Maker spaces

I’ve noticed library maker spaces in the news lately. In case you don’t know about maker subculture, Wikipedia defines it as “a technology-based extension of DIY culture” encompassing engineering and “traditional” crafts. Libraries have plenty of non-book related events — movie nights, video gaming, anime clubs, knitting circles. I guess in a way “maker space” is an extension of this outreach, and like all of the other activities it can be a chance to showcase the parts of a library’s collection relating to the hobby at hand.

But I work in a library where space is so limited that a large number of books in our adult collections are in storage. One library in Indiana solved the space issue by putting its maker space in a trailer. Even so, I wonder about the wisdom of devoting space, staff expertise, and budget to a service that I think is arguably beyond a library’s core mission. Yes, libraries promote literacy and maker services are a gateway to S.T.E.M. subjects everyone worries are lagging in America.

I guess my feelings on this topic are mixed because this is the classic conundrum for libraries: do we go the cool and trendy route, embrace new technologies (like 3D printers or Espresso print-on-demand book machines), invest in specialized staff training and equipment on the theory that this will draw more library patrons who we aren’t reaching? Or do we stick to our traditional services (albeit modernized to include mobile technologies, e-readers, etc.), including reader’s advisory and reference, because no one else does them like we do?

I know there is a very strong “innovate or die” camp in the library world. And I’m not a total luddite. But I hope libraries’ main role will  always be to help readers find books and vice versa.