image from flickr creative commons user luradsRecently I was talking with library staff that work with youth and heard “Maker spaces are dead.” With an amazed look on my face, and since I know that many libraries are still developing these types of spaces, I said, “What?” And, it was repeated, “Maker spaces are dead.” The person who stated this was actually repeating something heard at another meeting. So, I contacted someone else I knew that was at that meeting and she confirmed. She’d heard that too – the idea was that in a few years the whole maker/DIY movement in libraries was going to be dead. Say by 2016.

This really bothered me, and at first I couldn’t figure out why. Then it came to me. People are missing the big picture here. Maker spaces aren’t about the space or the equipment in those spaces. They are really about a philosophy of service related to libraries and the community. Libraries and youth. Libraries and teens.

That philosophy is key to the world of libraries in the current day and into the future. It’s a philosophy of service that focuses on community. It’s a philosophy that focuses on giving teens an opportunity to connect to their interests and passions. It’s a philosophy that connects teens to mentors who can help them to achieve whatever they want (and need) to achieve. It’s a philosophy that might include connecting teens with physical or digital books – but it’s really about connecting teens to whatever they need to succeed. Those connections might be to a 3D printer, or video software or soldering tools. We don’t know and it will vary with every teen that comes into the library.

I worry that libraries getting in on the maker space bandwagon, which I think is a great bandwagon to get on, are missing the key point to those spaces. And, as a result, won’t be able to gain the community support and build the capacity needed to build, maintain, and support these spaces and the philosophy behind them. If in your library you are developing maker spaces, or maker related services, for teens think not just about the cool stuff you are going to be doing in that space, but about how that space is going to change teen lives. And, how that space isn’t just a fad but an example of the type of service you want the library to be able to provide. Think about how that space will:

  • Connect teens to their interests and passions
  • Give teens a chance to build relationships with adults
  • Give teens the chance to be mentored by others
  • Help teens build relationships with peers
  • Give teens the opportunity to be a part of the community
  • Give teens and library staff the chance to learn from each other
  • Encourage teens to act as mentors and coaches
  • Connect teens to resources they need – human, physical, digital, virtual….
  • Provide an environment that allows teens to be who they want and need to be

Other’s have written that maker spaces are not about the 3D printers and acoutrements of those spaces. They are certainly not. Think about how everything you do with and for teens in your community, from a maker space to the book you put on the shelf, helps teens to grow up successfully. Think about not just the coolness of what you are planning/doing but about the overall impact on teens and on the community at large.

The future of library services requires that we go beyond focusing just on giving teens places to take part in fun activities. We need to think more broadly and deeply than that. It’s the outcomes beyond fun that are most important. (Sure it can be fun to create something in a maker space but is that all there is?) We need to have a philosophy of service that isn’t just going with what’s new and cool because it’s new and cool. But, understanding why what’s new & cool is something to integrate into library services. The philosophy has to be about teens and the connections we help them to make. I do believe that maker spaces are one good way to achieve that.

If you want to get in on the conversation about the future of library services for teens check-out the May YALSA/Connected Learning series and YALSA’s next virtual town hall. Let’s hear what you have to say on the topic. (Of course you can use the comments to this post too.)

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

5 Thoughts on “The Future of Libraries – It’s About What?

  1. Linda on May 7, 2013 at 4:48 pm said:

    I have done several programs in the last year that have forced the teens to use their hands and make physical stuff. They beg for more. They are amazed by their ability to create something from a pile of supplies. It gives them courage and self-esteem. They are figuring out that they can combine two different mediums to create something entirely new. They are not helpless. I love it.

    That said, we a re a system that is exploring the idea of a Maker Space. I am intimidated by the technological aspects of it. I believe in the different paths we can pursue but I’m not entirely sure I understand them. The little old lady in me wants our teens to use their brains and hands to create things. To understand that some things are not created overnight. That is the service that I want to offer.

  2. Linda, thanks for your comments.

    What you wrote made me think of two things, first, teens can help you with the tech that you might not understand, be familiar or comfortable with, and so on. That’s one of the great things about this way of providing service. It’s a learning experience on both sides. Not just the adults telling teens how something works.

    And, on the topic of using brains and taking time to create things, using technology does not mean that critical thinking and time doesn’t go into a project. Creating a video can take days, weeks, or months to get it just right. Planning a video or other tech-based project, if done well, requires a lot of critical thinking and decision making. Technology doesn’t do that for us (or the teens). Technology doesn’t equal quick and easy.

  3. Linda on May 8, 2013 at 6:12 pm said:

    I did imply that electronic things are instantaneous when not all of them are. Not the good stuff anyway. 🙂

    I would be curious if other libraries have encountered the medium being troublesome because in so many ways, it is instantaneous. I know that I have to battle through teen reluctance when they discover the thing they really like takes time. I have a good bunch this year that are willing to give it a go but that’s not always been my reality. Has anyone encountered a teen expectation that if it is electronic, it definitely should not take more than 5 minutes of their time?

    Perhaps it’s just because I mostly work with teens on the younger side of the range.

  4. Others may have other thoughts and experiences on this Linda (and thanks again for your comment) but I think it is a part of the bigger picture of what we want to be doing with teens. Some things, yes, who wants to wait (i’m thinking of that ebook I’m on hold for that I just want to be able to download) – but I’ve found that teens that are creating something as a part of a process – for example a video that is meaningful to them – and on which they are working through the process with mentors and peers, don’t think about instantaneousness because they are very involved in the process. (How many times can I say process?) It’s got to be something that a teen is really invested in. I always use teens I knew in a library, that were really into manga, as an example. Those teens would take a lot of time on their manga related projects because they were really interested and connected with it. Other things they just whisked (or even blew) off and didn’t want to wait because it didn’t mean very much.

    It’s something that we as library staff might have to get better at, working with teens as mentors and coaches through a process and not just focusing on creating something because it’s fun. We want to connect teens to their interests and creating around those. If that makes sense? Anyone else have other thoughts?

  5. Rachel McDonald on May 10, 2013 at 5:54 pm said:

    Linda and Linda B, I agree that while some teens (and not just teens) may feel that digital equals instantaneous, others are willing to invest time in a project because the medium or materials pique their interest, be it in drawing, photography, or making music or videos. Although I’m by no means a master of any software program, I feel that my role is to gently offer encouragement, feedback, and suggestions for where they can receive help from a community of other users (many sites for software programs have thriving online message boards), as well as the occasional reality check (no, you won’t be able to make a video game in 5 minutes that will look anything like the ones you can buy). At an open media lab I recently held, I watched a teen sit down for 45 minutes and create a fantastic stop motion animation with only those items he’d brought into the program with him. By the end, he was encouraging others to help him with the video or to make their own. I’d occasionally look at what he was doing and comment on it, but really, it’s his baby from start to finish. I’m looking forward to seeing what he creates next week! You can view the video here:

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