Case study

Fab Lab Devon

Widening awareness of digital making techniques and changing digital consumers into digital makers.

Fab Lab Devon
Fab Lab Devon. Photo credit Julia Chandler / Libraries Taskforce

Opened in May 2014, Fab Lab Devon is the only digital fabrication laboratory in a UK public library. Fab Lab Devon is within Exeter library and delivers outreach activities across Devon.

Contribution to corporate priorities

Fab Lab Devon delivers digital making courses for the general public, schools and businesses, in the Fab Lab in Exeter library, in other Devon libraries and in secondary and primary schools around the county.

The aim of the Fab Lab is to widen awareness of digital making techniques, processes and opportunities for everybody. In order to have a positive impact and achieve lasting benefit, the quality of the workshops and activities run must inspire and enthuse. Through hands on learning, using open source tools and by providing open access to the Fab Lab, there is an opportunity to change digital consumers into digital makers. As such, the Fab Lab supports the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL’s) new Universal Learning Offer.

There is a high proportion of micro businesses in Devon (78,000 business of which 65,000 employ fewer than 10 people) which means there is limited capacity for research and development type activity. The Fab Lab offers opportunity for business to access resource and support to enable them to develop new products and services in a cost effective manner, which may lead to reduced lead or manufacturing times and increase their national and global edge.

Description of the work

Delivery of courses and awareness of the Fab Lab is both in-house and through partnerships and commissioned projects. A Fab Lab/Enterprise Manager was appointed in autumn 2015 to support the development of the Fab Lab and to integrate the facility with the Business & IP service, which is being developed by Devon Libraries as part of the British Library’s Business and IP Centre network. Funding for the post has come from the council’s economy team and from the British Library/Arts Council’s Enterprising Libraries programme.

Fab Lab Devon has 50 plus volunteers on a rota making the Fab Lab open to the public five days a week, for on average 28 hours a week. In addition, the Fab Lab manager and some of the volunteers run a varied programme of:

  • taster courses
  • drop in activities
  • specific subject courses
  • group sessions on request

An example of the breadth of the program of activity for the last 3 months is attached at the end of this case study.

Funding for the Fab Lab initially came from the council’s economy team as well as Nesta and the Real Ideas Organisation (RIO). This funding came in recognition of the potential of the Fab Lab to support local enterprise and the digital exploration of children and young people. Exeter library was identified by the council’s economy team as an ideal location for the Fab Lab because:

  • the building had undergone a £4.1 million redevelopment
  • of the high level and diversity of footfall to the building (over 600,000 visits per year)

RIO has invested in the Fab Lab as it is committed to develop the innovation, creativity and social entrepreneurship of children and young people. As the Arts Council’s bridge organisation for the South West, RIO has had a close working relationship with Devon libraries for some time and supported the library service during 2014 on its public consultation with children and young people.

Outcomes achieved

4,500 people used the Fab Lab in 2015 with a target audience of 7,600 for 2016 (60% increase).

Extracts from Activity Feedback Forms

“My class (and the adults!) loved the experience of new and exciting technology and especially loved being able to take things back to school that hadn’t existed beforehand. It was a real inspirational experience, especially for those that have little access to technology.”

“It was all very good - many thanks to Simon and the volunteers who were there to answer mine and the children’s questions!”

“What was the best part of today’s session? All of it - it all went really quickly!”

Feedback via Twitter

Nov 26: Thank you @FabLabDevon I had a very nice time today. Lots of fun hacking with some very lovely people

Nov 22: The prototype 3D printed @FabLabDevon was demonstrated in 3rd place team Point 2 Me’s pitch @ExeterStartup weekend

Accomplishments / lessons learnt

A close working relationship with the council’s economy team has been crucial to the success of the Fab Lab. The service now needs to establish itself on a more commercial / cost recovery model with the appropriate systems and policies in place.

There is a significant appetite for the types of services and facilities a Fab Lab offers from rural libraries.

The Fab Lab has shown that an active and engaged volunteer base enables us to run a consistent public service. Volunteers come with a huge range of skills, including engineering and design, skills that the library service would not otherwise have had.

Council policy prevented the Fab Lab from taking payment for service or consumables in particular. This has delayed launching membership.

Future plans

Devon library service is going to:

  • launch a membership offer in 2016
  • continue to widen marketing and awareness of the service
  • continue to align with broader digital making services across the library service – eg Code Clubs, Lego Clubs, etc and continue to build strategic partnerships, eg Exeter University’s Innovation Centre
  • appoint a full time Fab Lab technician to enable us to extend opening hours and delivery of activities
  • have ‘maker’ spotlight and showcase events
  • develop to enable members to self serve reducing administration time (i.e machine bookings)
  • support the setup of sustainable mini Fab Labs in rural libraries across the county sharing the knowledge from what has been learnt at Fab Lab HQ

Additional resources

Competition Winner Nika Brings Her Design To Life

Lightbulb moments: a film about learning in public libraries

Jenna’s VIP day

Contact for further information:

Published 16 December 2015