By Kelly Czarnecki and Marie Harris
In the fall of 2014 our library in Charlotte, NC applied for a grant with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to fund Idea Box, a Makerspace in our downtown location. The funding was to be used for equipment as well as consultation to help meet our goals:
• Generate new energy around this lifelong learning center
• Attract new users; especially those ages 19-34
• Be a place where anyone can bring their ideas to life
• Build partnerships/collaborations with the local maker community
• Create a prototype space within the library that can be refined and expanded on with testing and use
As the generous funding that was received did not cover staffing, administration appointed two existing staff as project leads whose task it was to have the space open and operable by January 2015. They in turn went through the process of establishing a dedicated Makerspace (now called Idea Box) team that would focus on developing policies for the space, programming, and focusing on bringing our target audience through our doors. Fortunately, our organization has over seven years of experience in a similar space at one of our branches for youth where film and music creation and editing has been a part of how teens are served, and we had a staff of many talents to choose from.
While the staff were unexperienced as trained Makers, they were definitely enthusiastic and brought with them experience in everything from film making to graphic design. Once the team of ten was established through an online application process that asked questions related to their experience with the kinds of activities and technologies the space would have, the task of how to get everyone on board with knowing how the major equipment works was going to be the next step in the process. Did the secret lie in an Arduino code that you can plug the library employee into? Or do you start from scratch and prototype a librarian Maker in Inkscape (a free software design program) to cut out on the laser cutter?
Here in Charlotte, NC, we opted for training, old fashioned practicing and a bit of trial by fire. While there weren’t any other public library makerspaces nearby, we were able to visit those affiliated with a local college as well as stand-alone organizations and tap into the wisdom of local “gurus.” Before the library even opened the doors to Idea Box; back when the room was still an underused meeting room; a local community college opened the doors of its Fab Lab to future Idea Box staff members. They invited us to come see the space and to receive a tour explaining the layout and the various pieces of equipment. We also had the opportunity to receive hands-on training on 3D printing and laser cutter operation at a local STEM professional development facility. And of course, a librarian is nothing if not curious: all of us continued to pursue training opportunities and online tutorials through resources such as Lynda.com, and continue to build our knowledge base through hands-on experiences with every shift worked in the space. A number of Idea Box staff even come into the space during its closed hours in order to get in practice time.
Our team consisted of ten brave library employees as well as the two team leads, all eager to get started making and uncertain of the perfect pathway to doing so. Team member Aubrey H. says that she has always considered herself to be a Maker. “Whether it’s baking, carving, painting, anything really; I’m just happy as long as I’m making something. I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of.”
Marie H., another team member shares, “I personally felt that same compulsion, and knew that I wanted to share that with library patrons. There’s nothing like the sense of accomplishment after creating something yourself. However, most of my making experience in my outside-of-work life involved more traditional crafts, such as crocheting, lace-making, and baking. I will fully admit to trepidation and nervousness at the thought of becoming proficient with a 3D printer or laser cutter! Luckily, we had great community partners that we were able to call on for training and advice.”
It’s hard to believe, but in just a few months’ time, most of us have become confident with the space, the equipment, and the software. Our enthusiasm has only continued to grow, as we continue to make things ourselves and as we help library patrons become makers. Team member Kim A. says, “The chance to see and use a 3D printer is a big draw, but what is even more fascinating is to hear how patrons visualize using it in their personal life either to further their technological education or to spur on a business notion. Being a part of the Idea Box staff allows me to step out of my daily role as a manager and get back to “playing.” The hours in the space do not even feel like work! I can’t believe I get paid to have fun!”
It’s important to keep in mind that no one piece of equipment defines a Makerspace which means there’s plenty of room for staff to bring a variety of skills to the table, and develop their interests in everything from sewing to making food. How you define your Makerspace, and your path to becoming a Maker, is up to you!