Interview with Leslie Preddy, Author of School Library Makerspaces, 6-12
Libraries are logical destinations for makerspace activity. They have how-to guides; Internet access; community trust; an existing infrastructure for planning, promoting, and presenting programs; and big tables for workspaces! But what might a makerspace look like in a secondary school library, which also has responsibilities for developing students as readers and researchers?
I asked Leslie Preddy, veteran school librarian and author of many books about student learning, to share her perspective and insights about makerspace learning in school libraries. Leslie is the author of the recently released School Library Makerspaces, Grades 6-12 (ABC-CLIO, October 2013). Enjoy!
As we talk with makers and visit schools and libraries, we see many kinds of makerspaces popping up. How do you define a makerspace?
A makerspace is a community destination where the tools and equipment are available for students, with the guidance of adult and peer mentors, can create, problem solve, and develop skills, talents, thinking, and mental rigor. Envision the DIY Network meets the hands-on learning philosophy of a children’s museum, but right there in the school library. What could be more exciting than seeing, doing, and thinking in a place where knowledge, information, and inquiry were born and encouraged?
There are some that say a makerspace must contain certain tools and equipment and must include particular events or activities in order to be a true makerspace. What sort of activities, events and ongoing programming occur in a library makerspace cannot be defined universally. To say so would be wrong and counter to the origins of the maker and tinkerer flexibility, freedoms, and philosophy.
What tools and equipment are contained, and layout of the space cannot be mandated. What activities are supported and programming decisions should be unique to your community. These are decisions that should be made at the local level to align with library, school, district, and state goals. For example, your community’s focus may be STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), or it might be upcycling/recycling, or it might be the fine arts. What is done, how it’s done, the equipment, tools and supplies needed, the activities supported will differ dependent upon your unique needs and vision.
A library makerspace is a place to think, create, share and grow, just like our national American Association of School Librarians standards encourage. It is a place for the thinking and doing to occur with the support and guidance of the school librarian and other vested mentors. Put together a committee. Establish a mission and goals. The mission and goals will be guiding force for how your community will define your makerspace. Those key elements will make it uniquely yours and specially designed for your learning community’s interests and needs.
Why do you have a makerspace in your library?
I feel that a makerspace is the next evolutionary step in school libraries. It is an opportunity to take the learning to the next level. Patrons in school libraries have always been learning and thinking, but now they are also doing in a creative and tactile manner. And it’s not just what is going on the makerspace that matters, but the global change in the way learning is viewed throughout the school environment that slowly alters the school landscape as the make philosophy begins to embed itself into the school climate.
Tell us a bit about what your makerspace looks like in your library.
It is crucial that the makerspace is continually evolving, so I can tell you what my makerspace looks like now, but we are already working on grants and future expansion plans, so it may not look this way for long.
Money is always an issue, but I didn’t want that to stop us from establishing a makerspace. We started by getting as much as we could donated, and will continue to seek donations and grants as we expand our vision. It looks a little rough, but for us it didn’t matter how things look but rather that there was a place and basic resources for the doing. Plus, we have a student population of nearly 60% free and reduced lunch, so it was important to us to initially show the kids by example and programming how to repurpose and reuse.
So what does our makerspace originally look like? We started by clearing out an area of the library to create an open and flexible space. The school used to be open concept, so we have many large, old cabinets on wheels. Six have been donated to the makespace for storage of tools and supplies. A twelve foot cafeteria-style work table was donated by a community center for work space. Library shelving was consolidated and an empty bookshelf converted into shelving for student maker storage. We have donated plastic containers and student makers can use one of the containers to keep a working project and personal materials in and store it on the shelf.
We currently offer lunchtime maker guided activities so that students can sample experiences. If they learn about something through a guided make that they like, they are encouraged to continue and advance on their own, utilizing the makerspace resources and guidance of the librarian as needed. Other independent activities can occur by a maker conferencing with the librarian about an idea they have and turning in a proposal for the resources needed and the expected outcome. As the maker coordinator (aka school librarian), I then dig up the resources and guidance they need to accomplish their independent goal.
What do makerspaces in school contribute to student life? To student learning?
Initially, a library makerspace fills a niche for students who are open to experimenting and physical learning. This is often a space like none other in the school and it fills a need and void that the school may not even realize exists until they see the makerspace in use and see the student makers in action.
A library makerspace gives student the potential. It combines all the higher level thinking we hope for our students to achieve and gives students the potential for higher order thinking, higher level Bloom's Taxonomy, self-discovery, peer teaching, and peer mentoring. It helps students move beyond the ‘tell me what you what me to do’ and ‘tell me what you want me to learn’ generation mentality to actually doing and independent learning, questioning, thought, and creativity.
Can you talk about the creative and necessary tensions between process and product with your makers? How important is “finishing” a project vs. experiencing the process?
This is where things might get confusing and are hard to explain, but the basic tenets are:
Failure and mistakes are okay and important in the learning process.
Just like we teach about book selection and how a reader doesn’t have to finish every book started, starting a make doesn’t mean it has to be finished. It could also mean that, just like a book, it is set aside for a bit and the maker gets back to it later.
Depending on the age and intellectual level of your patrons, a lot of initial guidance may be necessary. Plan makerspace guided activities and events into your calendar just as you do other library programming and events.
Sampling different activities is important. Think of it this way: out students don’t know what they don’t know. Give them experiences with ideas and tools that they might not otherwise know exist or know that they would enjoy.
Break down gender barriers and traditional gender roles. Boys should familiarize themselves with crafts. Girls should experience technology.
We librarians are always trying to drill into our staff and students that the research process is more important than the product. This holds true for make-ing.
How did you fund your early makerspace efforts? How did funding streams change over time?
I try to get as much as possible donated. What I can’t get donated, I try to fund through grants. There might be some library supply funds used as well, but not much. Grants are great, but I also love to go visit our local recycle center where, for just $5 a visit, I can bag up and take as much as I want.
We have a similar program in Ann Arbor - the Scrap Box. It's a great way to get a bunch of stuff for less than a single DIY kit would cost.
I will also contact local clubs and organizations, asking them to post in their newsletter or email their members a request for a donation of hand-me-down tools. I try to think outside the box and use creative funding sources. There are also some great websites out there where educators can use crowd source funding opportunities and post a project and need, with the hope that other see the potential and support your idea financially.
We used our school's departmental listserv to get donations and got carloads full, so I agree with that technique! I’m often asked what librarians should buy to start up a makerspace. How do you answer that question?
This is difficult to answer, because until your mission and goals are established, this cannot be answered. Instead, ask yourself:
- What is the school comfort level for minimally-supervised learning? What occurs in a makerspace cannot always be intently supervised. There are other patrons, things and teaching going on in the library, too. So a consideration should be trust. Based on the age and clientele, what do you want to entrust them with using?
- What can we afford to maintain? It’s not just the start-up cost to purchase the equipment or tools to consider, but can you support the ongoing costs to keep that equipment in supplies, maintenance and update fees, and repair.
- As the Makerspace Coordinator, what do you feel comfortable using? Start with what you are excited to learn and use, or already know how to use, and expand from there.
Those are great points. I know that many people jump to the conclusion that they need a 3D printer ... and maintenance on those is a handful in terms of money and/or your time and experience.
What is your most important advice to K-12 librarians and educators wanting to build a makerspace in their buildings?
Start with what you know and are comfortable doing and build from there. Put together a committee. We librarians know how to use the power of the collective minds to create the best possible solution. Discuss what a makespace is, because many will not have ever heard of it, and what you want to do for your students through the makerspace. Let them share their ideas and suggestions and help build the foundation. If you have others vested from the onset, you’ll guarantee yourself a following of supporters and believers and promoters.
You’ve written books previously on K-12 inquiry, sustained silent reading, and social reading. With so much writing about formal learning under your belt, what inspired you to begin thinking and writing about makerspaces, a less formal learning space?
I’m not sure it is much different. School Librarians have always been reflective practitioners who continually think about best practices, lifelong learners, influencers of change, and try to keep up with the new learning styles of each new generation. Everything I write has been about helping myself and others meet the ever-changing needs of our patrons and be the best we can be for our community. I see school library makerspaces as just another component of we are and the services and programming we provide. We are the reading specialist, the information specialist, the community builder, a teacher of students and adults, a librarians, a technologist, and so much more. It is just an extension of what we already do.
What are your future plans?
Currently we are working on a plan for expansion and a grant to help support with equipment and tools. Our key goal is to expand the makerspace to incorporate independent making connected to advanced learning in the classroom. For example, if a teacher recognizes a student is an expert on a particular instructional topic, they come to the library makerspace during that unit for independent study. In the library makerspace they think, grow, create, and finally the student concludes their makerspace experience by communicating what was learned and created with the teacher and class. With this expansion we have twelve maker station themes planned and the committee is in initial discussion for redesign and reorganization of the school library to support the expansion of needed space.
Is there anything else you’d like MakerBridge readers to know?
I have the book through Libraries Unlimited, which can also be found on amazon.com. I also try to provide ongoing help to school library makerspace coordinators through my Twitter posts and my makerspace boards on Pinterest. There is also a learning MOOC developed by Dr. David Loertscher, Bill Derry and myself, and ALA has archived a 3-part learning series on makerspaces (browse related items here).
Thanks, Leslie! Readers, what questions do you have for Leslie? Share them here or via Twitter.