Library makerspaces challenge imagination

Cincinnati Public Library Makerspace

Cincinnati Public Library Makerspace

Does it look like we have a whole generation glued to their smart phones and disconnected from their surroundings?

Makerspaces encourage collaboration and make learning fun.

Among other institutions, libraries have begun to embrace the “maker movement.”

School makerspaces work with school children. University makerspaces work with college students. Library makerspaces work with people of all ages.

Anyone can use a library makerspace. Income doesn’t matter. It can potentially help lift people out of poverty. It can help people not only create something interesting and useful, but also learn how to make a business from it.

A makerspace is a work space where people come together to make something. They learn, explore, share, and collaborate.

The space might have high-tech equipment like 3D printers or laser cutters. It might have more traditional equipment like sewing machines or soldering irons. But equipment does not define a makerspace. Scissors, paper plates, and Legos can contribute to hands-on learning.

Some educational theory

David Thornburg, often called the “premier futurist for educational technology,” describes learning environments with certain metaphors:

  • People share information at the Campfire. At a literal campfire, they tell stories. Writing serves the same purpose as story-telling. It preserves the memory of important information.
  • People gather at the Watering Hole for creative discussions about what to do with information and knowledge.
  • People need to spend some time alone in the Cave for solitary reflection on what they learn at the Campfire and Watering Hole.
  • People test and apply what they’ve learned in the other environments in Life. Life shows them what they know and what they still need to learn through hands-on experience.
College of San Mateo makerspace

Makerspace + Family Science & Astronomy Festival 2014, College of San Mateo

Makerspaces have recently emerged as a structured Life environment.

They have also been called “hackerspaces.” But “hacker” has unsavory connotations of criminal activity.

The “maker movement” takes science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM subjects) out of boring classroom lectures and challenges students’ creativity.

Students choose a project and make something. It’s often related to real-world problems.

Society treats students as consumers. But in makerspaces, students become creators. Teenagers have already created such useful products as a robot that can rescue disaster victims, a device to alert parents if they leave children in a car, and an inexpensive Braille printer.

Once students have designed and made something useful, they also learn to market it. So makerspaces teach not only STEAM but entrepreneurship. Some schools boast student-run businesses for children as young as third grade.

Here are just two examples of library makerspaces:

The Bubbler: Madison, Wisconsin

Phoenix Public Library makerspace

Phoenix Public Library makerspace

The Madison (Wisconsin) Public Library moved into a new building in 2012.

The library’s gallery coordinator planned one last use for the empty old building.

A major one-day art show celebrated the its past.

One hundred artists exhibited their creations to some 5,000 people.

The show turned into a party. Attendants showed their own creativity by dancing and splashing graffiti on the soon-to-be-demolished walls.

The experience persuaded library staff to explore creative ways to gather people together in the new library. While trying to decide what that would mean, they called their idea “The Bubbler.” That’s Wisconsin slang for a drinking fountain. Shades of Thornburg’s Watering Hole!

They envisioned it as a place where crafters, artists, inventors, and entrepreneurs could share their skills with the public and learn from each other.

The Bubbler occupies a room on the ground floor of the new library. Local experts offer workshops to show interested participants how to create in a wide variety of activities.

Some include traditional classes like painting, dancing, or music. People who drop in might also find workshops in progress on making anything from cheese to computer controllers.

Libraries have traditionally served as repositories for local knowledge. They have collections of manuscripts, artworks, sheet music, and other records of local history and creativity. So if someone creates, say, chain saw sculpture, it just makes sense to have the artist come to the library to show others how to do it.

ideaLAB, Innisfil, Ontario, Canada

Kaleidoscopes made from recycled material at the San José Pubic Library makerspace

Kaleidoscopes made from recycled material at the San José Pubic Library makerspace

The Innisfil Public Library thought it would need a temporary home for a branch library. So it took over an abandoned big box store.

Its branches had equipment like 3D printers, and people kept asking why they were in the library.

When it became apparent that the branch would not need temporary quarters, the library transformed the old store into a makerspace, the Innisfil ideaLAB.

At first, the logo on the building didn’t include the word “library.”

Once the public understood the makerspace as a logical extension of library services, the sign on the building became “ideaLAB & Library.”

It was the newest branch of the renamed Innisfil Public Library & ideaLAB.

The lab’s equipment includes

  • computers
  • 3D printer
  • laser cutter
  • soldering and circuitry station
  • vinyl cutter
  • gaming consoles
  • green screen for digital media editing
  • performance space with instruments and sound equipment

Patrons must be at least 7, 10, or 12 years old or older to use some of the equipment. Plenty of adults enjoy tinkering with this equipment as much as school children do.

Prying people loose from their smart phones isn’t as difficult as some fear. Point them in the direction of a makerspace. They will enjoy using their hands to make cool things perhaps no one else ever thought of.

Innisfil’s ideaLAB . . . revealed! /Our Innisfil. November 27, 2013
Library makerspaces: a new alternative education environment / John W. Clark, AIA Knowledge Net. March 13, 2017
Makers movement changes the educational landscape / Gaby Galvin, US News. May 23, 2017
Makerspace: Madison Public Library sees innovation centers as a key part of its future / Pat Schneider, The Capital Times. December 26m 2012.

Photo credits:
Cincinnati Public Library. Source unknown
College of San Mateo. Some rights reserved by CSM Library
Phoenix Public Library. Some rights reserved by CSM Library
San José Public Library. Some rights reserved by San José Public Library

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *