A Guide to "Maker Spaces"

A Guide to “Maker Spaces”

Maker spaces are bringing a new dimension and a whole new audience to libraries around the world. But what are they exactly? What impact are they having on libraries and the people who use them? Where is this new idea headed? Here’s what you need to know to understand and make the most of this exciting trend.

What Are Maker Spaces?

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Image via Flickr by maltman23

Maker spaces go by many names. Some refer to them as fablabs, hack(er)spaces, or hacklabs, but don’t worry—we’re not talking about the kind of hacking that has to do with stealing information or bringing down a company’s online operations. Maker spaces are creative areas that encourage applied, innovative, creative thinking and celebrate do-it-yourself thinkers. Rather than one person sitting quietly reading a book, maker spaces are designed to encourage several people to engage with tools and help one another create and innovate.

In workshops and industrial settings, maker spaces often include physical tools ranging from cooktops to metal fabricators. In libraries, maker spaces may offer a 3D printer and access to software tools in the areas of graphics, design, conceptualization and presentation, research, and multimedia, as well as a common space where people can work collaboratively and help one another as they explore and create.

How Are They Changing Libraries?

In 2014, the Obama administration hosted a Maker Faire, celebrated a national Day of Making, and spoke in support of makers across the country. Library scientists and the American Library Association are taking up the call to support hands-on learning and a more creative approach to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM.) Libraries are reconfiguring spaces to focus less on book stacks and printed resources, and more on engagement and collaboration. Community members are being encouraged to think of libraries not in terms of consuming ideas, but of creating them.

How Are They Likely to Evolve?

The future of maker spaces is hard to predict, because the people who use them are creating it every day. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Allen County Public Library has filled a 50-foot trailer with woodworking and electronics tools, a 3D printer, and an injection molding machine. Other libraries are offering expert-led workshops, open lab hours, clubs to encourage collaboration, and technology tools like green screen studios and machines that can print, trim, and bind books on demand.

As technology continues to make advanced design, production, and engineering tools more user-friendly and affordable, maker spaces will adapt and expand to empower people to create in new and exciting ways.

Don’t be intimidated by all that technology. Small 3D printers are affordable and easy to use, and you can start a maker space in your library without any new machinery. Start by creating an area where people can sit together and put their ideas in a shared space, whether it’s a collaborative online forum or just a big easel. Add tools like markers, scissors, tape and glue, even Legos. Make sure it’s in a spot where makers can talk freely, without disturbing those who prefer to work in silence. Then, let the makers in your community take it from there.