Maker Culture & Makerspaces in Libraries

Maker space conceptualization. Image credit: Giulia Forsythe, retrieved from Flickr.

In recent years, maker culture has emerged as an all-ages movement, marked by a DIY ethic and communal sharing of resources & knowledge. Makerspaces have popped up all over as centers where people come together to share resources, knowledge, and ‘stuff’* in their creative pursuits. This is an intriguing concept to a lot of librarians because many libraries are mandated to do exactly that for their patrons – act as community centers for shared information and resources. More and more libraries have begun rolling out services and programs inspired by maker culture to their patrons, from isolated 3-D printers, to video production labs with cameras and lighting equipment, to workshop spaces equipped with sewing supplies and rotary tools, and beyond.

One of the most common conversations revolving around this is about the justification for makerspaces and encouraging maker culture in libraries at all; the idea can be jarring at first, and we really do need a more substantive argument than “it’d be so cool!” when we try to get funding for maker initiatives. In many ways, arguments for and against library makerspaces are really arguments about what libraries are. If libraries are purely physical repositories for books and other print materials, and their purpose is to be places where books “live,” then it’s hard to justify having makerspaces in them. However, most libraries have always been more than just places where patrons come to consume information. Plenty of libraries have, for quite some time, also provided resources for their patrons to create information° including computers, 2D printers, and copiers/scanners. If we look at libraries as centers of shared resources where people can come together to collaborate on everything from research to art appreciation, then library makerspaces with shared 3D printers and milling machines really aren’t so weird.

maker kits (image)

Various STEM-supporting maker kits. From top left, clockwise: littleBits, Cubelets, Raspberry Pi, and Roominate

While I wouldn’t say that every library needs a 3D printer, I do believe that embracing the maker culture movement can help libraries meet many community needs across different audiences. In universities with distance learning contingents, for example, video production equipment and software in the library can be a boon to instructors teaching online courses. In public libraries, equipment that helps local entrepreneurs prototype their innovative ideas can be a great way to fulfill library missions of community involvement. In this library, which already has a robust collection of curriculum & teaching materials to support policymaking, field activities, and research, education-focused hardware and games have an unusually well-fitted niche. Dozens of kits and games inspired by maker ethics for kids exist and can be used to support engaging STEM and arts curricula^ and, more broadly, teaching in the 21st century classroom. I think that our patrons could do a lot with a couple of MaKey MaKey kits or some Cubelets, and even more with an engaging space to tinker with them in. What do you think?

More on the Subject
* The Makings of Maker Spaces, Part 1: Space for Creation, Not Just Consumption, by Lauren Britton
° Implementing a 3D Printing Service in an Academic Library, by Stephen Pryor
^ Innovating Pedagogy 2013: Open University Innovation Report 2, by Mike Sharples, Patrick McAndrew, Martin Weller, Rebecca Ferguson, Elizabeth FitzGerald, Tony Hirst, and Mark Gaved.
Beyond the Maker Space, by James Mitchell
Low Tech, High Gains: Starting a Maker Program Is Easier Than You Think, by Karyn M. Peterson
Make it @ Your Library Launches Maker Space Project Website, by Karyn M. Peterson