By Bruce King
“Now, where the hell did I put that paper?”
You’re stuck. You need to prove to the building official that your straw bale walls can carry wind loads, or that a four-inch piece of guadua can span 12 feet, or that an earthen floor or lime plaster is durable under abrasive conditions. Or maybe there is no building official, but you want to be sure your off-grid home in northern Alberta will stay warm, so you need to know the R-value of straw-clay. You’re pretty sure there was a test done somewhere, but you just can’t find it.
We all know the frustration of losing a crucial saw or trowel or other tool on the jobsite, particularly maddening when they are rare or hard to find. The same holds true in design, where knowledge is the toolbox. So we created the BuildWell Library – a place where anyone can go looking for the information they need, and anyone can add the cool or useful resources they may have. It is crowdsourced: you can borrow anything you like and never return it, and add anything you have without giving it up, all for free. There is a rapidly growing mountain of both field experience and quality testing of natural materials, but no easy way to find & locate it (yes, even with skillful googling). We thought it would be useful to have a single place, like a community bulletin board, where we can aggregate and grow our collective knowledge of healthy, low-carbon building.
I guess this is kind of personal for me. Ever since designing my first straw bale structure 20 years ago (the Real Goods Solar Living Center), I have been learning more and more about natural, historic, and innovative alternative materials from all over the world. Partly because I’m a geek and it’s all interesting to me, and partly because it leads me to meeting the most wonderful people (that would be y’all). As such, people sometimes write me and ask if I have some particular resource – I am a sort of de facto library. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but I often find myself thinking, “Now, where the hell did I put that?” So why not put it in the cloud and make it public? And, while I’m at it, why not include everybody, because each and every one of you has some unique collection of experiences, websites, and PDF documents that you’ve gathered through the years – and that someone else, now or in the future, might find extremely valuable.
So go already: www.buildwelllibrary.org Take 10 minutes, browse around, maybe even sign in and upload some of your best stuff, we’d love to see it.
Who owns and runs the BuildWell Library?
The Library is a project of the non-profit Ecological Building Network (EBNet). We (Sarah and Bruce King) built it and are administering it for now, but expect that we’ll soon need help.
Who pays for it?
To date the Library was built on a lot of free time from S&B King and about $12,000 in support, which went to professional coders to refine the front and back ends of the site. We are right now raising more money to enhance the capacity, make it ever easier to use, and eventually begin translation into other languages. If we can build enough traffic, we can begin to sell targeted Google ads so as to make the site self-supporting. But it will remain within EBNet – no one stands to profit from the Library’s success.
Is there any vetting or peer review?
Yes – by the users. The Library is set up so that you as a user can rate any document or resource for its accuracy or usefulness, either with a simple five star mark or with text comments. But there is no peer review as in academia, except those papers that received it already such as PhD theses and journal publications. Junk and spam are, sigh, already appearing, and EBNet will be clearing those out as fast as we can.
What about copyright protection?
Be very clear that nothing should be loaded into the Library if there is any question about the author’s intent. The great majority of reports that I’ve ever come across are in the public domain, and the author is happy to get more exposure. Where there is a great resource but it is not public or free (such as in a professional journal), we ask you to put it in the library as a link to the appropriate web source so users can know it exists, and the author/publisher can have control over distribution.
How is the Library organized?
I could explain, but it’s really better to just go see. Did I mention the address? www.buildwelllibrary.org. We expect to expand the categories, such as parsing out “Lime” to include lime plaster, hydraulic lime, quicklime, manufactured lime, site-made lime, etc. But for now I hope we have adequate room for anything y’all might care to add.
What kind of things can I add?
There are two basic types: “Local” is a PDF document you upload, and “Remote” is a link to a URL or website. Large video files are best placed on YouTube, and then place the link in the Library.
So that’s the whole deal – a big sharing library for natural builders?
That’s the start, but by no means the whole enchilada. We already include what I call “urban natural” – making use of the manmade stuff that surrounds city dwellers (which is most people). Also, eventually, we can imagine apps and games built off of the Library. Imagine, for example, setting up a competition for 10-year old school kids to design the lowest carbon house using only found materials within a one-kilometer radius.
Is this cool, or what?
Well, golly, I guess we’d like to think so. The more people who sign on and use it, and add new cool stuff, and review the items they find, the more cool and useful the Library will be for everyone. Our goal is to have 10,000 users and 20,000 files in the Library by a year from now. Much, much more would be fine by us.
Give it a try, amigos. Let us know what you think, or how it might be better. Sign in, add on, have fun.