Creative spaces are nothing new for libraries. For decades libraries have hosted things from writing groups to sewing clubs, scrapbooking soirees to watercolor classes. This very library has even hosted an arts & crafts workshop where, once upon a time, I crafted a stunning “Indian” headdress out of construction paper, glue, and brightly colored synthetic feathers. So why is it that “makerspaces” are seen as a new trend in library offerings?
As Britton (2012) defines it, “A makerspace is a place where people come together to create and collaborate, to share resources, knowledge, and stuff.” What makes it different than the prior examples is that a Makerspace is an area set aside for these collaborative efforts. Where as workshops and writing groups are temporary, often one-off events, a Makerspace has a permanent home in the library (although pop-up and mobile Makerspaces have gained in popularity). While it may play host to a variety of creative endeavors, it is an area patrons can go to at any time, and find something to tinker with. In this way, it is, in a sense, an ongoing event. Like the projects going on within it, the space itself is constantly being hacked, modified, and transformed.
Understanding the Makerspace Movement
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the Maker movement began. One of the key elements often associated with Makerspaces, the 3D printer, has been around for over a decade. However, Gustafson (2013) and others trace the rise in makerspace popularity to 2005 with the first publication of Make magazine and the development of the open-source Arduino microcontroller. Without going into too much detail, it is from these early DIY projects that the MakerBot 3D printer evolved. We could argue that the MakerBot Cupcake CNC printer, with its open-source design and relatively low cost, helped the Maker movement self-replicate: grown from Maker movement stock, it allowed others a way to participate in this creation culture. The great thing about the maker movement, however, is that it is not really about the past, but about the future.
Makerspaces in libraries do not have to be about 3D printing or hacking software. Libraries are free to make creative spaces however they see fit. “The beauty of the Maker movement, particularly in the library,” Britton (2012, October 1) writes, “is that there is no set list of equipment or programming required to make a space successful.” That is to say the Makerspace can start out to meet one need, and constantly change to meet future library needs as well. To that extent, then, there is no one area of expertise the library’s staff will need to have. Anything from robotics, embroidery, game development, songwriting, circuit design, film making, and of course 3D printing have been done. While the library can start with certain programs for the Makerspace, examples of libraries that have already adopted Makerspaces suggest that projects will evolve with the community’s interest.
Of course any new technology or programming is not without some negatives. Concerns about budget, safety and supervision, and space must all be addressed. The financial impact to the library will depend on a variety of factors. First, what the Makerspace will be used for. If 3D printing is to be a key element of the space, then the library must acquire a 3D printer. MakerBot printers are priced around the mid $2,000 range, with filament in a variety of materials starting around $20 per 1 lb. spool. Other creative projects will have their own costs to launch and continue. It is recommended that a budget be created for the Makerspace and proposals submitted to determine which projects will be funded. Grant requests can be made to a variety of local industries, including the community’s large number of aerospace and technology companies. Any new equipment brought into the library should require a brief training session for the safety of both the staff and users. Hoy (2013) and Rundle (2013, January 2) both point out the need to monitor what is being created. The SMPL has several areas of underutilized space, as well as lab space that can be commandeered to create the Makerspace. Gutsche (2012) gives a few examples of creative ways to incorporate Makerspaces into limited preexisting spaces.
How will it be used?
Ideally, the Makerspace will be used however the library and its community see fit. Hoy (2013) envisions it this way, “Just as people come to the library now to read the newspaper, make photocopies, and check email, in the future they will come to print replacement parts, try out their own designs, and shop for printable objects.” In other words, business as usual at the library. Doctorow (2013, February 25) also sees Makerspaces as a logical fit for libraries, continuing the tradition of providing information to its users.
What is great about all of this is that it is not an individual experience. What users see and experience will be built from the community’s input and prior experiences. Musical compositions, games, films, printed objects will all serve as inspiration for the next set of users. The community of users will be able learn from each other and collaborate on new projects.
We can look at the work done at the Fayetteville Free Library (FFL)’s FabLab to see how communities rally around Makerspaces. The FabLab features 3D printing, jewelry making, and duct-tape art. Basically, what the community has evolved the space into. The H.Y.P.E. Teen Space in Detroit also provides great examples of how a Makerspace can evolve to meet community needs.
Because of the wide scope of the Makerspace, much consideration needs to be done to successfully implement it in the SMPL. Once space has been set aside, it must be decided which technologies will initially populate the space. This will require a careful blend of budgeting, long-term planning, community interest, space, and staff training. As mentioned earlier, staff do not need to be experts on any of the technologies; however, a certain amount of training should be required to facilitate the creative process. Once these concerns have been addressed, the program should rely on community feedback to evolve. Since Makerspaces are community based entities, feedback should be open and allowed to go not just between user-to-library or library- to-user, it should allow user-to-user communication to grow.
The library serves a very important role in shaping community knowledge and development. With the advent of new technologies, libraries have proven their relevance in providing information in any number of formats. What we are seeing in the world is that the evolution of these formats seems never ending. The culture of creation has both created technologies as well as created need for new technologies. The library can tap into this creation culture by implementing a Makerspace. As many communities have seen, library users are more than willing to participate in the Maker movement. Children and teens especially are finding ways to incorporate making into the way they learn. Hands on tinkering and hacking and seeing how things work can lead to innovations, and more importantly, build upon prior knowledge to create a better future.
Britton, L. (2012, October 1). The makings of maker spaces, part 1: Space for creation, not just consumption [Web log post]. The Digital Shift. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/10/public-services/the-makings-of-maker-spaces-part-1-space-for-creation-not-just-consumption/
Britton’s blog post studies a variety of Makerspaces and how they affect the communities, and stimulate learning through play.
Britton, L. (2012). A fabulous laboratory: the makerspace at Fayetteville Free Library, Public Libraries 51:4, 30-33.
An inside look at the FFL’s FabLab. Explores evolution of the program, programming, and community involvement.
Doctorow, C. (2013, February 25). Libraries and makerspaces: a match made in heaven [Web log post]. boingboing. Retrieved from http://boingboing.net/2013/02/25/libraries-and-makerspaces-a-m.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter
Gutsche, B. (2012). Makerspaces in libraries: patron’s delight, staff’s dread? ALKI March 2012. 28-30.
Addresses makerspaces as participatory culture. Explores maker culture and concerns about technology needs for 3D printers and other things. Gives a great list of resources about 3d printing and makerspaces.
Gustafson, E. (2013). Meeting needs: makerspaces and school libraries. School Library Monthly. 29:8, 35-35.
Defines makerspaces, and gives examples of how to set them up. Also relates how makerspaces fit the library mission citing American Assoc of School Libraries (AASL) standards.
Hoy, M.B. (2013). 3D printing: making things at the library, Medical Reference Services Quarterly 32:1, 93-99, DOI: 10.1080/02763869.2013.749139
Details difference between laser sintering and deposition, explores 3D printing in libraries as the democratization of information. Addresses legality and intended use, and the use of 3D printing in the medical realm.
Rundle, H. (2013, January 2). Mission creep – a 3D printer will not save your library [Web log post]. It’s not about the books: libraries, technology, information, stories. Retrieved from http://hughrundle.net/2013/01/02/mission-creep-a-3d-printer-will-not-save-your-library/