Sunday Reflections: We Have Always Been Makers
On Monday July 6th I will host my first “Maker” program at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. And the truth is it is different and revolutionary from all the other programs that I have ever hosted at a library in exactly no way.
You see, librarians have always been makers and our libraries have always been Maker Spaces.
I am currently working at the first library that I ever worked at. I was hired there as a paraprofessional to work with teens. I built collections, I booktalked books, and I did programming. The things that I do now, 22 years later, as a YA librarian are not a lot different then the things I did then as a YA paraprofessional, I just know more now and do them better.
Sometimes we use different tools, like ebooks and 3D printers, but the goals and objectives are still the same, I’m empowering teens and helping them to learn, to create, and to engage in meaningful self exploration and self expression.
It’s been almost 15 years since I taught my first Pimp Your Blog program. Today we would call that a MakerSpace event if we were going to use the currently popular jargon. And if I were going to host that event today it would indeed be a Maker program. It was a maker program back then, as well, we just didn’t know to call it that. Because, you see, the heart of what we do as librarians hasn’t changed, just the tools and language surrounding it. We have always been makers and we have always equipped our local communities to be makers.
Repairing your own vehicle, setting up a home computer network, learning to code, learning to sew . . . those tools and more have always been at our libraries. And from crafts at storytimes to the most basic of teen and adult programs, we have always engaged our patrons in the most basic of maker programs.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the maker language and label. I think the terms are empowering. There is something fulfilling about the idea that at the end of the day we have made something. And that idea that we get to be a maker, it sounds so achieved and accomplished. Although part of this I fear is that the idea of crafting has been associated with feminine things and coming from the art community there is equally some bias against art, artists, and artistic pursuits. The starving artist is an unfortunate trope that probably makes some want to shun that label as well.
But to be a maker . . .
And yes, I know that in theory making involves more science and technology, more tech tools. But I also know that we would have done these types of programs regardless of the new terminology because we are a living and responsive profession and we see the need so we meet it. That’s the way of librarianship. That’s why I was teaching teens to blog and do basic html almost 15 years ago.
And whatever label we choose to put on our resources and programs, there’s no denying that the growing need to incorporate technology into our library spaces is challenging largely because it all comes with a much higher price tag in a time when budgets seem to be declining. Libraries aren’t dying as many people seem to think, in many ways the need for libraries have never been greater, but many of us our struggling to meet the growing technology needs of our local communities in the face of dwindling incomes and staff and hours.
I recently visited the Maker Space at the Cincinnati public library and it was glorious. I’m not going to lie, I turned green with envy. But I also had that a-ha! moment when I thought of course libraries should have Maker Spaces. Just as libraries should have Internet computers labs and e-book collections. It’s not a new goal or mission, it’s just providing new tools to help fulfill our longstanding goals and mission to our local community.
We have always been makers. Libraries have always been maker spaces. The tools change, but the core of who we are and what we do is the same. We are educators, enablers, equippers. We are a space to try new things, learn new things, and do new things. We are open doors and new opportunities. We are makers. We always have been. We always will be. Even when the terminology changes.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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