By Brittany Norwood and Faith Wahlers
“Makerspaces promote learning through play; have the potential to demystify science, math, technology, and engineering; and encourage women and underrepresented minorities to seek careers in those fields.” (Britton, 2012, p. 21)
A mother and her elementary-aged child are working together to sew a wizard’s robe for Halloween. A few feet away, a small group of teens is using a vinyl cutter and heat press to make custom t-shirts to support their friend who is running for Student Body President at the nearby high school. Another group of tweens is using Thingiverse to find and print a Dungeons & Dragons dice tower. All of this is happening not in a school, art center, or tech hub, but in the local public library makerspace.
Makerspaces are library spaces that are dedicated to providing patrons a place to “share tools, knowledge, and ideas.” (Burke & Kroski, 2018, p. 2). An exact definition of what could possibly be in a Makerspace is difficult to pinpoint; anything from 3D printers, to knitting needles, to Raspberry Pi’s, to hammers, to glue and glitter may be included. As long as the space provides a place to create and share, then it could be considered a makerspace. When well planned and implemented, Makerspaces encourage problem solving, collaboration, and provide a free space to experiment with technologies which many people would not otherwise have access, goals which align well with those of the public library (Burke & Kroski, 2018, pp. 15–16). These spaces can be incorporated into almost any library, as they can be as large as a dedicated room, or as small as a rolling cart that can be pulled out and put away when needed. Budgets can also vary dramatically between libraries, and depending on need and ability, it is possible to create a simple makerspace for nearly free, using upcycling programs and donations from the community, or to build a state of the center with 3D printers, laser cutters, and computer equipment.
In this chapter, we will explore the relationships between makerspaces and STEAM instruction in the public library. We will also discuss the possibilities that makerspaces afford for improving equity in library communities.
What does a makerspace look like?
As noted above, the actual equipment in a makerspace can vary widely. Generally, however, most libraries with makerspaces report that these areas include computer workstations (66.7%), 3D printers (65.8%), and arts and craft supplies (64.8%) (Burke & Kroski, 2018). Photo and video editing software, Raspberry Pi, robotic kits, scanners, sewing machines, and vinyl cutters are also popular tools to have on hand (Burke & Kroski, 2018). Lauren Britton noted that “the list of equipment and materials will naturally grow as specific projects and programs generate new needs. For example, a library maker experience might be based on costume-making that would require sewing machines, whereas a graphic design workshop would benefit from access to a vinyl cutter” (Britton, 2012, p. 20). The possibilities for equipment are only limited by your imagination. Librarian Carol Scheer successfully used pool noodles with two notches at either end to create a “Lincoln Log” type building material for younger patrons to experiment (Scheer, 2017, p. 17). On the other end of the spectrum, the Edmonton New Technology Society added “a 9-inch jointer, a 20-inch planer, and a 10-inch cabinet saw” to their 24/7 makerspace, which allows patrons to create wooden objects that require precision, like dressers and bed frames (Issawi, 2018). Understanding your user population is critical to developing a makerspace that meets their needs (for more on this, see the “Accessible Makerspaces” section below).
Possible Makerspace Equipment:
- Cameras/audio recorders
- Editing software (Adobe Photoshop, MovieMaker, GIMP, Picasa)
- Videography accessories (tripods, green screens, mics, battery packs, etc.)
- Origami Paper
- Scrapbooking supplies (paper, stickers, specialty scissors, glue, etc.)
- Sewing Machines
- Laser cutters
- Vinyl cutters
- Woodworking tools (drills, circular saws, pyrography pens, hand planers, etc.)
- jewelry making supplies (pliers, bead design board, tweezers, etc.)
- knitting needles/crocheting hooks/sewing needles
- Potter’s wheel/kiln
- LED lights
- Snap/Squishy circuits
- Raspberry Pi (Or any other tiny, cheap computer)
- Makey Makey
- Google sites
- 3D printers
Just as the equipment for a makerspaces’ is limited only by imagination, so are makerspace programs. There are several websites librarians can go to for ideas; the YALSA programming page (http://hq.yalsa.net/index.html) and Programing Librarian (http://www.programminglibrarian.org/) are two favorites. Programs can be pre-planned and scheduled, with specific objectives for participants. Alternatively, makerspace programming can be passive, spontaneous, or user-led. For example, you can develop project instruction sets stored in the makerspace that invite visitors to work through a project or challenge on their own or in a small group, or a library staff member might notice a group of tweens in the space and engage them in an impromptu sewing lesson.
For teenage patrons, librarian April Zuniga had success hosting a bristlebot program. Making a bristlebot involves attaching a vibrating motor, battery, and decorations to the top of a toothbrush head, then wiring it so that the vibrations from the motor cause the bristle head to jump and scoot around. The resulting robot can look like a tiny living bug, a fighting robot, or anything else a patron can imagine (Zuniga, 2018). This type of makerspace program teaches participants about basic circuitry, as well as problem solving and collaboration, as the teens have to work together to make the tiny robots worked as desired.
It is important to consider accessibility and inclusion when planning makerspace programming, an issue we will explore in greater depth below. The District of Columbia Public Library created several successful makerspace programs for visually and mentally impaired persons. The marble machine program taught participants about iterative designs by utilizing a peg board, dowels, and tracks to create a path for a marble to fall down. After explaining the rules of the program, and guiding the visually-impaired patrons’ hands over the board, the participants were successful in creating a variety of tracks and outcomes (Brady, Salas, Nuriddin, Rodgers, & Subramaniam, 2014, pp. 339–340).
For libraries looking for an easy point of entry for makerspaces, starting out with some basic arts and crafts can be a cheap and effective way to encourage curiosity and collaboration (Burke & Kroski, 2018, pp. 81–85). Origami, knitting/crocheting, and upcycling projects are popular options. One library even used weeded books in an art project (Ruefle, 2018)! STEAM Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes, with just about anything as a possible tool or material. One of the best ways to build a makerspace is to base it off of your patron’s requests. For an extended example of this, see the spotlight box below featuring the TEA Room at the Darien Library in Darien, Connecticut.
Claire Moore is currently employed as a teen library at the Manhattan Beach Library. However, our interview with her primarily focused on her work at the Darien Library in Connecticut. In this position, she was integral to the planning and launching of that library’s makerspace initiative called the TEA Room (Technology, Engineering, and the Arts). In our discussion with her, she described why and how the makerspace was conceptualized, outlined the planning and design process, and spoke to her personal favorite programs utilizing the TEA Room.
The TEA Room was originally designed to help bring more structured programming for tweens into the Darien library. The nature of the interactive STEAM programming meant that learning goals weren’t necessarily strictly defined. She felt that this “looser” approach to planning and implementation gave tweens participating a more realistic and fun experience that differed from the harshness of the school curriculum while also teaching them life experiences, such as learning to be okay with your final project not necessarily looking as you had originally planned. Overall, the TEA room allowed the librarians working at the Darien Library to implement structured programming that attracted new tweens to the library while also encouraging community members (including some of the tweens themselves) to reserve the TEA room or work with the librarians to implement their own STEAM programming.
Claire brought up several insights that could be valuable to librarians wanting to implement a makerspace in their own libraries. First, she recommended that you know your library board and what appeals to them. She mentioned that designing the TEA room was a much easier feat than it could have been because her library board was extremely supportive of anything innovative. However, for libraries that have boards who might be more skeptical, she recommended stressing to the board that allocating resources for such a space would help the library prepare children and tweens for the real world by providing them with 21st century learning skills that they might not be able to pick up in other locations. She also mentions stressing to administrators how the role of libraries in society is changing and how the inclusion of a makerspace can help fill these new needs. Finally, Claire stressed that when faced with the task of assessing your makerspace, be sure to select measures that actually demonstrate its impact, which may require you to think creatively as makerspaces projects may vary widely in the time it takes to accomplish a task (such as 3D-printing a basic as opposed to an advanced 3D object) and in the skills that are taught or needed to teach various programs.
Makerspaces can be great resources for encouraging the community to come together to create and are excellent tools for libraries to implement STEAM programming. By their very nature, makerspaces allow individuals to explore various creative avenues that highlight the different ways that arts, sciences, and technology intersect. Even organizations that still refer to their makerspace-related programs as STEM instead of STEAM recognize and laud the creative skills that they associate with makerspace programming (Bowler, 2014). Furthermore, librarians are particularly drawn to makerspace programming due to their potential to highlight the skills they feel are becoming more necessary to workplace success but are not necessarily taught in structured academic environments (Bowler, 2014).
A major skill that librarians believe is enhanced through makerspace programming is design thinking, defined as “an open-ended, nonlinear, and often messy way to generate innovation and creative solutions” (Bowler, 2014, p. 60). Skills such as these may be developed through all sorts of makerspaces, from those that are more high-tech (such as those including such equipment as 3D printers and advanced computer software) to those that are less technologically advanced (such as those that consist predominantly of blocks and basic art supplies, as described in Rendina, 2016). Furthermore, makerspaces supporting these skills may be tailored not only to younger audiences but also toward older library populations, including but not limited to college students wishing to develop new skills (Miller, n.d.) as well as adults wishing to learn new skills or hone skills related to their current craft (Prato & Britton, 2015).
In a similar vein, makerspaces have been tied to a concept called read/write culture (Britton, 2012). In this read/write culture, individuals are urged “to add, change, influence, and interact with their culture” (Britton, 2012, p. 30) using the tools available to them. Makerspaces help to promote this culture not only by providing access to tools that allow users to create their own cultural artifacts but also providing them with the resources that allow users to learn not only how to use specific tools but also how to learn general concepts (Prato & Britton, 2015). Libraries can focus their programming on learning how to use the technology and items that are present in their makerspaces, but libraries can go beyond teaching these basic skills and develop programming that touches on bigger concepts (Prato & Britton, 2015). In an illustration of this, Stephanie C. Prato and Lauren Britton (2015) have recommended that libraries with makerspaces should consider offering programming focusing on 3D design as users can apply the skills associated with this concept to creating their own work, whether those creations require more advanced technology (e.g., 3D printing), less advanced technology (e.g., basic sewing or crafting supplies), or any type in between. In other words, the programming associated with these makerspaces are tools that not only allow library users to have a basic understanding of how to operate any technology that your makerspace might have but also allows them to design and create in a manner that they may not have been able to achieve with only a basic tutorial about how to use the objects in their makerspace.
Accessibility and Inclusion in the Makerspace
One of the most attractive promises of the makerspace movement is that these spaces can equalize access to technology and the arts for children, teens, and adults who would not otherwise have the means to create in these ways. The idea is that everyone, young and old, techies and traditionalists, regular patrons and first-time visitors, can use public library makerspaces. In practice, however, makerspaces often fall short of this goal. Full use of the makerspace may be effectively denied to certain groups because of library or makerspace policies, resources, or spaces that disproportionately privilege some user groups over others.
Gender is one area that has received much attention in makerspace scholarship and in less formal discussion around these spaces. As we will discuss further in Chapter 10, statistics show persistent inequities in STEM fields for women, and these inequities also extend to the LGBTQ+ population (Reed, 2018). As one makerspace board member has noted, “There’s some unspoken societal rules that have to do with makerspaces, and it ends up being why there are more men in engineering, or why there are more men showing up to a makerspace…. These unspoken rules assign gender to the use of tools or the ability to make and design things” (Reed, 2018, para. 4). Many people automatically associate makerspaces with high-tech tools such as 3D printers, robotics kits, and coding software, but not necessarily with more female-coded technology such as sewing machines, e-textiles, or fiber arts. Evidence also suggests that implicit gender bias can play a role in how makerspace instructors view the young people using these spaces. A 2018 study from Drexel University found that “instructors primarily referred to male students as ‘geeks’, ‘builders’ and ‘designers’ (never ‘boys’), but most frequently referred to female students as ‘girls’ or even, ‘helpers’ (Kim, Edouard, Alderfer, & Smith, 2018, p. 8).
Scholarship has also identified equity gaps related to makerspace accessibility and use for disabled people, low-income people, and non-native English speakers (see, for example, Dawson, 2017; Gerstein, 2018; Seymour, 2018; Steele, Cakmak, & Blaser, 2018; Vecchione, 2018). All of this research suggests that for a wide variety of reasons, individuals who are members of marginalized groups may be less likely to use makerspaces unless these spaces ae planned and implemented with inclusion and equity as explicit goals. If our makerspaces are not fully inclusive for all community members, they risk perpetuating or even exacerbating existing inequities in STEAM fields.
So how can we ensure that our makerspaces are equitable and inclusive? Luckily, we do not have to reinvent the wheel here; many high-quality resources and studies already exist to address this question. Research-based suggestions for improving makerspace equity and accessibility include:
- Involve people from diverse and marginalized groups in the makerspace planning process (Steele, Cakmak, & Blaser, 2018; University of Washington, 2015);
- Implement same-gender or other programming designed specifically for marginalized groups (Seymour, 2018; Vecchione, 2018);
- Consider mobility and access needs for physically disabled users, for example by ensuring that all equipment can be reached from a seated position (Klipper, 2014; Seymour, 2018; Steele, Cakmak, & Blaser, 2018; University of Washington, 2015)
- Survey your community regularly to determine their needs (Steele, Cakmak, & Blaser, 2018; Vecchione, 2018).
Makerspaces are uniquely well suited to prioritize lived-knowledge, giving participants a chance to freely create based off of their own needs and abilities. This type of exploration can greatly encourage those who feel marginalized in traditional schooling settings (Barton, Tan, & Greenberg, 2017). Similarly, makerspaces could be used as a place to uplift marginalized traditions. For example, the library might collaborate with the Cherokee Nation during Indigenous Peoples Month to plan an event uplifting that community’s unique maker cultures.
For more guidance and ideas, check out the resources linked below.
Equitable and Accessible Makerspace Resources
- Making a Makerspace? Guidelines for Accessibility and Universal Design from the University of Washington: http://bit.ly/2LkgUrt
- “Accessible making: Designing a makerspace for accessibility” by Katherine M. Steele, Maya Cakmak, and Brianna Blaser: http://bit.ly/35UWRrI
- “8 ways to build a more inclusive makerspace” by Gina Seymour: http://bit.ly/2DJYaxJ
- “Recommended practices for equitable makerspaces” by Amy Vecchione: http://bit.ly/2DN8Ew2
- “Making makerspaces work for everyone” by Barbara Klipper: http://bit.ly/385rU63
- DIYAbility: https://www.diyability.org/
Planning a Makerspace
Setting up a makerspace in a public library requires an abundance of planning, but it is well worth the effort! Budgeting constraints, community needs, educational goals, and new policies are just a few of the things that should be determined before spending money on a new makerspace. These eight core points will help focus the development of a STEAM makerspace.
- Makerspaces do not necessarily need to privilege all STEAM domains equally. A community survey will help determine which focus areas within STEAM are best for a given library. Some communities might want to focus more on Art, others on Technology (Burke & Kroski, 2018, p. 25). As makerspaces can become expensive, finding out which letter or two works best for the community can help narrow the scope of the project and keep costs from running over.
- Determine the funding source and amount. Will the makerspace budget be re-occurring? Will there be an additional amount for the initial purchase of equipment? Are there grants available? It may be helpful to hold a few maker events ahead of the development of a makerspace, to help gauge community interest and talents, as well as to help justify a budget for the future makerspace. Reaching out to local craft and hobby stores to find out if they have a discount available for educators can also save the library money (Preddy, 2013, p. 3). Additionally, providing a wish list of expensive or auxiliary items for donors to browse may help expand the makerspace in a cost effective way (Bagley, 2014, pp. 7–8).
- Where will the makerspace be housed? Makerspaces do not necessarily need to be housed in their own room, nor does there need to be major infrastructure changes made to the library itself (Bagley, 2014, p. 3). Some makerspaces consist of a cart that houses pliers, batteries, paint, and other supplies that is kept behind the desk when not in use, other makerspaces are entire buildings dedicated to nothing else, it all depends on the needs and constraints of each library or library system.
- Determine the scope of the makerspace. Who will be the target audience? What types of events will be held? Will there be equipment out and available at all times? What types of learning objectives are being pursued? A makerspace intended for children will look much different than a makerspace intended for adults. A circular saw, soldering pen, and fabric scissors will be appropriate for one group, but not without supervision for the other.
- Create a list of needed items. This list will vary tremendously depending on the library, scope, and budget (Burke & Kroski, 2018, p. 25). Pre-planning programs and building a list of needed items off of that list can be a helpful way to start, and to prevent the purchasing of unneeded items.
- Train staff on new equipment and designate new roles. Ideally, there will be at least one person in the building who will know how to use the makerspace equipment at all times. Training staff on how to use, maintain, and teach with new equipment will be critical to the makerspace’s success. Visiting another library’s makerspace can be a great way to train team members on the new equipment (Burke & Kroski, 2018, p. 25). Additionally, depending on the expected use of the makerspace, hiring a new employee may be necessary. Alternatively, shifting responsibilities in the current staff may be enough for a smaller makerspace (Bagley, 2014, p. 11). Defining expectations and providing training in advance will help the roll out of the makerspace proceed smoothly.
- Create effective policies for the new makerspace. As is the case with many public library policies, patron actions may prompt new policies. However, there are some policies that can be determined ahead of time. As Burke and Kroski write, “Determine what will be allowed within your makerspace, including what will be made. Set age, training, and usage limitations in your policy, and consider costs when deciding if you will charge fees for materials or equipment use.” (Burke & Kroski, 2018, p. 26). Additionally, as some projects may need to be completed over multiple sessions, create a policy that specifies how the library will store in progress works, or if it will store them at all (Preddy, 2013, p. 12).
- Create a mission statement for the makerspace. Similar to the scope and policy sections, creating a makerspace can help keep this endeavor focused on the target audience and evolving in a logical manner. A clear description of the goals of the makerspace can help inform future programs, purchases, and training. This mission statement should be a living document and re-written as needed.
While there will surely be hidden needs that appear once the makerspace becomes active, these eight points can help guide a library in the creation of the space.
In addition to gathering information to help plan your makerspace, you should also gather information to help you evaluate your makerspace. No matter what programming you are implementing in your library, you need to be aware of how to assess these programs. Evaluations and assessments are incredibly useful tools for determining the efficacy of your programming and for justifying your programming to your board and investors. As makerspaces may have many “moving parts” (such as different pieces of technology, crafting supplies, and even furniture, some of which may need to be replaced periodically), performing evaluations about makerspaces and their associated programming can be both incredibly important and incredibly difficult to do. However, your makerspace and all of its components take up library resources in some manner, such as library space, funds, and personnel. With this in mind, you need to be able to make sure that all of these parts are positively contributing to the makerspace environment and are sustainable given your library’s resources.
How do you effectively judge all these elements associated with a makerspace? Furthermore, how can you select methods that will not only adequately assess what you need to assess but that also produce meaningful data that you can use to translate the success of your makerspace?
Assessing Your Makerspace’s Usefulness
While much of the literature surrounding makerspaces focuses on what programming they can bring in and how a library set up its makerspace, these articles do not focus heavily on how these programs are being evaluated. This could be because the evaluation step had not been undertaken at the time that these authors were writing their articles and think-pieces, but it also could be because it can be difficult to determine what is the best way to assess these areas and their associated programming. And, honestly, these criteria for determining what is “best” may vary according to each individual library’s needs and individual makerspace components. The importance of a makerspace that is predominately low-tech, such as a building-blocks and coloring station in the children’s area, will not necessarily be adequately represented if a library tried to evaluate that space according to criteria that would be more suited to a more high-tech makerspace with 3D printers and sewing machines, and vice versa. In other words, you need to ensure that the methods your select are appropriate for your makerspace in the context of your library.
However, while you should definitely tailor your assessment methods to your individual library’s makerspace, libraries which have discussed their makerspace evaluations have reported some initial directions that could be generally useful for a number of other libraries with a variety of makerspaces. In Kristin Fontichiaro’s (2017) guide to planning and evaluating makerspaces in school libraries, she included component questions that could be adapted to be broadly applicable to other libraries. For example, her initial section, although apparently focused on the planning process, asks librarians to evaluate why their library wants a makerspace and how it would fit in with the vision of their institution (Fontichiaro, 2017, p. 53). This could be tweaked to make make it more appropriate for makerspaces that have been constructed and are being evaluated by instead asking yourself if the makerspace and its programming help support your library’s mission and if the makerspace appears to be meeting the needs it was planned around—and if it appears to have met the needs of your library’s user population that you were not aware existed before implementing the makerspace and its programming.
Evaluation of a library makerspace should be an ongoing process, meaning that necessary adjustments can be made in between larger and more formal assessments of the project as a whole, as might occur in preparation for a meeting with your library board and any other investors. An essential part of being able to produce both these piecemeal and holistic assessments is collecting data. Fontichiaro’s (2017) school library makerspace evaluation helps to identify several ways in which librarians can collect different types of data that could be used to support the efficacy of their makerspaces. Once again, while the data Fontichiaro mentions are geared more toward data collection methods that are more applicable to a school library setting (e.g., having students write journals about their experiences with the makerspaces and using the content of these journals as proof of data), some of the data collection methods that she lists, such as collecting exit slips and completing observation logs, are useful for a variety of libraries and makerspaces.
The data you collect should be something that you can convey to others to help them understand your findings. Sometimes to do this, you need to collect data using more unconventional methods. For example, during our interview with Claire Moore (reported in the Spotlight box above), she stated that in her previous position the library had decided to measure their makerspace’s success in part by counting the number of items made by patrons. While this specific approach may not work for every library, looking at this approach can give you an idea of the various ways you can tailor the data you collect. Remember that it is most important to collect data that can allow you to make sense of how you makerspace is being utilized by your patrons so that you can determine what elements are successful and what elements might need to be improved. Furthermore, using this sort of more unconventional data that might better explain or add to your explanation of your makerspace evaluation can be a useful tool to illustrate the importance of your makerspace to your board and/or investors.
In addition to allowing your library to understand what about your library’s makerspace and associated programming is working for your library and what needs to be updated or changed, the data collected from your library’s evaluation can be extremely useful for justifying your makerspace and its programming to board members and investors. Remember that although you may feel strongly that your makerspace is important to your library, you should be able to back this feeling up with some sort of data, especially as makerspaces may accrue not only large initial installation costs but may also come with substantial running costs that need to be maintained in order to keep the makerspace functional. At the very least, providing this data gives your library accountability and can help justify the cost of maintaining and potentially improving upon your makerspace. One of the ways that libraries justify their costs is by conducting return-on-investment (ROI) analyses, in which libraries determine the value of their services using data that they’ve collected. By providing data about your makerspace, whether this data is conventional or unconventional, you are able to help prove that your makerspace’s costs are justifiable, to ensure that the makerspace remains funded, and to gain the support of your board for this project and its programming.
Evaluating Makerspace Equity and Inclusion
When developing a plan for assessing your makerspace’s impact and value, don’t overlook equity and inclusion. Who is using the makerspace, for what purposes, and with what effect are just as important as how many people are using the space. Instead of simply collecting program headcounts, also include basic demographic estimates in your record keeping; for example, among daily visitors to your makerspace, what percentage are female, non-White, or non-English speakers? In addition to counts, collect qualitative data that explores the value and accessibility of the makerspace specifically for marginalized and underrepresented youth. This data could be collected formally through surveying or interviews, or informally through methods such as a talk-back board (essentially, a blank space hosting a printed question open to public response, for example a wall with with post-it notes and pens within easy reach). For more evaluation and assessment methods, see Chapter 12 of this book.
Makerspaces are a trendy topic in librarianship, and there are dozens of resources devoted to helping libraries make the most of the opportunities these spaces provide. As sites of creation, experimentation, and collaboration, they align naturally with both STEAM domains and the broad goals of public libraries. With an intentional focus on equity and inclusion, these spaces can invite new voices into STEAM and expand access to technology and making. Yet care must be taken to ensure that these spaces are intentional, inclusive, sustainable, and engaging. For more resources related to library makerspaces, see the Public Library Association’s makerspace resource guide (http://www.ala.org/pla/resources/tools/technology/makerspaces) and the Urban Library Council’s MakerSpaces in Libraries site (https://www.urbanlibraries.org/member-resources/makerspaces-in-libraries).
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