CC image courtesy of thaumazin on Flickr

Maker spaces are open community laboratories where people with common interests can socialize, collaborate, and make or build things using their shared resources and knowledge.  They are gaining popularity today in all library sectors, from public to academic, medical, and school libraries.

There were over 500 participants on October 15th for the first webinar of a 4-part series by ALA TechSource on maker spaces in libraries.  The webinar chat window was abuzz with questions and interest on the part of public and school librarians on how to get started with a maker space in their libraries to serve their communities.

The first public library to create a maker space as a free and open service to their community was Fayetteville Free Library in New York State, located east of Syracuse.  Their “Fab Lab” offers 3D printer, digital cameras, podcasting equipment, as well as audio and video editing software.  TJ McCue at Forbes magazine wrote a commentary last November that described the Fayetteville maker space and challenged communities to engage with their public libraries and contribute their talents and resources to create more open and free maker spaces.

The October 15th webinar highlighted Westport Public Library’s experiences initiating a maker space housed in their library’s main public area for their community in Connecticut.  Maxine Bleiweis, Library Director, and Bill Derry, Assistant Director for Innovation and User Experience, related their journey from an idea and a concept to reality and implementation.  The maker space concept supported the library’s mission of developing new service models that transcend the traditional role of libraries and fulfilled several of their goals: being an incubator for thoughts and ideas, being a center for lifelong learning, initiating innovative library services, and providing rich and interactive services to meet the needs of underserved segments of their community.  Their first maker space event attracted 2,200 attendees to their library, and has continued to engage a variety of library patrons and new-to-the-library participants.

The free, recorded webinar and slides are available at ALA TechSource.  Registration for the three remaining free webinars can also be found at ALA TechSource:

  • Monday, November 19 at 2 PM EST – Cleveland Public Library
  • Monday, December 3 at 2 PM EST – Detroit Public Library
  • Monday, January 7 at 2 PM EST – Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

One resource on maker spaces mentioned in the webinar is the Maker Librarian website.  In addition, Make Magazine was mentioned as a source of ideas for make-it-yourself projects.  Maxine Bleiweis’ book “Helping Business: the Library’s Role in Community Economic Development: A How To Do It Manual”, written in 1997, underscores her long-time commitment to community engagement for the public library.

Other commentary and instances of maker spaces in various library segments include the following:

The Unquiet Librarian has been writing blog posts about maker spaces in libraries and includes a variety of useful resources and websites particularly for school librarians as well as public librarians.  Buffy Hamilton touches on many of the aspects of maker spaces as a culture of learning which she used in her recent presentation at the Atlanta Mini Maker Faire on “Creating Communities Through Libraries and Makerspaces”

Laurne Britton, Transliteracy Development Director at Fayetteville Free Library (NY), wrote about maker spaces in the October 1st issue of Library Journal, describing maker spaces at her library as well as those at the Westport Public Library and Detroit Public Library in addition to promotion of maker spaces by the Clinton Global Iniative’s Maker Corps, the Maker Education Initiative, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services.

Maura Smale challenges academic librarians to consider what role maker spaces can play in the academic library or institution in her ACRLog post on October 16, 2012.

PF Anderson ponders whether medical libraries might also offer maker spaces for their clients in the Emerging Technologies Librarian blog post “Makerspace Meets Medical Library, Maybe?” on October 27, 2012 and provides numerous links to resources about maker spaces.

Harvard University began a research project with schools in Oakland, CA to study how children learn while making or tinkering with things.  Project Zero is described in a recent Mind/Shift article by Katrina Schwartz.  Schools, and school libraries, can play a role in facilitating cognitive development of students through their maker spaces.

As libraries re-define their roles in their communities and seek to position themselves as valued contributors to the economic well-being and growth of those communities rather than being seen merely as budget items that can easily be chopped during hard times, more and more libraries will investigate and implement maker spaces as one tactic in their arsenal of proactive channels for engagement in their communities.  Maker spaces are certainly not the “silver bullet” that will solve all of their problems, but can clearly demonstrate how libraries contribute tangible value to their communities.  Librarians can learn from each other and share best practices, as maker spaces are implemented by libraries of all types.