Post-Emergent Library Makerspaces: SLAMS, a Path Forward

At DML 2016 I went to a session on post-emergent library makerspaces. This session really dug into the challenges of maintaining a makerspace in a library overtime, looking past makerspaces and learning labs emergent phase. The session explored libraries that were part of a 1 year action research plan funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Below are challenges and solutions from three different libraries of thosedescribed in the session:

Anythink library created The Studio originally planned and staffed by the teen and the technology librarians but they have now moved on to other position. We don’t have the people to support the spaces. Professional artists had been working in the space but the turnover created communication breakdown between the artists and the library. The loss of the original staff also caused institutional knowledge gaps. It is a small library so there was very little written documentation. In order to keep The Studio going the library realized that all staff needed professional development training, not expert knowledge, just a basic understanding of the materials and the space: what is the tech, how to connect patrons to correct media, how to get in touch with artists-in-residence. To be successful the staff at The Studio recommend that you integrate your program into your institutional structure. Your makerspace can’t just be that shiny room in the corner, it needs to be framed as experiential learning for the patrons. No matter what staff member a patron talks to they should be able to give the gist of the program. They found that they needed to change recruiting and hiring of staff, that they need traditional librarians but also need other professionals with different skill sets. Creative professionals bring their network with them.

Billings Public Library in Montana created the TECH Lab, which opened in June of 2014. Originally two volunteers and a parttime librarian staffed the space, which was eventually revised down to one volunteer. When this volunteer position ended the library system decided to hire one full time librarian for the space. This was the first dedicated teen librarian in the library, creating a one person department. While presenting the librarian pointed out the challenged with this “What happens if I am sick, at a conference, on vacation, or leave?” Billings is a one branch library system. The library had to decide what it could do to make the most of what we had without adding more staff. How does the space incorporate back into the community and have community and other library staff see the space as essential to the library not as a shiny “new” thing? The teen librarian started a book group with the circulation/tween librarian, assistant childrens librarian, and library manager, where they read articles and books about makerspace, connected learning, etc. This gave the TECH space access to two other age groups. The teen librarian did trainings with other librarians in the building, recording them so others could use them. The now core team, formed out of the book club, went to Media Lab in San Francisco. From the trip they learned a lot in a short amount of time. Took equipment out of the makerspace into areas for younger kids to offer them exposure.

The Free library in Philadelphia created Maker Jawn, which ran STEAM programming, experiential learning, but didn’t have a plan. Maker Jawn serves 5 libraries in North Philadelphia. One of their largest challenges was making the space work across libraries in neighborhoods that served different communities. First space was driven by whatever anyone wanted to do. The stuff just filled the space with no plan. Someone made a 3d printer and then left and didn’t leave any documentation. They ended up with the question “What happens when staff leave or when you onboard new staff?” In order to integrate the space better into the library, they did reflections at weekly staff meetings on specific questions. They created a mission statement. The staff created a set of questions that they felt are important for situating the space within the larger library: What are values, what are goals, why does it matter, what does program success look like, what have we seen in our work that makes us think it is important, what can we do better of what we are already doing? Having a plan and having these questions answered helped morale and helped onboard new staff. The staff offered more consistent professional development, which created a situtation where new people can just right in. They learned it is not about the product, in is about the process. Their remaining challenges is that what they are doing currently isn’t necessarily sustainable across the entire 54 branches of the library system, but are working on a more sustainable plan.

The big takeway?

SLAMS (Staffing, learning and leadership, administration, mission, structure (program and organization)). These are the five areas that need to be considered and addressed for long term sustainability

From the discussion and the major themes:

  • How do you balance the noise of makerspace with the quiet of library?
    • One librarian said that previously if someone coughed it disturbed everyone, but productive white noise became normal.
    • Another said they developed space that could be transitioned from quieter homework/work spaces to maker areas, depending on time of day
  • How to combat staff turnover? On board existing staff and create trainings for easy inclusion of new staff.
  • Help others in the library understand why the space is important, through reading like HOMAGO and Connected Learning.
  • Integrate the program into the library structure.
  • Create a mission, vision, and understanding of what success looks like.
  • Have a plan for programs and organization, and reevaluate those plans regularly.
  • Jury is out on whether the future is makerspace in libraries run by librarians or mentors. – partnership, where we recruit students, professionals that aren’t librarians.

Crystle Martin is a postdoctoral researcher at the Digital Media and Learning Hub at the University of California, Irvine. She is the current member manager for the YALSAblog and editor for YALS. She is also the Secretary for the YALSA Board of Directors. 

 

 

 

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