Below is our second guest post in a series from Matt Barinholtz (@futuremakerkids), the founder of FutureMakers. Check out his bio at the end of the post for more information, and look for more from Matt in the near future!
In the fall of 2012, while researching makerspaces and maker communities, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with Travis Good and the team at NOVA Labs in Reston, VA. Their success as a community resource, and growth as an enterprise, hinges on fostering substantial and sustainable relationships between groups of like-minded individuals, families, businesses and organizations. Their meetup page is stacked with workshops, confabs, and social hours focused on makers of all levels of experience and interest. They have robust library connections, internally and externally. They will soon be leading the first Northern Virginia Mini Maker Faire. And Travis left me with an essential concept that FutureMakers has been sharing wherever we can: If you know your level of readiness, significant and lasting relationships can blossom.
It’s About Relationships
In order to grow sustainable maker initiatives, libraries and library systems -- public and academic -- should consistently stray from procurement-driven planning and space-based programs. Pioneers and champions who prioritize building relationships with coaches -- makers who teach, and teachers who make -- end up with popular programs that operate lean, and stay nimble and responsive to community interests.
There’s five core questions that every level of library maker initiative - from meeting to makerspace - requires an answer to:
Who’s our target audience, or audiences?
What are they seeking to achieve?
Where’s this taking place?
What’s the level of commitment we’re making?
How will this impact existing programming?
Take Things to the Next Level
As library makerspaces evolve, they pass through a number of developmental stages. The majority of them require no permanent space, equipment, or staff commitment. What level of readiness are you at?
Research and Hunch Checking
This level most often consists of visits, open house meetings, surveys, or community conversations with the general public. Local or regional maker groups are invited to participate. This is not an ongoing activity -- and no long-term commitment is expected. A making activity may or may not be included in the conversation. This is a data gathering, hunch checking stage -- testing the waters, and seeing who’s seeking whom. Post your profile. Let folks know you’re available.
Once community interests have been gauged, turn to champions within your organization to collaborate with makers on a meetup. This may or may not be recurring, but is a scheduled gathering, using a community space. There’s a maker activity or skill presented, but all tools or materials are brought by visitors, and it’s participant-led. This may even take place at a common, offsite location. If recurring, these events could be a series, or a thematic arc that incorporates a number of meetups. It’s critical that makers are at the table planning meetups with you. It’s like your first dinner party as a couple. Make it fun, and meet each other’s friends.
Innovation Expo @ Pratt Library, Baltimore, MD
When meetups are not enough, events are natural next steps. Sure, there’s a lot of logistical and facility impacts, and temporary mess, volume, smells -- but this is your first open house as a partnership. Maker days, faires, expos, and other community-driven, high visibility events should be designed with your five core principles in mind. Event planning requires coordination and marketing, permits and insurance, electricity and signage….things that libraries are built to rock. Open up your house and invite the neighbors in. Have a party. Break stuff.
More than a meetup, less than a course. An intensive tools out / tools in experience. Makes a manageable mess, and all gear goes into storage when it’s over. A learning, making session that may require pre-registration. Possibility of fees, to cover direct costs. These require true coaching -- there is a need for a thoughtful level of facilitation.
An arc of skill sessions, in a regular location. Generally, these are quiet, “non-threatening” spaces, where a standard set of tools are available, with a limited range of activities and not much mess to manage. Think the “sewing room” in your great aunt’s house, then substitute any low-impact maker mode. If things involve fire, you’re probably outside, or at another location. Things are getting serious.
A multipurpose space with a scheduled roster of activities that make dust, noise, flashes of light, smells, spontaneous dance parties, etc. Range of tools and machines available, to suit many uses. A broad set of programs has a high marketing load. It’s a well-managed mess, and one that folks may trade a paid membership in. You’ve bought the house you’ll be raising children in.
Artisans Asylum, Somerville, MA
An incubator is all of the above. You have many live-in associates, who may be paying rent for space and access. You may be managing a number of nodes on a network, or many space within a single unit. You have a growing family.
Once you have determined your level of readiness, take the leap. Make some small bets. And remember:
Seek local maker heroes
Meet at your place - or theirs!
Share skills, resources & audiences
Perform Good deeds:
Build trust - projects & participation
Promote events, shared or not!
Elevate the work of participants and your partners
It’s Good Business:
Expand meetups into events, skill sessions into classes led by coaches you know and have built trust with.
Establish enterprising programs together, hire and locate based on revenue neutral or positive goals.
About Matt Barinholtz
Matt Barinholtz is founder of FutureMakers, a community of coaches who serve young makers, their families, and community agencies in greater Baltimore and Washington, DC. Learn more at www.kidsmakethingsbetter.com and www.mattbarinholtz.com.