Makerspaces: Coming soon to your library?

Hi folks! Sorry to miss you all on Thursday. I’m sure you were sitting anxiously by your computers waiting for me to post, right? Or not. Hopefully not because I definitely did not post. I went to a one-day library conference then got stuck in traffic on my way home for around three hours. Leaving Worcester for Salem at 3:30 in the afternoon is a terrible idea, FYI. By the time I got home full of road rage, I didn’t want to blog so you’re getting it today.

The conference was entitled, “Making Change: Transformation and Creativity in Libraries,” and was presented by the Massachusetts Library System. They had some really amazing speakers and it was a great day. One of the main ideas of the conference was to think more about how libraries can also be a space for creativity in the community and how to bring in innovative ideas and make them work. A lot of the sessions included discussion of so-called “makerspaces” and how libraries are using them. What is a makerspace, you say? One of the founders of Artisan’s Asylum,  a makerspace in Somerville, MA presented at the conference so I will use his organization’s definition of a makerspace:

“To describe them simply, makerspaces are community centers with tools. Makerspaces combine manufacturing equipment, community, and education for the purposes of enabling community members to design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the resources available to individuals working alone. These spaces can take the form of loosely-organized individuals sharing space and tools, for-profit companies, non-profit corporations, organizations affiliated with or hosted within schools, universities or libraries, and more. All are united in the purpose of providing access to equipment, community, and education, and all are unique in exactly how they are arranged to fit the purposes of the community they serve.”

I highlighted the last sentence because it could be about libraries. We do those things already! We provide equipment (computers, scanners, the Internet could count, phones, books), community (hello, programming!), and education (programming again but also the vast wealth of knowledge that you can discover while accessing our stacks and computers). We also strive to be unique and fit our communities. The makerspace at Artisan’s Asylum has band saws, welding equipment, and more heavy duty tools and machinery which may not be doable – or wise – for a public library, but the idea is one that we already try to do: to connect people to the tools and resources they need to help them with their interests.

A few libraries at the conference spoke about 3D printing and how their patrons use it. It’s amazing to think that some libraries are doing this but it may not be for every community. You need volunteers who know how to work the software and maintain the machines. They can be expensive. And you have to have the interest there. My head of reference brought up the point that one of the most pressing needs at our library is more quiet study space because we have a large population of adult basic education and ESOL tutors and students. Would cordoning off a space for a 3D printer that no one so far in the community has expressed interest in using be the best use of space? Probably not. But some libraries are finding there is demand for 3D printing and I think that’s great, especially when the library is able to accomodate that.

Another presentation talked about the Awesome Box developed by the Harvard Library Lab. The Awesome Box is a little box that you set in your library right near your circulation desk’s return box/slot. When a patron returns an item they have the option to return their item to the regular box or if they really loved the story or thought it was an amazing movie, they can put it in the Awesome Box.

The awesome box at the Somerville Public LIbrary
The awesome box at the Somerville Public LIbrary

Then the staff scans in the book as usual and then scans is another time using a different program that then populates a page that looks like this:

This page is always changing with the newly “awesome” things that are returned to the library. Plus, when you click on a book it takes you right to Somerville’s catalog where you can request the item for yourself! It really is pretty awesome. The great thing, as the presenters mentioned, is that this is a low cost, easy idea to make your library more interactive and you can do it in a day or two. You wouldn’t even have to do the web side of the program, you could just set up a permanent display area or book cart for awesome things. It is so easy! I’m definitely going to make, I mean ask nicely, my library do it.

There are a lot of options on how to build community in the library using these ideas. Have the money and demand for a makerspace? Do it! Don’t? How about an awesome box or a simple craft/maker faire? Or a series of programs on different types of making/DIYing? Reach out to your community and your librarians to find out who is a secret expert in spinning wool into yarn (we have some of those are my library) or something else that is totally cool. I was really, dare I say it, inspired by the conference and thinking of ways to incorporate this into our community.

Want more info on this? Check out the makerspaces featured at the Library as Incubator Project, read about Westport, CT’s makerspace, or MAKE magazine to find a maker faire near you. (I may head to the Dover, NH one this summer to investigate!)

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