The last time you visited your library, what were you there to do? It may have been to hear a professional development speaker, participate in a book club, bring your child to a “mommy/ daddy and me” group. I was recently reading an article focused on the evolving role of today’s libraries and started considering all the new library conformations I have seen touring campuses across the US for the past 18 months. The required book “warehousing” space (i.e. racks) for libraries has been reduced as a result of digital/ e-books (and e-lending) and the availability of resources on demand at home, school, Starbucks via the internet. Although I have seen many different definitions and uses for modern library spaces, I can summarize all of my experiences into one statement. Libraries are no longer for individualized quiet study, they are becoming community hubs. Nowhere do I see more evidence of this than in the rapid proliferation of makerspace areas.
Makerspaces are defined areas populated with technology, textiles, hand tools and resources to encourage hands on activities like designing, building, collaborating and communicating. Think of it as a hybrid tech lab and mechanic’s work bench. Very often, in addition to computers, new technology such as 3-D printers are being utilized in these expanded labs. They can also include audiovisual equipment, programming and control devices depending upon the proposed use, design and budget for the space (think scanners, Raspberry Pi, drones etc.) They can be designed specifically for subject matter like robotics, material engineering, prototyping or building or can be configured for more general purpose DIY “making” covering a variety of subjects and specialties. These labs are used to support increased comprehension and retention of theory through practical and real-life applications and community interaction. While makerspaces (also called hackerspaces or hackspaces) can be created almost anywhere on campus like converted classrooms or a corner of a classroom, a dedicated area in a public building (i.e. student union), or as a mobile makerspace on a cart that can move from room to room, it seems like libraries have been the “go-to” for these spaces more than any other.
As libraries continue to re-define their roles and embrace the personality of a community center, it’s no wonder makerspaces have become a popular addition to the once quiet buildings that, not so long ago, were suited more for seclusion than collaboration. Proponents of makerspaces see this DIY trend as a way to bring manufacturing back to the US, to promote entrepreneurship and invention, to initiate a technology incubator, to compliment active, blended and flipped learning curriculum and to increase STEM related assessments in schools across the country. Some schools are even offering to help students and faculty with patent submissions for products and processes that are developed in their makerspace. Side note: I wonder if we will see an increase of patent applications as a result of the makerspace trend.
Library, AV and IT services have to be ready to understand the design and requirements of the technology in a makerspace and will also have to support the technology including equipment, hardware, software and media. As with classroom design, you should be part of the team that discusses and determines the primary purpose of the makerspace. Understanding purpose enables you to work within an understood structure while working with the design team. There are quite a few interesting articles that offer advice and guidelines for general designing of and uses for makerspaces. Here is a research paper supporting successful implementation of makerspaces and what it means for educational communities.