FryskLab – Bibliotheekservice Fryslân, Jeroen de Boer: “It’s about sharing knowledge and information in order to make people more ready for their future”
The merger of a FabLab and a library is not a new concept in other parts of the world as both have very similar core values: access to information, sharing, openness, freedom, and collaboration.
FryskLab is located in Friesland, a province in the Netherlands that has a higher poverty rate than the rest of the country, and where a worrisome number of young people drop out of school at a young age.
The FabLab has, therefore, a strong social role as it aims to help young people get acquainted with digital fabrication and acquire knowledge for their professional future.
We spoke with Jeroen de Boer, Project Leader at FryskLab, about the projects the Lab is involved in, its sustainability, and the MakerTour2015, which took their bus to several FabLabs along the route to Italy in order to share valid information and discuss possible adaptive-reading solutions.
MakerTour2015 is ended now, but you can find a comprehensive summary of the goals achieved here.
FryskLab is a FabLab, a mobile FabLab, but it was born of a library. Could you tell us something more about its concept?
“We started to work on this idea because we saw that libraries and FabLabs were working with each other especially in the United States, and we did some research on why they did that.
It basically has to do with making information available for people because, when you work with digital fabrication and technology, it’s not only about making something, but also about sharing your ideas and products, which is essentially what libraries are about.
We are in Friesland, a province in the Netherlands, which has some challenges, and one of the main challenges is that young people have problems finding jobs after leaving school. At the same time, local companies have also problems because they cannot find specialized personnel.
So we combined this elements with setting up a FabLab and with developing an educational program to make young people in Friesland become acquainted with digital fabrication so as to, hopefully, get them ready for professional jobs.”
When we think of a library, immediately our mind goes to book-covered walls, smell of paper and silence. What are the contact points between libraries and digital fabrication?
“Well, the most important common ground is to make information and knowledge available. Traditionally, we did that by making books or online texts available.
When you work in a FabLab, you document what you do and make it also available. This open source philosophy is really important for libraries as well.
Basically, it’s about sharing knowledge and information in order to make people more ready for their future and give them the tools to design it. So, there’s a really strong collaboration between libraries and FabLabs.”
Friesland is a Dutch region where poverty and school dropout rates are pretty high, and the mission of FryskLab is strongly related to its context. Could you explain the kind of activities you promote and how they have an influence on society?
“We looked at the specific issues this province has. On the one hand, you have young people without a diploma and without a job; on the other hand, there are some key issues which are very important for Friesland: water technology, sustainability, and craftsmanship.
We thought about how we could connect these 3 issues with digital fabrication, so we set up an educational program with lessons and workshops to help young people work in these fields.
For instance, we have a workshop about water and digital fabrication, in which young people have to build their own water cannon. It is, essentially, a lesson about water, and about how to connect sustainability, and water, with digital fabrication.
At the moment, we are trying to see how we can make this educational program available in all the steps of the educational chain, from elementary to the academic level. We are in talks with all the educational institutions in Friesland to make this become a reality.
It is complex, but we can see that we have triggered in them the notion that this is really important, and that it could be a great way to make this province more innovative and to help local people to be relevant for it.”
I think that, with these kind of activities, you also have access to public funds. Beyond that, do you get some earnings to sustain FryskLab?
“We don’t go to schools for free, they have to pay us for our activity. They don’t have a problem with that, but they do have a problem, sometimes, with the amount of money we ask to let the bus drive, or to hire our teacher to run the workshop.
So, we are in talks with our province to get funding in order to lower the price because, if a school isn’t able to afford us, this project doesn’t work. Basically, every child and teenager in Friesland should be able to use this Lab via the school system.
At the moment, we are funded for developing education and our program for other libraries to set up a FabLab. So, that’s the way we sustain ourselves, and we hope to get some primal funding just to make it possible to lower our rates for schools.”
Do you follow a precise business plan, or just a reasonable path?
“We just see what happens. We have the plan to visit schools between 130 and 160 times per year, which generates a sort of income that should allow this bus to drive anytime we want. But, of course, that’s theory, we don’t do it right now.
At the moment, when we drive to a school, a library, or a festival, we just make a dedicated arrangement with the people who want us, and we just see how we can work things out.
This being a mobile Lab, we cannot have a model in which we say, ‘We are always there at a certain time for people to come in to use the machines and pay for it’, which is often a model a FabLab uses.
For us, doing projects and getting funding is really the key to become more important for the region and, therefore, to find other sources of funding.”
You are about to leave for the MakerTour to Florence passing through several locations. What realities are you going to visit and what does the tour aim at?
We are in a joint session together with two library-FabLabs from Cologne and Pistoia, and the congress committee asked us, ‘You’re about practical things, how do you feel about setting up a practical workshop?’
Then, I suggested to bring the bus, which was a joke, but we are actually doing it!
One of the reasons why we are doing it is that we got funding from a Dutch foundation that deals with adaptive reading in order to make information available for visually-handicapped people.
They heard of our trip, and they said ‘You need money to do it, we can use the publicity. Can you focus on the challenges we have, during your trip? Can you think about solutions for people with reading disabilities?’.
What we are doing is driving to Florence, visiting 8 countries and about 10-12 labs, some of which already do research on braille reading, for instance. Of course, we don’t know what the results will be, but this conference was the trigger to drive, and our source of funding was the reason to focus on this specific issue.”