A Tour of Providence’s AS220 Labs

Kenny Brechner - October 15, 2015

While in Providence for the NEIBA show last week, I had the opportunity to visit the Providence Media Lab, As220 Industries. The tour was sponsored by Ingram Publisher Services. The Maker Movement was new to me. I felt that I had wandered into a Cory Doctorow novel, which is not a bad place to be. The Maker Movement’s melding of computer coding, technology, hacking, design, recycling, artisanship, and art is an integrated and open source means of personal expression to be sure. First let’s go on the tour and then discuss what it all means for booksellers.
mmn1Here are my tour mates pictured outside As220 Labs. From right to left, Niki Marion of Odyssey Bookshop, Donna McDermid from Phoenix Books, Yours Truly, Jan Hall of Partner’s Village, Ron Smithson, Director of IPS Field Sales, and Amy Graham from The Vermont Book Shop. Not in the photo is Stacie Williams, IPS Field rep and excellent photographer. All the terrific photos here are courtesy of Stacie.

mmn19The first order of business is to orient yourself.
mmn5The entrance area had the finest finished work we saw. The boxes were particularity striking and aesthetically reminiscent of their hand made cousins, such as those produced by Vincent Fitzgerald for his limited edition artist books.
mmn4After that we were led upstairs to meet our hosts.
mmn6Our hosts confer, Brian Jepson, author and publisher of Make: books on the right, and to the left his old pal AS220 founder Shawn Wallace. Shawn is also the co-author of Getting Started with Raspberry Pi.
mmn8Shawn edifies us as to the dark purpose of this seemingly cheerful table.
mmn10An array of tools watches over two AS220 3-D printers.
mmn2A diving helmet and other art objects produced via 3-D printers by AS220 members.
mmnaModification of the AS220 pink gorilla suit is an ongoing process.
mmn9After touring the second floor we headed back downstairs to see the print shop.
mmn3Anyone can join AS220, take courses, and attend the lectures they put on. I forgot to ask whether Doc Savage was presenting this one on Thought Broadcasting.
wmorrrisAll right then. The Maker Movement certainly offers overt fascination and a beguiling esprit de corps. At the same time its emphasis on integrating raw and recycled materials with technology informed by an ethos which integrates creative self expression with utilitarianism, a la William Morris, unquestionably has huge potential for application in K-12 schools and colleges, both within the curriculum, and as a supplementary after-school or club activity. As a bookseller who works extensively with schools I was highly interested in that potential.
Looking at a sample of current Maker Media publications I felt that the books, such as The Maker’s Manual: A Practical Guide to the New Industrial Revolution, and Make: The Annotated Build-It-Yourself Science Laboratory: Build Over 200 Pieces of Science Equipment, though charming and useful to adult Makers of both the proto and established type, lacked the intellectual cohesion and formal design values that would make a crossover into the K-12 schoolmakermanual environment a smooth one. Concepts such as mind maps are a bit too nebulous to commend themselves to educators dealing with curriculum maps. Of course this same lack of cohesion is at the heart of the Maker Movement’s appeal to its current constituents. Its charm is also its Achilles heel from an outreach into more traditional venues standpoint. As things stand, the application of Maker Media in the education market is dependent on individual teachers and faculty making themselves literate in the Maker Movement and improvising. The current books are useful for someone already conversant with or at least disposed to the movement. Perhaps that is as it should be, and such an expansion is antithetical to the movement. Still, the right book could expand the Maker Media educational market enormously. If it is produced I for one am planning on making the most of it.