Student Perspectives: How public libraries are using makerspace technology to allow their users to create and innovate

Student Perspectives is our series of posts written by current CityLIS students. This post is written by Ellena Moyse looks at the american innovation of the Makerspace in public libraries. Ellena is on Twitter:@ElleMoyse


Makerspace (definition):

“A place in which people with shared interests, especially in computing or technology, can gather to work on projects while sharing ideas, equipment, and knowledge”

For my second blog post of the term, I have had a look back on my notes from the previous sessions, and I have realised that every lecture I leave with several questions and ideas written down to follow up, some of these big and complex, some small. The first few DITA lectures left me with a lot of questions around the idea of information literacy – how can this be taught and what are we doing to teach it? I have also found that much of our class discussions around the idea of information literacy end up at this question specifically – what are we doing now to help young people and adults alike to gain fluency?

For those who aren’t yet familiar with the concept: a makerspace (also known as a hackerspace or Fab Lab) is a service run by schools, universities and perhaps most notably – libraries. These programs give patrons access to the space and resources to create and learn. Sometimes these resources are high tech (kits for coding, robotics and circuitry), but many libraries also offer kits for activities such as crochet, Lego, and even learning to play the ukulele. For reference, here is just one example of the types of kits provided from Duxbury Free Library in Massachusetts.

The Forge at Ela Public Library, https://www.demcointeriors.com/

Sadly, although makerspaces are extremely common in US libraries, we have very little in UK libraries – although there are a few rare examples – mostly programs involving 3D printing technology (see here).  However, I predict that these will be cropping up a lot in the future as the US programs tend to be incredibly popular. Also, introducing more makerspace programs into public libraries would be incredibly beneficial for the institutions themselves. As librarians of this time, we now must look beyond the concept of a public library as a home for books – we are needing to change and go beyond “physical item storage” – libraries are far more than that – they are study spaces, meeting places, and a space for computing and printing. However, as Burke (2014) puts it this “trend” of reshaping library spaces still has one fundamental turn to take – “one that tilts the work of libraries from information consumers and providers to information creators”. The work that is being achieved from these makerspace programs is helping this turn to come into play. If you are interested in knowing more about the topic, Williams and Willett (2019) offer an interesting perspective in their research paper that examines the role of the librarian in a landscape where they are required to take on the kind of role[s] that makerspaces and similar programs require. Through interviews with library staff they seek to gain understanding on how librarians are adjusting to their role shifting to that of an information professional or even a ‘teacher’ type role.

Many of these Makerspace programs give patrons access to technologies such as 3D printing, coding software, and AI technology. Access is the first barrier to gaining information literacy and this eliminates that first barrier straight away. Much of the research into the impact of these programs shows an incredibly positive impact on its users. Bers, Strawhacker, and Vizner’s 2018 study found, for the environments studied – children had shown “collaboration”, “communication”, “competence”, “innovation”, and “[gained] confidence using digital tools” after partaking in a makerspace program. Keune, Peppler, and Wohlwend (2019) offered an incredibly interesting perspective by looking in depth at a young, female engineering major who felt she had overcome the limitations of the STEM field which “acknowledges women’s expertise less than men’s” with the support of her makerspace program. Keune et al. note how the makerspace program allowed this young woman to build her portfolio, as well as share and build relationships and connections with other learners.

Lastly, Finley (2019) looked at Frisco Public Library’s Artificial Intelligence maker kits – their “most complicated [by far]” which utilizes Google’s AIY Voice project kit, an entry level computer, and a small speaker which results in “a stripped-down version of an Amazon Echo”. With a small amount of Python coding expertise (which the library also offers makerspace classes to teach) these kits enable “mass participation” in Artificial Intelligence. The introduction of maker kits of this advanced level to public libraries would be revolutionary – and much needed in order to meet the demand of a world where employers are desperately seeking information and technology minded employees. Finley also notes that the feedback to these kits has been extremely positive – with patrons stating they are grateful to have access to these “power[ful] tools” and are pleased with the results and the range of things they have been able to create.

The feedback from these makerspace programs seems to be overwhelmingly positive. However, as examined in Williams and Willett’s (2019) work, the introduction of makerspaces may lead the librarian to question their role. Historically, we have been known as the ‘keepers of knowledge’ – however, the introduction of makerspaces and similar programs flips that idea on its head, are we now also expected to be teachers as well as ‘knowledge keepers’? Whatever the case, for the patrons of public libraries, I believe that makerspaces can only be a positive thing. They are a much-needed way of facilitating creativity, innovation, and a great first building block in learning key skills – whether that’s programming or playing the ukulele.

References:

Bers, M.U., Strawhacker, A. & Vizner, M. (2018) The design of early childhood makerspaces to support positive technological development: Two case studies. Library Hi Tech, 36(1), pp. 75-96.

Burke, J. J. (2014) Makerspaces: A Practical Guide for Librarians. US: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers.

Keune, A., Peppler, K. A. & Wohlwend, K. E. (2019) Recognition in makerspaces: Supporting opportunities for women to “make” a STEM career. Computers in Human Behaviour, 99, pp. 368 – 380

Williams, R. D., & Willett, R. (2019). Makerspaces and boundary work: the role of librarians as educators in public library makerspaces. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 51(3), pp. 801–813

Further reading:

Halbinger, M. A. (2018) The role of makerspaces in supporting consumer innovation and diffusion: An empirical analysis. Research Policy, 45(10), pp. 2028-2036

Halverson, E. R. & Sheridan, K. (2014) The maker movement in education. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), pp. 495-504

Luce, D. L. (2018) The Makerspace Librarian’s Sourcebook. Journal of Web Librarianship, 12(4), p. 262

About Joseph Dunne-Howrie

Joseph is a practitioner scholar in theatre and library information science. He teaches at several universities including City, Rose Bruford College, and UEL. His research interests include immersive performance, performative writing, digital culture, documenting and archiving, and audience participation. You can learn more about Joseph's work at www.josephjohndunne.com.
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