Makerspaces

I had mentioned an earlier post about staying relevant.

With debates about books becoming obsolete with the emergence of e-readers (although I don’t believe this will happen anytime soon to be honest, people still love books) and other leaps in technology, it is important for us librarians to stay on top of things.

Makerspaces are one way to stay on top.

I attended a small meeting for local school librarians a while back in which makerspaces were introduced to me. Now what is a makerspace, you may ask? Well, let me try to summarize it to you, without butchering it up. Here is what I learned :

Apparently, the concept of a makerspace, AKA a hacker space, was first introduced by – you guessed it – the hacker community. The mindset behind a makerspace is to let children play, tinker, be creative, and build in a space. These spaces are multi-disciplinary “STEAM” spaces: areas in which science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics can come together. So students come into these spaces, and they create. They can then showcase what they built at the end of the year, in what is called a maker faire. In makerspaces, students have time to build and think about something; they are learning and thinking, while feeling things. What’s great about makerspaces, is that is not so much about the final product, but more about the steps and the product’s development – which is not what we are used to seeing in schools in North America. That’s why makerspaces are hard to implement here, as there is a huge emphasis on deadlines. A makerspace is not something you can do without some instruction, so it is best to find people who know how to do the specific things to get on board with the project. You form a “maker team” from various areas to push the maker movement (e.g. art teacher, tech department, robotics supervisor, someone who knows how to knit, etc.).

(QAIS Librarians, 2016)

So how do you implement a makerspace into your own library? One of the librarians present at the meeting discussed how she implemented makerspaces into her library. The junior students’ library time is split up in a story time for the first half, and then the second half students can choose to either read on their own or in a group, or to use the makerspace. For those that choose to go with the makerspace option, various boxes with different themes are provided for projects. For example, there is an art box that is filled with embroidery thread, scissors, pencils, etc. Although the students’ projects are often influenced by what’s going on in their classes, they are free to make what they want, without any prompting. Her makerspace also has puzzles, and toys, such as the Q-BA-MAZE, which can teach them special reasoning, engineering, etc. The senior students have access to the “Fab Lab”, a supervised small workshop in which there is a 3D printer, a wire cutter, a vinyl cutter, and more. There is also a classroom for design and innovation, and it is also used for workshops open to the community. It has a sewing machine, a 3D rendering workshop, a Q-BA-MAZE, colouring materials, some small toys, and more.

(QAIS Librarians, 2016)

Another school had really amazing gadgets, such as a 3Doodler (a 3D printer pen), Makey Makeys (alligator clips connected to the Internet that you can make to do tons of cool things), littleBits (modular electronics), a Sphero (a sphere-shaped robot you control through apps, the BB8 one is out of this world!!!!!!!!), and Breakout EDU games (escape games for the classroom – so COOL and you can DIY!!).

(QAIS Librarians, 2016)

Well what if your budget is small and you can’t afford the big stuff just yet? Well apparently, if your library doesn’t have a big budget, you can contact companies to lend you machines, such as 3D printers, to test for a pilot makerspace project. That way you can test out the techy machines to make sure they’ll actually be used before you invest a lot of money for nothing.

(QAIS Librarians, 2016)

Another school library purchased many books about makerspaces – some on the philosophy of maker spaces, and some on various projects you can do. That way books stay relevant.

(QAIS Librarians, 2016)

We also discussed some of the issues that come up with makerspaces. Most schools already have spaces for art, robotics, sewing, and other departments, so why would we take away from these spaces to put them all into one makerspace? In the same vein, maker spaces can do what all of the spaces do in one place, so why go to each space separately? In addition, some of these separate departments can be closed at certain times of the day. Makerspaces would give access to these resources to students that are not part of these groups. No concrete solution was given, other than the need to evaluate what is already present in schools and see how we can work with them.

(QAIS Librarians, 2016)

The biggest issue mentioned with makerspaces is the storing of the projects. Some of these projects can take months to complete and can take up a lot of space. Other people also get tempted to touch the projects and makerspaces often need constant supervision for the technology. They are more versatile than a really focused place, as anyone can use it, so you need several people involved with diverse backgrounds. A solution to this problem is to limit the amount of projects a makerspace can take on at a time. They can be structured in such a way that students need to have a plan; they have to say what they want to do and commit to the project. If they don’t commit to work on the project in a specific time frame (e.g. they don’t show up for one month), the space can be given to another student that will commit. The use of the space can be a “reward” – students would not be able to use the space if they engage in bad conduct, for example.

(QAIS Librarians, 2016)

Well that’s all great and all, but how can makerspaces apply to librarians? A fantastic librarian mentioned that, other than lending out books on makerspaces, the makerspace can also be used to talk about plagiarism and originality in new ways, as physical objects are now being created, rather than the written word. How neat is that?

(QAIS Librarians, 2016)

My thoughts (and struggles).

Perhaps it is because I grew up as computers were being introduced in the home, but I am very pro-makerspace. Technology doesn’t scare me. The head librarian I work with “doesn’t have the energy” to deal with this. Perhaps it is because she is older and this kind of technology scares her? Or maybe she is just resistant to change (I am constantly testing her limits on this, and it sometimes goes in my favour)? Technology and change, either don’t phase me, and it’s times like these that I wish I could make the calls once in a while. I think they’re a great way to get kids in the library. I don’t know about all of you other school librarians out there, but it’s getting harder in our school to get the children to borrow books. What better way for us to stay relevant? For us, they are already using our librarian in non-traditional ways anyway – meetings are held here, presentations, exams, etc. Libraries around the world are now also being called Learning Commons. Why not also a makerspace? What do you all think?

Sincerely,
The Struggling Librarian

 

References
Quebec Association of Independent Schools Librarians. (2016, June 14). QAIS Librarians Meeting Minutes [Word document].

 

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