Public library makerspaces

In one of my current studies I am interviewing library directors who have/have not considered adding a makerspace to their libraries. I am getting the most interesting quotes from all of these people–every one of the participants has been thoughtful and wonderful! So here’s a small sampling of what people are saying about why they are considering makerspaces:

I don’t think we’ll say that the mission of the library is to provide a creative space,  we won’t be that explicit…but I think instead it will be implied, saying the library is the space where creativity happens.

This next quote is from a participant who was one of the few in the study to have an active makerspace in the library, and he framed his concept of what the space offered in lush terms:

Magic is what the library needs to do…Neil Gaiman wrote something about this in libraries, if he could write something on the wall of every library …he would just, in the children’s section, write “And then what happened?” He was talking about that magic of the imagination and the spark. I think that having something material really makes it magic. It’s less like “Yeah, I’m imagining something,” and that’s great, but [more like] “I have this thing in my hand now that wasn’t there 20 minutes ago.”

The next person described not only an access model in which people could get access to knowledge, but also spoke to the idea  that the library, if not the people in the makerspace, would ensure that any interested party would have the materials they needed to create. The consumables of makerspaces were a worry to some participants–how would they charge, who should provide what, etc. is a common concern of makerspaces in libraries.

“If somebody were to come into our knitting group and say i don’t have any yarn or knitting needles, that person would have yarn and knitting needles”

Every one of the participants expressed this thought in one form another:

Makerspaces lure people who thought library was about books and didn’t have anything to offer them.

Librarians’ awareness of their image problem and the fact that some people really do think libraries are irrelevant book warehouses flavored the entire project. My findings in this study were about how librarians did/did not conceptualize makerspaces within an access or intellectual freedom framework, and the fundamental roles of libraries.

But the research also revealed some initial uncertainty on why the librarians were librarians, why they had particular roles, and so on. As the conversations progressed, the uncertainty was ironed out, and this was one of the most interesting developments–to listen to them think through their rationales. Like so:

As I talk to you, it seems to me that makerspaces are more outgoing, where you want other people, and you talk to one another. If you’re in technology you could be isolated so to speak but that wouldn’t bother you because in some ways technology can get us far afield but it is a loner type of operation….Anyone can go into a room and get on a computer…but the whole idea of when you get together is like with book discussions, you could read—and you probably are a heavy reader—but it’s that give and take that enriches what you are doing. The enrichment comes—and in makerspaces—because you’re sharing it with other people. With the digital labs, it’s that you’re doing something that’s high-tech, and you’re getting it out to people. But I think that interaction of people is stronger in a sense … in the makerspaces.

This quote reveals an understanding of digital media labs that may be less group-based or interactive in the act of creation than is the actual case, but these distinctions are important—makerspaces are perhaps more convivial spaces (to use Illich’s term in all its connotations) than digital media labs. Fascinating!

Every one of the participants (10 so far) have said that a makerspace concept aligns with the mission of the library as they understood both. I would LOVE to talk to people who disagree on this point, because I think they have valuable insight to add to the conversation. Know anyone?


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