Crafting and Innovation

Crafting and Innovation

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This weekend, I came across YALSA’s Making in the Library Toolkit. If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s well worth a look. This is a free PDF that has tips on getting buy-in, starting partnerships, suggested projects including the price per participant… all kinds of things! It really is a great resource, and I encourage you all to download it.  There is a lot of content here that you may find useful.

That said, I’m still scratching my head about some of the things the authors said as they tried to explain what making is.  Specifically, in the overview section, they say:

“[M]aking, DIY and crafting are all hands-on, but the focus of making is to learn and ultimately innovate through doing and to leverage technologies to achieve that. DIY and crafting can involve academic learning, and certainly offer hands-on activities; however, their purpose or outcome is often different from making, because there is less of an emphasis on experiential learning or innovation. DIY and crafting often tend to be more about creating for recreation or as a means to self-reliance. Making focuses more on providing a social environment where students can develop new knowledge and skills that often can contribute to academic achievement or career preparation.”

Can anyone explain to me the lines that are being drawn, here? I’m getting hung up on the differences between “academic learning” and “knowledge and skills that… contribute to academic achievement or career preparation.”  Do they mean that crafting and DIY are often used to help drive home facts, but making is about ways of thinking and interacting?  And if they do mean that, then how is it that they say that crafting/DIY are a means to self-reliance, but still don’t fall into the category of making?  Is self-reliance not useful for academic achievement or career preparation? Am I missing something?

Furthermore, the authors also included a table in which they claim that crafting is rarely innovation driven, making is always innovation driven, and DIY is somewhere in between.  This is something I don’t just question–this is something I take serious exception to.  I’m going to make my argument here based on knitting and crocheting, just because those are crafts I’m familiar with, plus the authors of this document explicitly name knitting as a crafting activity on page 11. The argument will hold true for other crafts as well, though.

Now, I’ll grant you that if you host a how-to-knit workshop, your attendees are unlikely to move into the realms of innovation during that first session.  They’re going to be too busy trying to remember how to cast on, where to hold their yarn, etc.  I’ve been knitting for almost a year now, and I can do only the most simple of plain, rectangular projects without a pattern to follow.  It took me about 10 years of crocheting on and off to get to the point where I designed my first crochet pattern from scratch–but I did, and I hold that that is innovation.

Given all of that, if the Making in the Library Toolkit’s authors are just trying to say that many crafts have a long, hard learning curve that you have to get over before you’re likely to stop just following someone else’s directions… well, I’ll grant them that.  But I fail to see how that’s really any different from electronics or programming or anything else that the authors call “making.”  Every type of making has its own beginner-level projects; is a “Hello World” program or a single, lit LED really any different from a completed scarf?  There’s not a whole lot of innovation to any of those.  They’re just exercises to introduce a novice to the discipline and help them build up to bigger, more innovative projects.

The only different I see between those beginner-level projects is that knitting a scarf will likely take many times longer to complete than “Hello World” will.  That is a valid consideration for whether or not you think knitting is an appropriate activity to try to teach at your makerspace, but I don’t think it makes a difference one way or another in terms of whether something should be considered “making.” What do you all think?  Am I missing the point somewhere along the line?


Image Credit: “Knitting Time” by Flickr user Kate Ware 

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