The MIT Libraries and MIT MakerWorkshop, a student-run makerspace and community, are partnering on a pilot project to provide access to tools and other equipment often used in makerspaces. A range of kits containing equipment such as hand tools, cameras, electronics, and sensors, are now available to check out from the libraries, allowing MIT students, faculty, and staff to work on projects at their own convenience.
Michael Buchman, MakerWorkshop vice president and a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, spearheaded the project, called Equipment to Go. He saw an opportunity to improve the way smaller, portable tools are borrowed and shared across the community. “At MakerWorkshop, we talked about options for lending this equipment, but realized we didn’t have the inventory control, cataloging, or accountability necessary to make this work,” he says.
Connecting with the MIT Libraries was the logical next step. Buchman sent a proposal to library staff, who agreed the libraries would make a natural partner. Equipment to Go launched in February at Rotch Library.
“We’re in the business of connecting the MIT community with the resources they need to learn, whether it’s a book, a journal, a database,” says Felicity Walsh, MIT Libraries head of information delivery and library access. “At a place like this, where hands-on learning is built into an MIT education, it makes sense that those resources would include tools for making.”
Equipment to Go kits offer tools that can be expensive for students and others to purchase for themselves, such as a soldering stations, oscilloscopes, temperature sensors, and DSLR cameras. To ensure that equipment is used safely, kits include clear instructions on proper use along with the appropriate protective equipment such as safety glasses, gloves, and earplugs. All tools available pose minimal risk of injury, however some equipment should not be used without prior training or experience. These are noted in the kit descriptions available online and at the Rotch service desk, and users may take them to the MIT MakerWorkshop (Room 35-122) to receive training.
The kits are also convenient for large projects that cannot be easily moved. “Sometimes it’s simpler to bring the tools to the project rather than bringing the project to the tools,” says Buchman. “Let’s say you’re building some crazy East Campus contraption like a roller coaster, and you want to use an accelerometer to make sure it’s safe. You’re not going to take the roller coaster with you.”
The collaboration with the libraries is part of MakerWorkshop’s long-term goal to increase accessibility to maker equipment. While the MakerWorkshop space is limited to affiliates of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Martin Trust Center, Equipment to Go is a way to reach out to the entire community. The program complements the efforts of Project Manus, the Institute-wide initiative to connect MIT students with maker resources on campus. Buchman credits Professor Martin Culpepper, leader of Project Manus and adviser to MakerWorkshop, with helping to get the project off the ground. The MIT Graduate Student Council provided funding for the pilot.
The program will be evaluated after the spring 2017 term. Buchman hopes to spread the word across the MIT community and eventually to scale up the program with more kits and an expanded range of equipment. “We hope we’re providing a service that’s truly needed,” he says. “This is meant for everyone.”
MIT community members can view a list of available kits and their contents at the Rotch Library (7-238) service desk or by searching Barton for “Equipment to Go.”