5 Truths about Making and Makerspaces in Our Libraries
I am in the midst of a profound “Maker awakening”. Yes, that’s what I think I will dub it. I have spent the last couple of months immersed in the research and development of incorporating the maker movement into the library I am currently working at. I have been reading, reading some more, and refining what I think it means to incorporate the concept of makers and maker spaces into our libraries.
At it’s most basic level, Make Zine defined making as “the act of creating something.”
You can find some more definitions in articles like What is the Maker Movement and Why Should You Care:
Which brings up a good point: what exactly does “DIY” mean these days? Traditionally, it’s been related to “how-to” content, including things like “how to change a tire,” but over the past couple of years, it’s been coined much more broadly to describe any activity that uses an element of creative skills to make or design something on your own. Using this definition, DIY can stand for everything from baking a cake, to decorating a bedroom, to creating handmade products like jewelry. Some also use DIY in a more technical context as it relates to making gadgets like robots, printers and other programmable devices hacked together using free software and tools found across the web. Finally, I know people who would even claim that they “made” products such as their custom Nike iD sneakers, even if that meant they personalized the colors and design online and had the production take place elsewhere.
With this basic information in mind, let me share with you some of what I have learned about Making and Maker Spaces in our libraries.
1. There is No One Right Way to Incorporate Making into Your Library
Not all libraries are the same, and we do a disservice to us all when we fail to recognize that when discussing the profession. A majority of the professional publications often seem to highlight big library systems with big budgets, but we all can’t easily replicate those services. We often don’t have the space, the money, or the staff, to name just a few of the obstacles.
But I have good news: there is no one right way to incorporate the maker movement into your library. Whatever works best for your library given your space, money, staff and community is in fact the right way to approach making. I have incorporated making into two library systems now and neither one of them featured a permanent space or some of the higher end tech we keep hearing about. It’s not that I’m opposed to those things – some days I covet them – it’s just that they are not realistically achievable for the systems that I have worked at during the time that I have worked at them.
2. Making isn’t Necessarily About the End Product, but About the Learning Journey
As I watched a family sit around playing with Little Bits recently at our first Maker Monday, I came to a profound moment. X-files fans will know what I mean when I say I had a “Preying Mantis Epiphany”. We don’t have a lot of Little Bits and we didn’t have a lot of components to add to them this first time to make a moving robot or car. But we did make things light up, we made a buzzer sound, and we got excited! We were learning something, and having fun together doing it.
TLTer Heather Booth has talked before about given yourself the freedom to walk into a room of tweens and teens and say “I don’t really know how to do this tech stuff, let’s learn it together.” And sometimes, if you allow yourself to give up control, your tweens and teens will teach you new things and have their own empowering moments as they do so.
@TLT16 Perhaps therein lies the promise of makerspaces. Kids can discover creativity and ingenuity they didn’t even know they had.
— Laura Renshaw (@LauraRenshaw1) June 30, 2015
3. Making is Just a Different Approach to Our Traditional Library Mission: Education
Yesterday I finished putting up the signage for our new Maker Collection and, as I typically do, I kept wanting to pet it and say to everyone – look, how cool is that! So I was sitting there marveling at it when a fellow employee made a face. You know the face, the I don’t approve face. It turns out, she doesn’t understand all this making stuff – she feels that a library should just be a library. But the truth is, making – MakerSpaces, Maker Collections, Circulating Maker Kits – whatever ways you incorporate making into your library, it is us being a library. Our goal is to provide the resources – the access – to the tools for the people in our communities to learn new things; we support education, discovery and lifelong learning. Making very much falls under that umbrella.
4. Incorporating Making into Our Library Services Means We Understand a Fundamental Truth: Not All People Learn in the Same Ways
In addition, it means that we, as professionals, have come to understand a fundamental truth about the communities we serve: not all people learn in the same ways. I am not an auditory learning. And I think I’m not a very visual learner either, if my attempts to teach myself to knit from the pages of a book are any indication. I have read all the books, I studied all the pictures, and I still can not knit. It’s the same for our patrons, some of them can very easily check out a book and teach themselves how to make the things inside the book. For others, a hands on approach is the difference between learning something new and not.
5. Libraries Have Always Been Makerspaces
I’ve touched on this before here, but libraries have in fact always been MakerSpaces. At the very minimum, we have always provided access to our communities to the books and information they have needed to learn to be Makers. And if your library has ever done a basic informational or craft program, you were encouraging Making. It’s a new label, but very much at the heart of the traditional library mission.
My Original Mobile Makerspace
My Updated Mobile Makerspace
MakerSpace Tech Tools Comparison Chart
The Unboxing and Learning Curve
Exploring Circulating Maker Kits and Circulating Maker Kits part 2 with a Book List
The Maker Bookshelf/Collection (with a book list)
Strawbees part 1 and part 2
Things I Learned Visiting the Cincinnati MakerSpace: Fun with Buttons! Edition
Creating and Using an iPad Lab in Your Library
Take 5: 5 Tools for Movie Making in Your MakerSpace
Take 5: The Robot Test Kitchen Reading List
What I Learned from the Cincinnati MakerSpace part 2, Maker Mondays edition
Thoughts on Our First Maker Mondays
We Have Always Been Makers
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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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