You’ve got a makerspace…now where’s your maker?

We discussed makerspaces in libraries in our Twitter chat #ifn614makechat  on Monday night.  It was a lively conversation! We talked a lot about whether the library is the right place for a makerspace, with many agreeing that if there was a community need, and it could be related to the parent body’s strategic plan, then yes, a makerspace should be a priority for the library to enable access to technology that many in the community would otherwise not be able to access; e.g. see Katie Ferguson’s tweet.

Not everyone agreed that the library was the right place for a makerspace; e.g. Sharee Cordes suggesed that creativity might be better supported by the art gallery.  Sharee Cordes went further to comment that if libraries were going to provide makerspaces, why only offer technology, and not also offer resources to support people’s interest in more traditional maker pastimes such as pottery?

It appeared to be a controversial issue, and so I wanted to find out what is currently happening in makerspaces in Australian libraries.  A web search on “libraries makerspaces” brought up a list of relevant results on the first page – 50% of the search results on the first page were from Australia, showing that makerspaces are indeed emerging in public libraries in Australia.

cropped-search-results-makerspaces-libraries

Screen shot of Google search results, retrieved 22 September, 2016.

One of the results was a link to a slideshare presentation by Slatter and Howard (2013) about makerspaces in public libraries. This led me to read their article, A place to make, hack and learn: makerspaces in Australian public libraries (2013)In their article, Slatter and Howard stated that many Australian libraries have adapted their programming models to incorporate makerspaces.  They observed that the general consensus of the literature was largely supportive of the library makerspace movement, although some opponents existed: e.g. See Hugh Rundle’s post from 2013  for an alternative viewpoint.

Slatter and Howard also noted that most of the research into makerspaces is from the United States and that there was little research on makerspaces in Australia. In their qualitative study, Slatter and Howard looked at makerspaces in Australian public libraries, interviewing a small sample of 3 information professionals who had set up, or were in the process of setting up makerspaces in their libraries.  They identified benefits, challenges and identified some possible strategies.

The search results from the United States showed how much further along they are with the development of makerspaces in libraries.  See Sharona Ginsberg’s website, which is a resource guide on the subject of makerspaces, maker culture, and 3D printing in libraries in the USA, and visit Maker Bridge,  the online community Ginsberg has created for people interested in the maker movement in schools and libraries. I read 3 articles on Maker Bridge, and each one highlighted an issue I hadn’t yet thought of.

A quote from this blog post resonated with me: “Makers make makerspaces”, bringing home the fact that libraries need to consider how they will acquire and sustain the expertise to make the most of their makerspace.  After dealing with budgetary considerations, resistance to change and proving the relevance of the makerspace, a library may well be able to provide the space and the equipment, but the programming and technical expertise considerations are significant.  As librarians, we must know our limitations. If we don’t have the skills, or the time to acquire the skills to use the equipment, and develop effective programming to teach the community, the equipment will not be utilised to its best capacity.  Does an unused makerspace represent value for money?  What consequences will this have for the relationship between the library, the community, parent bodies and funding bodies?  The issue of funding ongoing technical expertise will need to be carefully considered, and factored into budgets in order to create sustainable library makerspaces that will serve their communities into the future.

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6 comments

  1. Anitra Ross · September 22, 2016

    Hi Michele, great research & questions. I wonder if the answer is for libraries to partner with existing community organisations? Use their skills/increase their membership whilst the library markets/promotes & increases community participation? Anitra

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  2. Michele Smith · September 22, 2016

    Hi Anitra, thanks for your comments. Partnering with community organisations is absolutely part of the answer. This came across in quite a few of the readings I’ve done recently, including the Slatter and Howard article above. A couple of the respondents in their study cited the importance of there actually being a community makerspace in the local area, both to ensure that there was a need for a library makerspaces, and to ensure that community expertise existed locally that could be taken advantage of. We are going to have to be networking all over town!

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  3. Katie Ferguson · September 24, 2016

    I think that makerspaces fit with the shift towards focussing on technology within libraries – with staffing shifting to match.

    I went to a really interesting talk the other week/month about the Victorian Public Libraries Network Strategic framework – http://plvn.net.au/sites/default/files/20130528%20FINAL%20VPL2030%20Summary%20Report_web.pdf – and one of the things that came up was the shift away from traditional library roles to employing staff with technical or more diverse skills (including social workers). Definitely an interesting view of the future. And maybe one that accomodates makerspaces more easily?

    And thanks for an interesting post 🙂

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    • Michele Smith · September 24, 2016

      Thanks, Katie; and thanks for sharing that very interesting report! It is interesting to see how they have envisioned 2 possible futures for libraries in 2030, and that this is a way for them to strategically plan for that future. Talk about future-proofing! (That’s a term I’ve come across a few times in my reading on makerspaces in libraries this week, and it seems appropriate here.)

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      • Katie Ferguson · September 24

        It was such an interesting talk, too! The actual report was published in 2013, I think, so it was an update on how the strategic plan was progressing. I made sure to link you to the summary report, because the full report was enough to overwhelm me a little when I was prepping for that session 🙂 (my memory told me it was 250 pages, but when I looked it up I think it was only 59).

        What was especially great about the community and creative scenarios was that they also planned for those scenarios not to eventuate (they also called them the ‘humpty dumpty’ and ‘very hungry caterpillar’ scenarios among themselves, I think, which was totally awesome). They talked about the future being a combination of the two scenarios, or neither.

        Future-proofing is such a thing at the moment. Proving value, ROI, etc. My pessimism tells me it’s driven by the financial environment but it’s something that’s well worth considering, especially if we plan on staying in the profession long-term.

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  4. Bec · September 25

    Love your title Michele, definitely hooked me in! Very apt question too, where and who are these fabled makers that libraries try so hard to draw in? I think if you’re a library with a maker’s program, it’s imperative that you have the information to answer this question as soon as possible. Any library worth its salt should be collecting usage data quickly, to be prepared to stand up for the program at the inevitable annual meeting. SLQ does a fabulous job of tracking their makerspace programs. I was invited to complete a survey the day after completing the Shibori fabric dying workshop, and think it’s a great example of libraries collecting evidence to justify their programming decisions.

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