Last month, I began a series of posts intended to help with the task of making a makerspace. This week, I’d like to focus in a bit on the first part of that process: doing the research necessary for planning a makerspace and getting buy-in from others, such as library or school administration.
One of the most essential elements in the research and planning stage, in my opinion, is learning about the different types of makerspaces you can create. The typical depiction of a makerspace involves a physical location that has been set aside specifically for this purpose; it often houses loud, high-tech tools that come with safety concerns and can be costly. Developing a space like this can be work-intensive, often requiring new furniture, modifications to help with ventilation and/or noise, constant staffing, and so on. As a result, you might encounter push-back or hesitation from administration. This was my experience at my academic library; although the idea of a makerspace was welcome, there were a lot of questions and uncertainty: do we really have the space for this? How can we handle those type of machines? How much will this cost?
One of the best ways to tackle this issue is to explore different makerspace models to develop something that is well-suited to your particular library and its needs. Some of the most common terms and concepts I’ve seen for models are mobile makerspaces, maker kits, pop-up makerspaces, maker clubs, and maker programming.
There is a fair amount of overlap among these concepts, so what you call your makerspace/how you define it is pretty much up to you.
A mobile makerspace is essentially what it sounds like: maker equipment that is portable and can easily be moved from place to place. You might also see it referred to as a maker cart or makerspace cart. There is some obvious overlap here with maker kits. The mobile makerspace at Vanderbilt University’s children’s hospital is a great example. Mobile makerspaces help eliminate the need for a dedicated space, and tend to house simpler (often cheaper) supplies that can be used in a variety of environments. Mobile makerspaces can also be useful for public libraries that want to share a makerspace among many branches, academic libraries sharing among different on-campus libraries or locations, or schools that want to move the makerspace to different classrooms. It’s also easy to promote the makerspace by having a presence at events.
Maker kits are similar in that they are portable and provide many of the same benefits as mobile makerspaces. To me, the main difference is in size: I tend to think of mobile makerspaces as being more cart-sized, with the ability to accommodate some smaller machines like 3D printers or vinyl cutters. Maker kits can be the size of a storage tub or crate (or even smaller if you’d like). They’re great for small tools like littleBits, Legos, and even stop motion kits. You could even put together themed maker kits, such as the electronics kit, the textiles kit, the painting kit, and so on. Another benefit of maker kits is that you can make them available to patrons for checkout (though this might involve keeping track of whether a lot of small pieces are returned). Here’s an example of a maker kit and the type of things you might put in it.
Pop-up makerspaces are essentially makerspaces that can exist for a limited period of time, then be put away/cleaned up until the next time they “pop up.” This dovetails nicely with a lot of these other ideas–a pop-up makerspace could make use of maker kits and/or maker carts, though it doesn’t necessarily have to. Pop-up makerspaces can exist for as long as you decide: an hour or two, a day, a week, and so on. Like with mobile makerspaces and maker kits, this eliminates the need for a space that must be entirely devoted to making and cannot be used for anything else, so is great for libraries that don’t have a lot of extra room to spare. Pop-up makerspaces can also be tied to maker programming, as they can be planned as special events. Alternatively, they could be planned on a regular basis: i.e. every Monday, every day at 4pm, etc.
One of the best maker club examples I can think of is our own Kristin Fontichiaro’s Michigan Makers. The basic way it functions is that graduate students from the University of Michigan School of Information travel to elementary and middle schools and host after-school maker programs. The grad students provide some guidance and instruction in various areas to help the kids get started (i.e. how to use the sewing machine, getting them familiar with Squishy Circuits, etc.), but kids are also free to tinker, explore, and teach skills to each other. Maker clubs can be combined with concepts such as maker kits or carts, as well. An advantage of a maker club is that it’s already focused around building a community, one of the most essential elements of a successful makerspace. Check out Michigan Makers’ two websites about their recent clubs to learn more about this type of model. (You can also alter this idea to be time-limited and host a summer camp or something similar.)
Maker programming has connections to many of the previously-mentioned models and ideas. It involves planning maker events and activities that are time-limited, much as libraries already hold workshops and host book clubs and knitting circles. This is the type of model I eventually got my administration to agree to. Many of the events we have planned are, in fact, pop-up makerspaces which I’ve given themes to–i.e. Valentine’s Day pop-up makerspace at which the focus is making Valentines and gifts for loved ones. The College of San Mateo’s makerspace is another good example, as they often hold events and workshops. You could even plan your own maker faire/maker showcase event. Having maker events is also a great way to get local partners involved, as your requests for help or equipment will be time-limited and require less commitment on their parts.
We’ve said it before, but there’s no one-size-fits-all makerspace, and it’s important to do your research and really think about your needs and limitations when developing your model. Presenting a makerspace this way can also do wonders for getting people on board–it’s much less scary to jump into creating some maker kits than to overhaul half your library into a dedicated makerspace!
Have you tried out one or more of these models? Do you have any tips to share? What are some challenges you think you might face implementing these? Keep the conversation going in the comments below or on Twitter!