One of the themes for the Computers in Libraries (#CILDC) conference last week was makerspaces. Most of the makerspace content was concentrated into a single track on the last day of the conference, which meant that I didn’t get to attend as much as I would have wished. Still, I enjoyed the sessions I was able to see. So without further ado, here’s some of what I learned:
“Games, Gadgets, and Makerspaces”
The very first evening event of the conference was actually what I would call a petting zoo for fun things libraries might want to have in a makerspace. Brian Pichman of the Evolve Project was our host, showing off everything from virtual reality headsets to all those different robot/programming toys you may have looked at online and wondered if they were any good. I hadn’t encountered the Evolve Project before, but their goal seems to be to hook up libraries looking to create/improve makerspaces with startups making cool things to include in a makerspace. Sounds like a good idea to me!
I got to play with Cubelets, Cubetto, Sphero, Bee-Bot, and more. They were all tons of fun, and I’m currently plotting to get Cubetto into the hands of my little nephews. (If I had nieces, they would need it too.) This event was also a genuinely good networking event. There aren’t many things that make me comfortable interacting with strangers, but working together with them to get a Cubelet flashlight working or figure out how to steer a Sphero does wonders for my shyness.
“Do Space: Tech for Everyone”
Rebecca Stavick, the Executive Director of Do Space, gave an excellent presentation on what Do Space is and why it matters. Her one-sentence definition of the place is to call it a “community technology library,” but given the difficulty of defining “library,” that might or might not convey to you everything that Do Space is. Yes, Do Space checks out technology to users for free, including things like Raspberry Pis and PocketCHIPs. But Do Space also provides a community space with gigabit internet, a means of getting your tech-related questions answered by one of the 150 – 200 volunteers who help keep the place running, and events programming for all ages.
One of Stavick’s big messages was that libraries–whether “community technology libraries” or what one might call “normal libraries” need to offer something that users can’t find elsewhere. That might mean better internet speeds than people are likely to have at home, or it might mean luring in the real 3D-printing experts by having resin printers and other latest-and-greatest type printers that not even the hardcore enthusiasts are likely to have in their basements. If you want your space to be full of people with advanced skills writing code, etc. (and hopefully interacting with other people)–what are you offering them that they can’t get elsewhere?
One of the things I really loved hearing was how intentional Do Space has been about recruiting a diverse pool of patrons/users. They’re located in a transitional neighborhood between areas that tend to be pretty segregated. They’re located at a major public transportation hub. They have events targeting everyone from preschoolers to “Cyber Seniors.” They’ve encouraged local technology meet-up groups to meet in their space. They offer technology ranging from basics like Microsoft Word and internet access, all the way up to AutoCad and those fancy 3D printers of theirs. They lease out their second floor to a local community college, so that Do Space users can be lured up to take continuing education classes, and presumably community-college students can be lured down to get hooked on everything available in Do Space.
You can read more about it in an NPR article on Do Space from last year, or get in touch with me and we’ll plan a road trip out to Nebraska because after seeing this presentation, I am dying to visit the actual space.
“Zero to Maker: Invention Literacy”
This was one of Computers in Library’s sessions where they took two different conference proposals and squished them together into a single session. Librarians from Brampton Public Library talked about their maker programming, and librarians from Alsip-Merrionette Park Library talked about their personal digitization project.
Brampton Library has turned their makerspace programming into a collaboration between the library, the city, and a local college. They offer three “streams” of maker programming:
- 0 to Maker
These programs tend to be geared toward kids and their families, though some of these programs are for older participants. Library staff runs these, and they have events like “Family Tinker Time” where they get kids and their families playing with LittleBits, Spheros, Makey Makeys, and more. They make a point of celebrating failures in these sessions, as well as successes.
- Maker to Maker
These sessions target teens and adults, and tend to be advanced applications of skills. Faculty from Sheridan College run many of these sessions, but student volunteers and library staff run some of them too. The sessions include monthly maker meetups, repair cafes, app development, and more.
- Maker to Market
These sessions target teens and adults. They focus on practical skills for turning an idea into a startup. They have seminars and events on topics like patents, market research, applying for grants to help start your startup, etc.
I really like the way they divided up those streams, so that participants can choose which aspects they’re interested in. Not everyone wants to market the things they make! And honestly some of those Maker to Market sessions are probably useful to more entrepreneurs than just those who fall into categories we think of as “makers.”
Alsip-Merrionette Park Library’s Memory Lab also sounded very cool. They have pretty much the equipment I’ve come to expect in an analog-to-digital conversion area, but their programming sounds spot on. They offer demos, where they show off the possibilities to people who might not be comfortable tinkering on their own right off the bat. Then they offer “Open Lab Sessions” where they have all the equipment and expert staff on hand to answer questions and guide patrons through learning how to use the equipment. And they also leave the equipment out for general use, so that people can complete their projects on their own.
I really love how they have those different tiers of support/hand-holding to meet any user’s preferences.
Anyway, that’s what I saw at Computers in Libraries that related to makerspaces. Were you there? Did you see something I missed? Give a shout out to @makerbridge or leave a comment!