Maker Culture at the MLibrary Festival of Learning

Maker Culture at the MLibrary Festival of Learning

While considering what to write about for this week’s blog post, I stumbled across an event happening right on the University of Michigan campus where I work. Even more interesting, this event–the Festival of Learning–was planned and hosted by the campus library. I am always eager to see how academic libraries are incorporating maker culture, so I stopped by a few of the sessions to explore.

The description of the event on its website is as follows:

Inspired by MIT’s Festival of Learning, the MLibrary Festival of Learning brings staff together, across all units, to share skills, talent, and perspectives. Its focus is on collaboration, teaching others, and learning from your peers.

Examples of the sessions being taught included cake decorating, knitting, making documentaries, and even feeding campus squirrels. After the festival had taken place, I sat down with the head of the planning committee, Emily Puckett-Rodgers (who was featured previously on this blog talking about the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire), to hear a little more about how this maker culture-inspired event came about.

MakerBridge: Why did you decide to put together this event to begin with? Was there some kind of inspiration?

Emily: I saw someone I know on Twitter posting about his participation in MIT Media Lab’s Festival of Learning, which I think they’ve done for two years now. I thought it was really cool, and pitched it to some Learning Programs and Initiatives librarians as something to try with students. We chatted about also doing it for staff but I didn’t think much of it until I went to a few of my unit “retreats.” Each unit, operations, research, and learning and teaching, is interested in building community within the library. I realized that a lot of people don’t know each other. So I thought FOL could be a great way to connect people together outside of their unit as well as give people an opportunity to be engaged in the learning process as teachers or learners themselves.

Do you know about how many people participated in the event?

According to the attendance sheets we had 126. We had 8 committee members and 21 teachers. I was really impressed with numbers. We got most of our registrations on Monday and the day of the event.

Do you have any sense of why that was?

I think people didn’t want to commit to something until they knew they had time in their schedules, especially since this wasn’t directly work related. However, nearly everyone (within like 2-3 people) who registered actually showed up and we had walk ins for 11 of the 21 classes.

Have you gotten any feedback about the sessions, either formal or informal?

Yes, informal. We’re developing a survey to go out to learners and teachers but it won’t be ready until later next week. Overall people really liked the sessions and ‘got’ the idea. We had lots of feedback on timing (okay overall but could have been earlier in the summer and the 5-6 slot was not very successful) and the number of sessions (too many). We got lots of ‘thanks’ from everyone.

Have you given thought about whether to continue the event or plan something else in a similar spirit?

Yes! Immediately folks who wanted to teach but couldn’t were like “I want to do something next year/next time!” and then a lot of people who couldn’t attend said they would want to attend in the future. Folks who attended and/or taught also came up to us with more ideas for classes to teach.

That’s awesome! I’m glad people seemed to respond well. Did you think at all about an explicit connection with maker culture? Was that intentional?

I guess I was focused on the hands-on, peer-to-peer, and passion based parts of FOL, which are the same things that draw me to makerspaces and the maker culture. You’re (usually) a good teacher when you’re teaching something you care about. You also have to think about your work more when you are teaching it to someone else. A lot of the people (I don’t have numbers though) were not already registered in the [library workshop system] as instructors before FOL. That is really powerful to me—that people who don’t normally get the chance to teach stepped up to the plate.

Giving our staff an outlet like this, and giving folks in the general community an outlet, is really powerful and important. Both FOL and maker culture is about bringing people together, sharing ideas, and teaching each other something positive. It forms bonds that traditional lecture-based classes can’t form (though we had some of that at FOL) and provides a platform for shared identity.

So it definitely seems like the event embodies a lot of the same basic principles of maker culture and celebrates the same spirit, even if it’s called something else.

Absolutely. Personally, I see these as all parts of the same ‘spirit’ or approach. I judged the Ann Arbor District Library lego contest last week and it was totally similar to FOL and Maker Faires. I think the underlying ethos, perspective, or approach is what is important about all this. The labels, tools, and maybe even subjects may differ but those are the ephemeral things.


As Emily says, what defines a maker event has more to do with the underlying values and spirit than what the event is called and how it is branded. Festivals of Learning and similar events may be an excellent way for academic libraries to get involved in maker culture and start getting people thinking about how they can share their skills with others.

Has your library done any similar events? Do you know of more ways that academic libraries are getting involved in makerism? Leave your comments below!


Image Credit: “Reflections” by Flickr user Sayamindu Dasgupta

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