A Maker Space Making a School Library

Much has been made of library maker spaces, which are part of the drive to be “relevant” by focusing on STEM. I’ve seen papers and essays galore on why STEM is Very Important for Public Libraries to Offer but I haven’t ever read about public library patrons asking for STEM. So is that relevance, if we tell the people what they want, instead of the other way around? As my last post indicated I’m not a fan of telling people, especially young people, what to focus on in their free time, hence my “” around relevant. On the other hand there’s a chicken and egg factor – if we offer it, will people discover they want it? That’s probably another blog post altogether.

You can take webinars and attend conference sessions on how to make maker spaces. I’ve always looked at them as sort of amped up crafts zones, places for creating techy projects mostly for fun, albeit educational fun. But an article in a library e-newsletter caught my eye this week because it featured a space where people were making what they really needed and wanted — a user-friendly library for their school.

At PS 721K, the Brooklyn Occupational Training Center for 14-19 year old special education students, shop teacher Charles Brown, who trained at Adaptive Design Association, helped students build furniture and accessories for their newly redesigned library. Previously, it wasn’t a space students with special needs could use. With the kind of heavy cardboard shipping boxes are made from, the students and their teacher created stools and book bins.

Photo: School Library Journal

If you look around ADA’s website you can see many more examples of adaptive furniture and kids engaging in “cardboard carpentry.” I think this is “maker” activity at its best. Seeing a problem or a lack and actually making something to fill that need seems like a much better use of time and talent than just making stuff so you can check the box on having a maker space.

That’s not to say maker spaces simply meeting the need for creative, fun activities for young people are a bad thing – if the community wants that. I just love the idea of “making” for good.

 

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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.