Makerspaces: Why Libraries Are the Perfect Fit

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With the rise of modern technology and growth of do-it-yourself culture has come the need for more collaborative community workspaces. The increased importance of STEM in education has made that need ever greater. Creative-minded individuals crave spaces where they can use high-tech tools to bring their projects to life. They want to use 3-D printers, laser engraving, coding and other often cost-prohibitive activities to enhance their creative pursuits.

In response to this need, library leaders have popularized makerspaces, where people can gather to work on their creative aspirations. After all, with their mission to make knowledge accessible to all, public libraries are the obvious place for these kinds of spaces to reside. With librarians leading their implementation, the growth of makerspaces has successfully promoted creativity and learning in many communities.

It is critical that library leaders, both current and those working toward an online Master of Management in Library Science (MMLIS) degree, understand the integral role of the makerspace and the library as a whole in promoting creativity and education in their communities. When it comes to makerspaces, these future library leaders should keep in mind that:

  • The makerspace trend is continuing to grow as more and more leaders become aware of the importance of supplying communities with creative workspaces.
  • Libraries are uniquely positioned to bring makerspaces to the public and support the learning achieved there.
  • Librarians play an integral role in helping the community members use the makerspaces to the best of their abilities.

The Evolution of the Makerspace Trend

As the tech world pushes the limits of innovation, people naturally begin to express an interest in using the new devices to build their personal projects. Unfortunately, the high starting costs associated with 3-D printers, laser cutting machines and similar devices prohibit many from trying them out.

In an effort to bridge this gap and make the tech more accessible, a group of dedicated individuals dreamed up makerspaces and positioned the first in the Fayetteville Free Library. As this makerspace grew wildly popular, additional libraries across the country started building makerspaces of their own.

The Role of Libraries in Pushing Innovation

Libraries are a natural choice for makerspaces, as these community spaces already reward curiosity and promote learning. Each one has the power to take community preferences and build an informal learning space that reflects the creative desires of those in that area.

In creating their makerspaces, some libraries have elected to focus solely on promoting the design and construction of 3-D printed or laser printed works. Others have decided to weave coding and digital art into their offerings to expand the creativity into the digital space as well. Each makerspace looks and functions differently as a result, but they are all important in allowing people to pursue innovation.

The Most Successful Makerspaces in Libraries

In just the past 10 years, libraries across the country have started creating their own makerspaces. In addition to having a unique combination of tech equipment and software, many also hold classes to teach people how to use everything to the fullest extent.

Here are just a few examples of successful makerspaces:

Fab Lab at the D.C. Public Library

At the Washington, D.C. Public Library, patrons can come use a wide range of old and new tech tools. Using computer-assisted technology, they can design and build projects from metal, wood, plastic and other materials. They can use a laser scanner and cutter to precisely shape metal or etch designs in the surface, for example.

In this well-designed makerspace, patrons can also use a wire bender, milling machine, 3-D printer and a vast collection of traditional tools to complete their projects. The library also provides patrons with many materials, like hardware and adhesive. At this location, the library staff helps patrons use the equipment and troubleshoot minor tech problems.

STEAMstacks at the San Jose Public Library

The San Jose, California Public Library built the STEAMstacks makerspace to promote advanced learning in science, technology, engineering, art and math subjects. To support this pursuit, it outfitted its space with 3-D printing equipment, design software and coding programs. The library also supports patrons in learning how to take advantage of all its tech equipment by hosting regular workshops and classes.

Through these events, visitors can come learn how to create, test and create again. The library also offers courses exploring digital storytelling, animation, metal engraving, leatherworking, robotics and more. By holding these workshops, this library promotes peer-to-peer learning, helping strengthen skill sets and community connections at the same time.

The Benefits of Providing Public Access to Makerspaces

As public libraries integrate makerspaces into their operations, community members can greatly benefit from having free and open access to many high-tech devices. Without libraries taking the initiative here, makerspaces would remain a paid space only accessible to those who could afford them. The improved accessibility allows everyone to participate regardless of their means and personal resources.

Makerspaces allow hands-on learning at its best. People from all walks of life can come in and start learning how to use the equipment to build and create. As these individuals learn, they can also return the favor by helping their peers. This creates a collaborative environment that encourages more people to take advantage of the tech devices at their local libraries. As a result, community members are able to increase their skill sets, release creative energy and build their social networks with every visit to their local makerspaces.

The Future of Library Professionals: Makerspace Leaders?

As makerspaces in libraries continue to prove successful and popular, more public library locations will elect to bring these spaces to their own neighborhoods. As this occurs, librarians will find themselves immersed in a world of technology and change. They will play a pivotal role in helping people feel comfortable using high-tech equipment and software programs of all kinds.

If you are an aspiring library science professional with a passion for learning, teaching and technology, a Master of Management in Library and Information Science can help support your interests and prepare you for your future as a makerspace leader. The USC Marshall School of Business online offers a 21st century degree for those interested in library science, information leadership and library management.