feel good about themselves purchasing a new phone every 6 months. Here, people reuse on a daily basis discarded parts and fix broken machines rather than buying new stuff. It’s making out of necessity. It’s open source hardware in practice. This is different from the West where open source hacking only exists in theory. Here, the actual maker in the factory is involved, the workers, the repair guy on the street” (Lindtner, 2015).

In stark contrast to XinCheJian, Hillsdale Public Library’s “recycled” or, “re-used” materials were in such great quantity, that it did not seem likely that many of them were actually amassed via second-hand means (ex. thousands of clean popsicle sticks were considered recycled materials, and the metal bottle caps were all clean, seemingly unused, with a unbranded, silver finish). At XinCheJian, 9-year-old boys (Hillsdale’s largest group of makerspace users) are not connecting LittleBits to power a tongue-wagging teddy bear; these are adult innovators with access to industry, and a manufacturing mindset, born out of Chinese tradition. At XinCheJian, for example, a recent project was the construction of an aquaponic planting system, following a design that could be easily put into production.

This difference goes beyond XinCheJian; some driving forces behind China’s makerspace trend are two open-hardware companies, DFRobot and Seeed Studio. Both of these businesses focus on bringing China’s manufacturing culture into the hands of hobbyist makers and start-up companies. Compare this to Arduino and MakerBot Industries (businesses behind the U.S. maker scene), which focus on “hobbyist production, prototyping, and tinkering” (Lindtner, 2015).Lindtner emphasizes “that DFRobot and Seeed Studio, in taking manufacturing itself seriously as a source of knowledge and expertise, did not only develop a niche business but also performed important cultural work” (2015). With the introduction of these two companies, and the emergence of makerspaces in China, China’s reputation for cheap, low-quality production was suddenly challenged by expert-level innovation.

Clearly, regardless of physical location, the impact of a makerspace requires more than a button-maker, and a colorful entryway. As Diamond writes, “It is not the technology, but people, organizations, and governments that will determine who prevails” (2010). Despite having very similar technological access, makerspaces in the U.S. and China, have different cultural objectives, and thus, different outcomes, which illustrates the fact that the relevance of a makerspace relies on the development of a community, rather than furious grant-writing to acquire iMacs.


Diamond, L. (2010). Liberation technology. Journal of Democracy. 21 (3), 69 – 83. Retrieved from

Lindtner, S. (2015). Hacking with Chinese characteristics: the promises of the maker movement against China’s manufacturing culture. Science, Technology, & Human Values. 40 (5), 854 – 879. DOI: 10.1177/0162243915590861

Video Game Preservation: Challenges

By TRobinson

Ray Bradbury, the sci fi author hailed as a major influence in the gaming community, is often quoted as having said, “Video Bradburygames are a waste of time for men with nothing else to do. Real brains don’t do that.” Of course, Bradbury also cursed cars, computers, the Internet, ATMs, and plenty of other commonplace technologies (Hibberd, 2001). While his point of view represents an ongoing debate concerning video games as time bandits, the effective use of interactive, digital games as revolutionary educational tools stands as one form of proof that they are important artifacts that express our culture, education, and play. It is problematic that appreciation for these artifacts is just beginning, as several generations of games have already been lost, and we still do not even have an elementary system of preservation in place. As Rosenzweig describes, “’preservation through neglect’ [may have been a system that worked in the past, but]…this ‘system’ will not work in the digital era because preservation cannot begin twenty-five years after the fact” (2003). If we wish to preserve this vast history, we have no time left to waste, and so, in exploration of the possibility of video game preservation, I have outlined some basic challenges associated with the effort:

  1. Bit Rot
  2. By far, bit rot is the most pressing issue when it comes to video game preservation. Video game storage mediums deteriorate over time; this is true for all of the familiar computer hardware (like CD, DVD, SDD, HDD, etc.), as well as cartridges. Remember blowing into old cartridges, to clear dust from connectors? Yeah, probably not the best preservation method.

    Beyond hardware, software also decays. As Jason Scott, archivist and historian at The Internet Archive, says, “Software halflife is ridiculous…having a few months between the release of a game and EA going, ‘What game?’ is insane. But that’s where we’re heading now. The average multiplayer, network game is now nearing 18 months of total life before they turn the servers off… so you have a year and a half to understand if it’s even useful, and then it’s gone.” (Hall, 2015). This example expresses our current timeframe; Retrospective preservation is even more challenging. For example, many older PC games now require emulators (such as DOSBox) to operate on modern machines (due to changes in the technological environment, bugs emerged from unused code, etc), and emulation in itself is a bag of worms.

  3. Emulation
  4. Right now, efforts to preserve games, for the most part, are not based in the conservation of hardware like consoles and cartridges, but in software emulation for compatibility with modern hardware. Currently, computers are able to satisfactorily emulate an NES experience, for example, but as games become more technically complicated, necessary advancements in technology, and hardware, will struggle to keep up. At best, emulated games are inauthentic, but relatively intact, and playable. At worst, integral pieces of experience are lost, new bugs and glitches are created, and the game is unplayable. Additionally, sometimes, the format is simply essential. As Cloonan puts it, “A key issue in libraries and archives today is whether we need to preserve just the information in a document or the physical object itself. When is the object part of the information?” (2001). If you play Duck Hunt on a keyboard, are you extracting the same sensory information as someone who has access to the classic, orange gun? I doubt it. Thus, video games are often perfect examples of objects in which “form and substance are indistinguishable” (Cloonan, 2001).

    Furthermore, most of the current emulation efforts are not led by archivists, but by avid fans, which reveals a wealth of legal issues.

  5. Legality
  6. If a game is legally owned by anyone other than those attempting preservation, keeping the game functional poses many problems in regards to copyright law, especially when it comes to emulation. Each, individual game has a slew of copyrightable elements, including design, underlying code, artwork, and sound, just to name a few. For many institutions, this means that preservation is not possible. As Rosenzweig says, “…if libraries don’t own digital content, how can they preserve it?” (2003). Jason Scott responds to this issue in suggesting that “Workplace theft is the future of gaming history” (Hall, 2015). While this may sound like a joke, and certainly is not a realistic option for libraries, it represents a significant realization in the world of preservation; much of what must be to done to create a physical history of the gaming community will entail serious risk assessment.

  7. Metadata Schemas
  8. If we begin to preserve, and collect, video games, we must also begin to accurately describe the collections. As Cloonan says, “If new technologies present preservation riddles, cataloging issues are no less perplexing” (2001). In the case of video games, it is difficult to decide authorship, bibliographic relationships, ownership of intellectual property, and so on. Currently, records of video games come from OCLC (as the Library of Congress does not record video game metadata), and the systems used by OCLC were never really intended for the medium. For example, when trying to make video games fit into existing systems, they are popularly tagged with phrases like “Imaginary Places” and “Imaginary Battles,” which are ultimately meaningless. While new schemas have been explored, they often focus on either the narrative of the game or, its gameplay, and for any system to be useful, it must incorporate both. Also, at the most basic level, we lack a controlled vocabulary for these descriptions, and even though efforts are being made, the rapid changes in video game development make it difficult for cataloguers to catch up.


    Video game preservation is a race against time, and time got a big head start. Preservation efforts need to accelerate now, if any of the history is to be saved. A good starting point may be the rigorous development of an effective controlled vocabulary; No need to conquer legal battles in order to properly describe the objects. However, long term, legality will be a major focus; some possible solutions related to copyright may be reformation (but technology develops much faster than copyright law, so even a reformation could be obsolete before ever being relevant), a lean toward open source options by game developers (unlikely in a culture where code is treated like hidden treasure) or, possibly the most realistic option: game developers could begin taking larger strides toward their own, in-house preservation efforts. Finally, if we are going to continue with emulation as our primary solution, it is important to consider how emulation hardware must stay up-to-pace with the changes in gaming hardware or, a whole lot more energy will have to be put toward the exploration of options far beyond emulation.


    Cloonan, M. V. (2001). W(h)ither preservation?. The Library Quarterly, 71(2), 231-242. Retrieved from

    Hall, C. (2015). The future of games history is workplace theft. Polygon. Retrieved from

    Heick, T. (2012). A brief history of video games in education. te@chthought. Retrieved from

    Hibberd, J. (2001). Ray Bradbury is on fire!. Salon. Retrieved from

    Rosenzweig, R. (2003). Scarcity or abundance? Preserving the past in a digital era. The American Historical Review, 108(3), 735-762. Retrieved from

Wanted: Library Patron Records — Dead or Alive!

By TRobinson

L0014669 Allegory of death: skeleton, c.1600 Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Allegory of death: skeleton holding banderolle "Vigilate quia nescitis diem ...", anon., possibly Dutch or German Engraving circa 1600 Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Allegory of death: skeleton, c.1600
Credit: Wellcome Library, London

Recently, “digital life after death” has been a hot topic, especially in relation to social media accounts (Swallow, 2010). If you do not want to worry about your social media pages becoming memorial walls full of weepy birthday wishes, there are a wide variety of resources out there than can help. Some social media sites have even unveiled internal solutions, like Facebook’s “Legacy Contact,” which allows you to select a trusted individual to create your final post, manage friend requests, alter and archive photos, etc., without logging in as you or, having access to private messages (Linshi, 2015). This phenomenon led me to ponder policies related to the way that libraries handle personal records of patrons, after the inevitable happens. Considering all of the strict policies related to the privacy of the living, I assumed that I would find similar standards in place for the records of deceased information-seekers; however, when I explored this idea, I found that this privacy need has been largely overlooked within many library systems.

Currently, I work for a 4-branch-wide public library, which operates within a consortium of 37 participating libraries; amongst this large community, there is not 1 policy in place for deceased patron records. When I brought this up to our circulation department head, I was told that the problem simply had not come up, but I strongly disagree. In my 3 years as an employee in this system, 2 co-workers and 2 familiar patrons have passed away. All 4 of their borrower records are not only available, but active, and easily viewable by any employee who is working within the catalogue. 1 of the accounts even has a note to library staff, announcing the death of a co-worker. Furthermore, upon the passing of the 2nd deceased employee, our administration was contacted by a family member (via telephone, with no presentation of identification), asking for a copy of the employee’s ID, as he believed it to be a flattering photo of his late sister. Without hesitation, our director provided the photo. To me, these seem like questionable practices.

The Burley Public Library, in Idaho, reported similar occurrences: “’Over the years, we’ve had people request pictures of family members who have died, because the library happened to have the best picture of a family member,’ [Library Director, Julie Woodford] said, referring to pictures seen only by librarians in order to match the person checking an item out with the person who legally holds the library card.” BPL has also had patrons ask for the reading history of deceased family members, “to keep a family’s memories together” (Hunzeker, 2009). Interestingly, their reaction has been to explore the option of disclosing this information to those who ask for it. In 2009, their Board of Trustees was in discussion about a new policy that would freely release reading history to family members. No updates have been widely announced, to my knowledge. Presently, Las Positas College, in California, considers death an extenuating circumstance, which in itself, grants library employees permission to retrieve the full borrowing history of any patron. The policy states that employees may not request such lists for “idle curiosity, personal interest, or general monitoring,” but it also fails to elaborate on acceptable purposes (2015). It appears that, beyond a lack of policies, certain libraries are entertaining practices that would actually loosen privacy protection of deceased patron records.

Most libraries regularly purge records from their library management systems (including Burley Public Library, which mentioned that, while considering approval of the new policy, family members would still have to request reading histories prior to a systematic purge) (Hunzeker, 2009). The New York Public Library, which I frequent, has many transparent policies, when it comes to patron privacy. While there is no mention of how death may affect these policies, their deletion and purge processes are clearly stated. Similarly, at my current college, I was told that the issue of deceased patron records was irrelevant, as they regularly (at undefined intervals) purge their integrated library system records.

Although many libraries frequently dispose of their ILS records (other examples include Carlsbad Public Library and Paul Pratt Memorial Library), this does not represent the whole of information collected regarding patrons’ use of the library. At the public library where I am employed, we track every single time that a patron logs into a computer, we have research query forms, microfilm logs, Interlibrary Loan histories, program participation records, and so on. Of course, our computers also track internet activity, although I do not know to what extent that information is attached to individuals. The privacy of these records is protected at many levels (institutional, state, federal, etc), but in our case, those policies only protect the living. In response to Burley Public Library’s consideration of new privacy policies, Randy Stone, Burley’s City Attorney said, “People took the right of privacy far more seriously 25 years ago than they do now” (Hunzeker, 2009). This, to me, is laughable. As more aspects of our lives are prodded and tracked, for vast data collection, advanced by emerging technologies, privacy seems increasingly more important, and I do not personally understand the logic that releases these rights upon death; if the records live on, so must the policies that protect those who may be affected. I think that it is time that library policymakers take notice of this potentially unrealized need.


Carlsbad Public Library. (2015). Patron privacy & confidentiality policy. Retrieved from

Hunzeker, D. (2009). A private matter?: Burley library to consider releasing readers’ reading history to family members. Magic Valley. Retrieved from

Las Positas College. (2015). Library policy on confidentiality of library records. Retrieved from

Linshi, J. (2015). Here’s what happens to your Facebook account after you die. Time Magazine. Retrieved from

New York Public Library. (2009). Privacy policy. Retrieved from

Paul Pratt Memorial Library. (2006). Retention policy for Paul Pratt Memorial Library records. Retrieved from

PINES. (2013). Circulation policies and procedures manual. Retrieved from

Swallow, E. (2010). 7 resources for handling digital life after death. Mashable. Retrieved from

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