Makerspaces, Participatory Learning, and Libraries

The concept of libraries as makerspaces first hit my radar last November when I read about the Fayetteville Free Library’s FabLab.  As I began hearing more buzz about libraries and makerspaces the first few months of this year, I decided that learning more about this concept and exploring how I might apply the elements of makerspaces to my library program would be a personal learning project for the summer.

So what is a makerspace?  Makerspace defines it as:

Modeled after hackerspaces, a makerspace is a place where young people have an opportunity to explore their own interests, learn to use tools and materials, and develop creative projects. It could be embedded inside an existing organization or standalone on its own. It could be a simple room in a building or an outbuilding that’s closer to a shed. The key is that it can adapt to a wide variety of uses and can be shaped by educational purposes as well as the students’ creative goals.

The Library as Incubator Project describes makerspaces as:

Makerspaces are collaborative learning environments where people come together to share materials and learn new skills… makerspaces are not necessarily born out of a specific set of materials or spaces, but rather a mindset of community partnership, collaboration, and creation.

In late spring, I was even more intrigued by the concept as my friend and colleague Kristin Fontichiaro began sharing some of her thoughts on makerspaces and the possibilities for school libraries.  While immersing myself into researching makerspaces last week, I discovered friend and fellow librarian Heather Braum is also fascinated by the possibilities, and she shared her current list of resources with me including photos and video from her visit this past weekend to the Kansas City Maker Faire.  You can learn more about Heather’s MakerFaire experience in her new blog post here.

While I am having fun soaking up ideas and brainstorming ways we could cultivate makerspaces in The Unquiet Library, I can’t help but notice that makerspaces provide opportunities for participatory learning.  As regular readers of the blog know, participatory learning is the guiding framework for my library program and services.  Project New Media Literacies identifies these principles of participatory learning:

  • Heightened motivation and new forms of engagement through meaningful play and experimentation
  • Learning that feels relevant to students’ identities and interests
  • Opportunities for creating using a variety media, tools and practices
  • Co-configured expertise where educators and students pool their skills and knowledge and share in the tasks of teaching and learning
  • An integrated system of learning where connections between home, school, community and world are enabled and encouraged
I believe that makerspaces can provide students AND teachers opportunities to exercise these elements of participatory learning and to form what James Gee calls affinity spaces, communities formed around passions and shared interests. Tinkering, collaborative learning, play, conversations for learning, intergenerational learning,experimentation, inquiry, the act of creation, and problem solving–these are just some of the qualities that can happen in makerspaces and encourage participatory learning.
Buffy swooning over her new School’s Out Issue of MAKE

My excitement about the possibilities of makerspaces was fueled today by an unexpected trip to a local Barnes andNoble store and stumbling upon the “School’s Out!  Summer Fun Guide” issue of MAKE magazine which includes a set of 3D glasses to interact with the magazine features!  While some of the makerspace ventures do involve some startup costs and others might involve equipment and materials that wouldn’t fit the typical school library budget, this issue is brimming with ideas to help librarians easily craft makerspace culture on a dime.

So what are some additional resources if you’re in the initial thinking/planning/wondering stages for how to create a makerspace as an essential learning space in your library?

Are you thinking about incorporating makerspaces (as well as hackerspaces) into your library during 2012-2013?  If so, please help the education and library communities crowdsource this concept by sharing your resources and ideas!

Why no, B&N, MAKE is not just for men or boys–girls like makerspaces, too!

Interestingly enough, the magazine issue was on display in the freestanding “men’s interests” display rack—I did complain to a salesperson that the placement of the magazine was not only sexist but age inappropriate as a magazine geared toward children should probably not be displayed prominently to magazines featuring covers featuring excessive cleavage of women–she promised to share my concerns with the magazine section manager, and I’ll follow up to see what happens.