Makerspaces in Public Libraries

Makerspace, fablab, hackerspace, techshop, creative space, Maker Faire – the names are different, and new – at least to me – but they essentially have the same intention: to create rather than consume.  According to Bagley, a makerspace is a “space that has been designed to allow users to create, build, and learn new projects and technologies”, and Boyle et al., “any place where the community can come together for informal and shared social learning”.


Photo by 5chw4r7z / CC BY

The maker movement has become a part of public discourse over the past five years and is clearly hot right now.  Although DIY is not a new concept, its growing popularity has been attributed to recent developments in Web technology facilitating knowledge and skill sharing via the Internet.  It is described as a democratisation of learning and sharing, an industrial revolution, no less, by removing the middleman of big corporations, governments and institutions.

http://Maker Movement Infographic

Makerspaces have helped libraries redefine themselves from being repositories of information to spaces of information exchange and community engagement.  In alignment with ALIA’s National Vision and Framework for Public Libraries 2010 – 2015, makerspaces can promote lifelong learning; provide an enjoyable leisure activity and equitable access to technology.  In American public libraries, creative spaces are more prevalent than here – the American Library Association found their existence in a library increases patron numbers.  


Photo by Chattanooga Public Library /  CC BY

In Australia, makerspaces are becoming a feature of library programs and services, the type on offer dependent on community needs and budgetary constraints, examples are: coding clubs, 3D printing, craft circles, workshops using drills and laser cutters, robotics, and recording studios.


Photo by State Library of NSW Public Library Services / CC BY

Some creative spaces will involve more planning and support than others.  Factors such as, funding, training staff and patrons, being flexible, partnering with stakeholders in business and community, developing appropriate user agreements, and attracting new users are important considerations for a successful program, not to mention alleviate concerns about patron safety and copyright.  


Photo by The Daring Librarian / CC BY

I speculate that Australian public libraries will continue to implement creative community hubs within their spaces. What’s more, funding bodies will reward those that do.  Take for example the State Library of Queensland’s VISION 2017 grants.  STEM-based makerspaces fulfill its four themes of “creative community spaces; physical and virtual connectors; technology trendsetters; and incubators of ideas, learning and innovation”.  In fact, 33 councils were awarded a total of $300,000 to deliver coding and robotics programs through their public libraries.


Photo by Josh Burker / CC BY

Personally, I am one of the new breed of library patron who engaged with her local public library because of a makerspace program – I registered my son into CoderDojo, a coding club for children.  I still use the library for its traditional purposes, such as borrowing resources, but my son and I had an added reason to walk through its doors.  Although the Web conditions that have made the maker movement take off globally are the same ones that are reducing library patron numbers, public libraries are in an ideal position to harness this revolution and be incubators of innovation.  In a performance-oriented society, makerspaces can provide tangible results to funding bodies and as a result, help to future-proof libraries.  I look forward to my local library  getting on board and expanding their makerspace programs to target people at different stages of life and not just children.

CoderDojo: A Library Program Review

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” -George Bernard Shaw

CoderDojo Brisbane is a free computer programming club for children held at 7 Brisbane City Council libraries.  It is sponsored by Brisbane Marketing, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Brisbane City Council as part of the Digital Brisbane Strategy.  Dojos are held on Saturday mornings for 2 to 3 hours for 6-week term blocks.  Securing a spot in a Dojo is highly sought after with all places filled soon after registration opens.  The Dojos are run by volunteers, called mentors, most of whom work or study in IT and have a passion for sharing their coding skills with kids.  Participants are known as ninjas and they can range in age from 7 to 17 years of age, with the average age being 10 years.  Ninjas need to bring their own laptop with coding software already downloaded prior to the session.  The library provides the space, furniture, power and WiFi.

CoderDojo provides a relaxed environment for young people to explore coding with appealing software like Scratch, Hopscotch, Alice and Python.  The set-up is unlike a classroom.  Children lead the learning and are encouraged to experiment and share ideas.  Co-founder of CoderDojo, Bill Liao calls it “play-degogy”, based on the belief that children learn best through play.  

2881823606_8bcef3b113_o   Photo by andresmh / CC BY

In the session I observed, ninjas were exploring Scratch and Tinkercad.  Scratch (see picture above) is coding software suitable for beginners in which labelled building blocks are dragged and dropped together to create a program.  Tinkercad can be used to create 3D designs which can then be printed on a 3D printer, or be imported into Minecraft.  The lead mentor brought in a 3D-printed wheel and cart to show and invited the group to create their own design to import into Minecraft.  There was even a chance of having their creation printed out in 3D, the lucky ninja chosen by pulling his/her name tag out of a bag in the next session.  This got the attention of my teenage son who was looking disinterested.  He stood out from the group because he was much older.  He was already proficient at Scratch and hoped to learn more about HTML.  A friendly mentor, Gabriel,  had given him personal tutoring for a couple of previous sessions, but on that day, he was absent.  On a positive note, I’m pleased that he is interested in registering as a young mentor next term so that he can teach Scratch to his younger peers.  

So, why is it important to teach children to code?  The aim is not necessarily to produce computer programmers, although some may pursue this career path.  In an age where digital technologies are intricately linked to every aspect of our lives and we are saturated with information, learning to code cultivates information literacy.  James Whelton, the other founder of CoderDojo, said: “we need more creators and less users”.  By being creators, they take control of their digital experiences and gain an understanding of the inner-workings of what they encounter on screens everyday.  They progress from being passive users that interact with technology to becoming empowered digital citizens who can express themselves through technology.

What is more, children learn useful mathematical and design skills in the process of creating their projects.  Mitch Resnick, co-creator of Scratch, explains this in the Ted talk below along with showing some wonderful Scratch creations.

I was really impressed with CoderDojo.  It is a well-organised and popular library program where children can explore coding together under the guidance of enthusiastic IT experts free of charge.  One drawback though is that children who do not have a laptop are currently excluded, but there is a suggestion that computers onsite could be used for these children as the program grows.  And from my son’s perspective, the group was too young and other coding programs were not explored enough – Scratch was the main program used throughout the term, as a result, he was not engaged as he could have been.  But, maybe this is what he needed to motivate him to become a youth mentor in future.  We’ll see…  


Reader Advisory Service Chat



Photo by Enokson / CC BY

I was delighted to be one of the Twitter Chat Champions on the topic of Reader’s Advisory Service.  Overall, the chat was lively and stimulating.  I found using Twitter easier this time around than our first chat, and I suspect others did too. I could concentrate on content rather than the mechanics of tweeting.  I thank everyone who participated and providing food for thought for this blog.   

One of the topics that created a hearty discussion was the potential for libraries to recommend books to patrons by analysing their loans history.  Many of us agreed with Kate’s comment:  I want my library to exploit my borrowing data the way amazon exploits my purchasing data. Sell to me library! Sell to me!”.  A few raised doubts though.  Karen commented: “Kobo (my ereader provider) does this… I don’t like it as I find it limiting”; and Tim: “Issues of privacy?”.  Guest tweeter Hugh, @hughrundle, proposed it can be done and wrote a paper on using library patron’s data to help them find what they want while still protecting privacy.  Learn more here.

On the topic of why RA is important, Kylie commented: “If ‘books’ are the library’s brand; readers’ advisory is kind of like the library’s ‘sales pitch’”.  A positive interaction between librarian and customer by way of effective RA creates a bond that is likely to result in a return visit.  In terms of qualities a librarian should possess to deliver RA, being approachable and non-judgmental, and possessing good listening and conversational skills were mentioned.  There was also agreement that librarians need to be supported by employers to deliver RA through professional development and time to evaluate resources.  In her research, Jo Beazley, a guest librarian tweeter, discusses the value of RA as a skill set librarians should have.

In relation to characteristics of good RA practice, Tim commented:  “Think outside the box. Going to a poetry slam on Fri night at SLV in Melbourne. Poetry made accessible.”  Going by his review, it was a successful event with many attendees.  An event like this is a great way to promote reading and the library, but, I think it is vital to “…know you(r) audience” (Helen).  It would be disheartening to organise an event and only have a handful of people turn up, even worse, none.

Keeping a broad view of what RA encompasses, will help libraries and librarians stay current.  Promotion and reaching potential customers is an important component.  With e-books on the rise and free internet apps readily available, such as Google’s, libraries would benefit from applying marketing strategies to maintain a stable customer base now and into the future.  A user-centred approach is key, with a shift of focus from collection to connection where librarians strike a balance between providing a positive user experience and challenging users to grow intellectually and personally.  As Hamish put it: “walking that crooked tightrope between challenging the reader and deferring to their tastes.”  


Photo by Cory Doctorow / CC BY

RA is a core aspect of library service.  In a customer-focused model, it is an opportunity to improve customer relations and encourage return patronage.  Providing skilled librarians in delivering RA, using patrons’ borrowing data to recommend books to them, and innovative programs and events to promote reading to existing and potential users are RA practices libraries would benefit from exploring.