Makerspaces: Making a Community

MakerspaceOne of the most exciting recent trends in libraries is the growth of Makerspaces. Both school and public libraries have seen benefits from having a designated place for creativity and community — whether it is a traditional craft area or a technology hub with everything from robotics to 3D printers. Makerspaces can be very beneficial for schools trying to increase the STEAM emphasis in their curriculum.

Janice McNeil of Cypress Lakes High School in Katy, Texas was supremely lucky in that she was able to start her library from scratch. Print still has a place in her library: “We have a large circulating leisure reading collection and we also have books on public issues and reference materials including dictionaries and primary source materials where it’s helpful to have the printed page,” she explains. However, a quick glance at her library reveals that it was designed with technology and collaboration in mind. Moveable computer workstations provide a feast of options to students whether they want to have quiet time or work on a group project. More workstations on the periphery of the library provide additional resources.

On the day we spoke, the first MakerBot 3D printer had just been delivered. Janice’s excitement crackled over the phone as she anticipated the response from her students. These resources represent one end of the spectrum for Makerspaces and each library has its own set of users who take advantage of this cutting edge technology. At Cypress Lakes High School, the technical theatre program is the “first planned collaboration, with each student required to design an element for a set,” adds the librarian. What used to be a process using foam has now gone several steps further. “They begin with a paper design, move to design software — we have Adobe Creative Suite on all the computers, and then they can print it out in 3D.” Here’s a fun fact: the MakerBot 3d printer and software were purchased by the Student Council.

The school’s art department is alive to the possibilities, especially the animation teacher who envisions character creation taken to new levels. “These are not the kids who would traditionally take computer programming,” adds Janice. “I have a green screen studio available all the time with lights, tripods, and more,” she points out. “Kids can borrow the camera and the computer next to it so that they can edit.”

The library opens each day at 6:45 and closes at 4:30. “I have deliberately tried to make the library a place kids can and want to go. It has the resources they need — cameras, technology, tables, even board games.” It seems to be working since the library receives between 4000 and 6000 visits from students on their own each month. Just for this school year, they have already logged more than 31,000 student visits, not including class visits.

Janice helps the student body, the teachers, and parents stay up-to-date on the newest acquisitions through twitter and facebook–check out CyLakesLibrary on Facebook to see for yourself. The kids tend to text to spread the news.

At Four Points Middle School in Austin, Texas, social media is also a key way to communicate the cool things happening at the library. However, Instagram is the dominant media and the library’s account (@4pointslibrary) is very active. The Makerspace concept is newer here and was begun at the instigation of the library coordinator, Becky Caldaza. Because there is not a public library nearby, the school library remains open throughout the summer so that students have access to library resources (see the Bound to Stay Bound article on Shared Libraries for more information about this). The library is open all of June and July and the first week of August. The savvy librarians wrote a grant to start their Makerspace collection, drawing on the expertise of an elementary school librarian who had already been there. The result was a spreadsheet where each item had fields for key skills, cost, vendor, does it require adult supervision, where is the best place to set it up, and so forth.

The program is less than a year old. To deal with the challenge of dedicated space, librarian April Stone created the designation of “Makerspace Mondays.” On these days, students can come before school and during the lunch period to “explore on their own,” describes April. She confides that “It has been a learning process.” While she originally made the Makerspace its own room adjacent to the library, it became clear that more supervision was needed even though most of the students are very responsible. She is gradually adding time for Makerspace by offering it during her schools flex period for students who are assigned to the library. Overall, more than 1000 students make their way to the library in any given month.

Makerspace is for public libraries, too. Becca Cruz of Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs works with the system’s first dedicated Makerspace. Like April and Janice, the concept is evolving and she sees what resonates with patron needs. They have two rooms, Make and Make II. Make is dedicated to more traditional crafts and offers sewing machines, a vinyl cutter, quilting resources, and even sautering irons. Make II is where patrons can explore the potential of inventor kits, a 3D printer, a 3D scanner and a laser cutter.

Pikes Peak has reached out to area schools as well. “We have had groups of teachers come for demos and to work with the technology,” Becca says. Because they are open for ages 9 and up, she sees the technology being used for a wide variety of purposes. One person might print a replacement for a broken vacuum cleaner wheel while another may create a prototype for their small business.

Pikes Peak also uses social media and newsletters to spread the word. The local media has been “jazzed” by the 3D printer. Pikes Peak Library District – Creative Computer Commons even has its own dedicated facebook page. A brilliant idea that can be easily duplicated at other libraries is the establishment of a Maker/Artist in Residence program. “It’s a neat way to expand,” explains Becca. “The residency lasts for six weeks with five hours each week for studio time. Their work is on display and they do two classes at our library plus two classes at other libraries in the district.”

The creativity is not limited to the Makerspaces when it comes to making it successful. These librarians continue to learn and share their knowledge and experience with colleagues and clients alike, reinforcing the image of the library as a place for discovery and community.