Making Space for Diversity

Making Space for Diversity

About a week and a half ago, fellow MakerBridge writer Emily and I attended the National Diversity in Libraries Conference to talk about how to work toward diversity and inclusion in makerspaces.

This is a topic we feel strongly about; in fact, it’s essential that libraries as a whole push toward greater diversity, not only in providing services and resources to their patrons but in hiring and retention, as well. This week, I’d like to share some of what we talked about at the conference.

What is diversity?

The answer to this question may seem obvious, but when speaking about diversity, it’s actually very useful to explicitly define what you mean. Not everyone has the same definition of diversity. There’s also the danger of the concept being too broad or watered-down so that it accomplishes very little.

For our purposes, we’re talking about diversity in the sense of inclusion, but specifically we’re talking about taking down or not putting up barriers preventing certain groups from participating in the making that happens in your space. In this sense, diversity is active, not simply sitting back and thinking to yourself that you won’t discriminate or that of course everyone is welcome.

We identified the following factors to consider when it comes to eliminating barriers in your makerspace: accessibility, neurodiversity, age, religion, race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and in some cases community status (i.e. faculty member, student, etc.). This is not the end-all of diversity, but simply where we found barriers might exist. We would love to hear if we’re missing anything!

The number one rule

The number one rule of diversifying your makerspace is not to assume you don’t need diversity. Maybe you’ve never seen someone in the library using a wheelchair; that doesn’t mean there never will be, and that doesn’t mean that no one in your community uses a wheelchair. Maybe your patron community seems fairly homogenous in terms of race or sexual orientation–but isn’t it possible these other potential patrons are staying away due to not feeling welcome? Keep in mind, too, that diversity may not always be visible, or that what’s visible on the surface may be misleading.

What you can do

Again–this is not meant to be the comprehensive end-all guide, and we’d love to hear suggestions from others! Here are some of the things we came up with.

  • Provide supplies for people with physical disabilities. Some examples we have in our makerspace: an Ott Lite Magnifier, needle threaders, ergonomic crochet hooks and knitting needles that are easier for those with motor control issues to hold onto. Use furniture that’s an appropriate height for those in wheelchairs. Make sure furniture is moveable and the arrangement can be reconfigured.
  • Your makerspace should be in an accessible location, either on the ground floor of a building with an accessible entrance or somewhere easily reachable by ramps, elevators, etc.
  • Provide any documentation in an accessible format (using alt text for pictures, providing captions or transcripts for videos, etc.)
  • Offer activities that are culturally male and activities that are culturally female, but don’t present them in a gendered way or make assumptions about who wants to work on what. Avoid using gendered language (talking about the functionality of a boy’s creation and the appearance of a girl’s creation).
  • Encourage neurodiversity in your space. Think about how to welcome those who aren’t neurotypical–for example, you may want to set aside a quieter, less stimulating space where those with autism can take a break or feel calmer.
  • If you charge any fees, consider the barriers this creates for people of lower socioeconomic status. There may be alternate options (i.e. sliding fee scales).
  • Are children allowed in your space? If not, is there a childcare option or somewhere children can be safe and supervised while their parents work in the space?
  • Consider circulating maker materials to provide access to those who have trouble coming in person, whether due to issues with mobility, transportation, scheduling, etc.
  • When recommending tools and software, make sure patrons are informed of free options. If possible, suggest a mobile-friendly option, as well–not everyone has reliable access to a computer or the internet.
  • Be careful and deliberate in your promotional materials and in selecting leaders or mentors. Leaders should represent the diversity of your community, and should also pay attention to what kind of behavior they model.
  • Create, make visible, and enforce a code of conduct for your space or your events. Set clear rules for how any harassment will be handled and how it should be reported.
  • Don’t exclude people with your language or the activities you choose. Avoid language that is heteronormative. If you’re making Valentines, don’t ask a girl whether she’s going to make something for her boyfriend. Additionally, avoid projects that are geared toward specific religious celebrations (i.e. making Christmas ornaments).
  • Use strategic partnerships to your advantage! You don’t have to do this alone. Think about what local groups you can work with or bring into your space to create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.

What steps toward diversity and inclusion have you taken in your makerspace? What have you seen being done? We would love to hear from you–let us know in the comments below or on Twitter!

Image Credit: “Diversity” by Nabeelah Is is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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