A makerspace (sometimes also referred to as a hackerspace, hackspace or hacklab) is a location where people with common interests, often in computers, technology, science, electronics, engineering, and/or digital or electronic art, can connect, create and collaborate. Makerspaces can be viewed as open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops, and/or studios where hackers and makers come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things.
Many libraries have embraced the maker movement and have incorporated makerspaces into the services they provide as they both encourage community building, skill sharing, participatory learning and the concepts of scientific and technological savvy as 21st century literacies.
In the past year and a half or so, encouraged by my fiance who is a hardware prototyper by day and a hackerspace member as a hobby, I’ve gotten involved in Null Space Labs (NSL), a hacker/makerspace for adults a few blocks from the library where I work. Some of the cool projects that NSL members have worked on include trying to create a theremin and a quadrotor helicoptor robot from scratch. At NSL, I learned how to solder LEDs to a circuitboard. The device I made is called a Cylon because the LEDs are reminiscent of characters from the original Battlestar Galactica TV series. While the Cylon is kind of small and doesn’t do very much, I felt amazingly empowered knowing that I now had the ability to make an electronic device work. It was definitely the kind of feeling that I wanted to share with patrons of all ages, but especially with my teens.
Through my interactions at NSL and after hosting two popular programs – one featuring a local high school robotics club and another showcasing a friend from Blizzard Entertainment who spoke about careers in gaming, I started thinking more seriously about how to cultivate science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) programs and spaces in the library.
A few months later, via a library listserv that I am subscribed to, I was fortunate enough to connect with a group of teachers and community members interested in facilitating a youth makerspace in Los Angeles. This group is now known as LA Makerspace. In May, I attended their initial planning meeting to explore how the library and their group could work together. From there, I put one of the co-founders of LA Makerspace in touch with my supervisor and they’ve been working together to further explore our possible partnership. In fact, LA Makerspace will be opening their new downtown LA location, which is in walking distance of my library, on October 28th .
Through my involvement in LA Makerspace and NSL, I discovered that SparkFun Electronics would be in the Los Angeles area in late October and wanted to see if they could make a stop at my library. SparkFun Electronics conducted an awesome half-day training for staff, at the Central Library on October 19th, on maker programs. They even donated 15 SparkFun Inventor’s Kits and 5 soldering irons to the library. Fourteen staff members and I, from departments such as Youth Services, Teen’Scape, Information Technology, Science, Technology & Patents, Training & Professional Development, as well as YA librarians from our branch libraries, learned about the maker movement, the open source movement, Arduino microcontrollers (aka robot brains), and how to program Arduino microcontrollers to make LEDs blink. Even though I had learned how to solder LEDs to a pre-programmed microcontroller earlier, it was even more empowering to now know how to program (or re-program) a microcontroller myself. I couldn’t wait to show our teens the kits and now they can’t wait to play with them.
Another fun event was SparkFun’s maker workshop for parents, kids and educators at the Paul Revere Charter Middle School in Brentwood on October 17th. I attended that as I wanted to see how the SparkFun maker kits worked in a real world setting, with real kids and parents.
What I observed was super inspiring – lots of kids having lots of fun learning, inventing, and innovating, all without the fear of failure or grades. In short, everything that would be fantastic to facilitate in libraries. One of the great things about the workshop that evening, and which really facilitated creativity without bounds, was how the room and supplies were set up. There were different tables set up around the inside of one of the school’s multipurpose rooms. The set of tables in the middle had all of the main tools and supplies (scissors, circuitboards, alligator clips, batteries, fabric swatches, conductive thread, etc.), while the tables that were set in a large circle near the walls of the room were either stations where participants could learn the basics of completing a circuit, and work on specific projects, or empty tables so that people could work on free-form projects. The devices that the kids came up with at that workshop were amazing.
Sadly, not all teens have access to that kind of workshop, especially since that particular one was a ticketed event. Things like consistent housing and meals are extremely challenging for some of the teens that I serve to come by. Many of them are all too familiar with Skid Row and the shelters there. The library really is a haven for those teens and a place where they can safely explore their dreams.
I’ve always been passionate about teen library services and finding ways for the library to help teens develop into successful adults. After working with those teens and discovering their stories, however, I feel a new sense of urgency, responsibility and opportunity to help provide them with the 21st century skills they will need to not only survive, but thrive in the future. One of the best ways to do this is to find ways to encourage these skills through STEAM programs and spaces at the library.
My dream would be to have a full-service makerlab at the Central Library, which would include equipment for digital media creation like Chicago Public Library’s YOUMedia lab and equipment for science and engineering projects like Westport Public Library’s Maker Space or Fayetteville Free Library’s Fab Lab.
In the interim, however, it would be wonderful to put together maker kits or program boxes so that librarians could host mini maker programs at their local branches and encourage STEAM skills without expensive equipment, staff, or resources. It would also be great to partner with the growing number of makerspaces in the area, local universities’ science, technology and digital media programs, and science magnet high schools to host a yearly mini maker faire in conjunction with the yearly children’s science day that my library already celebrates. Those are just a few of the ideas that I would love to help implement and that we are currently still exploring.
Digital Promise is a bipartisan independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation authorized by Congress “to support a comprehensive research and development program to harness the increasing capacity of advanced information and digital technologies to improve all levels of learning and education, formal and informal, in order to provide Americans with the knowledge and skills needed to compete in the global economy.”
MAKE is a quarterly publication from O’Reilly that’s the first do-it-yourself magazine for the technology enthusiast in all of us. MAKE celebrates your right to tweak, hack, and bend any technology to your own will.
Makerspaces and the Participatory Library Facebook group:
An open space for collaboration and sharing about MakerSpaces, digital media labs, and participatory/community spaces in libraries. Let’s share ideas, failures, successes, and resources!
SparkFun Electronics Department of Education:
SparkFun Electronics thrives by sharing ingenuity and developing a more approachable environment for everyone, regardless of their technical experience level. The Department of Education is dedicated to improving the interest and diversification in the science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics fields by encouraging kinesthetic and tangible learning with affordable, accessible and relevant technologies. By collaborating with educators and industry partners we hope to create products and curricula that provide students with the necessary skill sets to succeed in these industries.