Making Your Makerspace Work | Part 1

The following is an abridged transcript of a lecture I gave for an ALSC online workshop I taught from 2017-2018.

Welcome to the first week of Making Your Makerspace Work! My goal this week is to discuss the location of a makerspace, what kinds of resources might be a good fit, and how to sell the idea to leadership and decision makers if there are any hold outs – which is a real possibility.

This is not a requirement for this class, but I do encourage you to explore other makerspaces at some point throughout and share your findings. If you are close to one, it can be helpful to schedule a visit. If you aren’t close to one, take a look at some web sites or possibly conduct some brief phone interviews with similar institutions.

Seeing what others are doing in their spaces will be valuable as you develop ideas for your own. As you research other makerspaces, keep some of these questions in mind.

First, just observe the space without thinking about the logistics of staffing or programming. What is the layout of the space – how does it flow? What equipment do you see and where is it located? Are there designated work areas or is there a big workspace for tools to be moved to as needed?

Each makerspace will have its own culture and “feel.” Does the space have a dedicated staff or not? What is the staff doing? Are students or patrons currently using the space? Do they have specific projects or are they just experimenting with equipment? Do the activities look structured or more free-form? There are not right or wrong answers to these questions – just observe and think about any insights you glean from the experience.

Seeing what works and what doesn’t work at other spaces will help you develop your action plan. Also just because something works at one makerspace, doesn’t mean that it will work at yours.

For example, at my last library, with the exception of items for library-sponsored events, we charged for 3d printing by weight. The printing program was successful and we were constantly running our machines. At Xavier, we started charging for prints and students stopped using the printers. Why? It’s a different audience – an audience who is more interested in experimenting with printing than just having an object, no matter how practical, to sit on their desk. We stopped charging for printing, and usage skyrocketed. We made it free for students to fail, which went a long way in encouraging their learning.

Your makerpsace will evolve. This is to be expected and is a wonderful sign when it does! Your expectation may not align with the end result. In fact, it probably won’t as you discover users you didn’t expect or popular projects that you didn’t even think of initially. For the past couple years, my local public library has had a makerspace on a cart that is moves from branch to branch. As it grew in demand, a compelling case was made to build a dedicated makersapce – which opens later this year (Kenton County Public Library in Kentucky if you are interested). I expected the makerspace at Xavier to attract mostly Computer Science students – but I was completely wrong! Although we do get a few CS students, most of our traffic has come from Education and Occupational Therapy.

The best way to sell making to leadership is to give them concrete examples of it having a positive outcome on your community. It is one thing to talk about how libraries are using 3d printers, but it is another to show them adaptive devices that students printed for their friend who has difficulty holding a standard pencil. It’s one thing to talk about the Hour of Code and how computer programming is the future of the workforce, but it another to see a room full of children enjoying computer programming for the first time – to produce something unexpected that they would not have done without your guidance. Showing the positive effects of making does not require a lot of money or resources – it requires your vision and patience to see it through. Start small. Use LEDs and watch batteries to make LED throwies. Use ceramic tiles and sharpies to make coasters. Use Ellison dies to make customized bookmarks. Document everything – photos, videos, whatever your policies allow. Show your boss, show the board, show your patrons, show the people who make purchasing decisions.

Finally, I would like you to research 5 potential items for your makerspace. These can be high tech or low tech. Choose what you think would be best for your users. Do a bit of research about what is out there, provide estimated prices, and justification for your choices. The justification should include the learning outcomes you expect your students to achieve when using the item(s). There is no length requirement, so whether you use pages or sentences per item is completely up to you.