Maker Communities Make Makerspaces

Maker Communities Make Makerspaces

At the library where I work (Penfield Library at SUNY Oswego), I’m setting out to pilot a maker program through a series of events that will be held during the spring semester. As I go through this process, I plan to share any lessons learned and what my experience is like.

Two people working together at a table; one person is indicating and the other holds a 3D printing pen.This week, I want to talk about what I have been doing lately to try to build a maker community, and why this is so important. Many people tend to think of makerspaces as equivalent with the tools that they offer; at MakerBridge, we’ve always argued that makerspaces are more about the people than anything else. The way I see it, making is a culture and an attitude, rather than a collection of equipment. For this reason, I think it’s extremely important to get others on board with the attitude if your makerspace is going to be successful. If you want your makerspace to persist and continue thriving, you need a community of others who support your mission.

With school and library makerspaces, our focus is often outward: how do we get students or the public to visit and to be interested in what we’re doing? It’s easy to overlook the people who should be integral to your maker community: your coworkers and colleagues. Other librarians or library staff can be your greatest allies in helping to promote the makerspace, to talk up what you’re trying to achieve, and to help the makerspace grow in important ways.

A pile of boxes and packages on a table, including items such as a Silhouette Cameo, littleBits, Makey Makeys, and Arduinos.
Some of the equipment I purchased to get our maker program going.

Will you be able to get everyone on board? Probably not, but don’t leave people in the dark, either. Often, the “maker stuff” is the responsibility of just one librarian; this is the case in my library. One of the first things I did when I got the batch of equipment I picked out to start our maker program was to hold a “Maker Extravaganza” for all librarians and staff. I invited everyone to come see what had been purchased, to experiment with and get their hands on the littleBits, the Silhouette Cameo, the circuit pens, and so on. Through this event, I hoped to grow both interest and comprehension. I don’t want to be the only person in the library excited about our maker program, and I don’t want to be the only person who has a sense of what it has to offer.

Another important group of people I want to include in my maker community is the teaching faculty. As with my coworkers, I want instructors to understand what I’m setting out to do and what it can offer both to their students and to them. Not only will this mean they might spread the word to their students (and in an informed way!), but it opens the door to lots of great collaborations.

Hand holding up creation of a heart with an arrow going through it.
Made with a 3D printing pen by a library staff member.

This past week, I held my first maker event of the program, a pop-up makerspace that I tied in with an existing popular library event we call Penfield Loves You Day (a Valentine’s Day themed event aimed at students). Again, I was working on building my community by being very visible during an event others in the library already had a reason to participate in. Though my main goal was to entice and engage students, I made sure not to ignore my colleagues, and I was pleased to see a fair amount of interest from my coworkers, some of whom actively participated in the making activities. I was also happy to speak with several professors who were interested in what was going on; my favorite conversation was with a Creative Writing instructor who began brainstorming ways her poetry students could start making, and was already interested in working together to make this happen.

Building a maker community means building a base of people who will support what you’re doing, look for ways to participate, and share what they know with others–incredibly valuable help.

How have you tried to build your maker community? What have you found successful? Share in the comments below or let us know on Twitter!

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