Public Library Makerspaces and Demographics Project

Public Library Makerspaces and Demographics Project

As you have may have heard in a previous post, we here at Makerbridge recently had the opportunity to attend LITA Forum 2013.  Fortunately for us, one of the main themes of the conference was makerspaces in libraries. We’ve talked about this briefly in our post summarizing our time at LITA, but many of the back channel twitter conversations mentioned the lack of diversity, particularly women and ethnic minorities, in prominent maker culture, including the maker/makerspace presenters and keynote speakers at the conference.

These back channel conversations, and my impromptu conversations with a few different librarians from Indiana and Kansas, got me thinking about whether or not the maker movement in libraries is really leveling the playing field and providing access to maker tools to people in all socioeconomic strata. To answer this question, I’ve decided to do some research and look into this.

My hypothesis, based on anecdotal conversations, is that the vast majority of American public library makerspaces are in libraries/library branches located in mid-to-high socioeconomic neighborhoods. I plan on starting out with at least the data available on The Maker Map, a tool that maps where all the makerspaces and maker related retail shops are in the world, or at least all the ones that have been submitted to the site. There will definitely be spaces that have not been added to the Maker Map, so I will try and seek out as many makerspaces/hackerspaces/FabLabs in American public libraries as I can find. The scope of this project will be limited to American public libraries and makerspaces, at least for the sake of my sanity. Depending on how the project goes, I may extend the scope further.

Ultimately, I would love to create a tool similar to that of the Maker Map that depicts where each makerspace is, and the average family income, education level, and demographics of the neighborhood where the space is located. I have not yet fully determined what my exact constraints will be (family of four, how a neighborhood is defined, etc.). I imagine that much of this will depend on how the data is collected. Since I’ve never done this kind of research in depth before, it will definitely be a learning experience!

I hope that my hypothesis is wrong. I hope that public libraries in all socioeconomic strata are able to provide space and equipment to help encourage people in their community to create new things, learn how to code, and make whatever their imaginations can think of to engineer. Please feel free to tweet any comments/suggestions to @makerbridge, or me directly @TheStacksCat. Alternatively, leave your thoughts in the comments below!


Image Credit: “Abandoned Library” by Flickr user C.J.

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