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”.

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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.  

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.