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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