Library Makerspace Tour

“What next?” cringed the librarian.

As lending books becomes a less dominant theme within libraries, the question asked is “What next?” I took a cross-country tour visiting a variety of libraries which have expressed interest in makerspaces to learn what they’re planning. My goal was to gain a little insight to help advance the aspiration of having more libraries offer making programs and more maker spaces. I will be sharing my learnings with the library and maker communities through MAKE and American Libraries, the journal of the American Libraries Association.

There were ten libraries I visited and spoke with from which I drew a few conclusions.

A quick look at two libraries is provided below:

Cleveland’s Tech Central

Consolidated computers from throughout the buildings; about half can be seen here.

The large central library in Cleveland originally had computers distributed throughout its downtown buildings. Their first move was to consolidate computers to one location, staff with tech-savvy personnel, and shift emphasis to open collaboration. At the same time they instituted a TechToyBox technology lending service and put a 3D printer on display for use by patrons. Their plan is to test and implement ideas centrally then deploy as appropriate into their 28 branch network. Their next move is to provide a personalized Windows desktop service in partnership with HP and Citrix as their virtual makerspace for creating digital content. As that succeeds and gets rolled out they’ll start working on maker space tools for creating physical objects. This seems a good strategy.

Fort Wayne’s TekVenture

Many tool stations lined the walls of the trailer where 3D printing was a well represented theme.

What happens when a library and a makerspace share a common vision? Well, the best next step is probably a slow get-to-know-you dance over the period of months as the parties plan for a future together. That’s what I found in Fort Wayne where the Central Library and the TechVentures. At the library’s invitation the makerspace had moved into a trailer situated across the street on the property of the Central Library. Over the course of this past summer the parties collaborated on a series of programs which the library promoted and the makerspace delivered. It will be interesting to learn how it turned out and where they go from here. It’s an intriguing model which again could be replicated.

Libraries Visited

The complete list of libraries includes eight I visited and toured as well as two (*) which I couldn’t but followed-up with by phone while still on the road. The variety is wide and speaks to how every library is different. There is no “one solution fits all libraries” where making is concerned.

The libraries with whom I spoke and to who I am indebted include:

  • Howard County Library in Columbia, MD *
  • Free Library of Philadelphia, PA *
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, PA
  • Cleveland Public Library’s TechCentral in Cleveland, OH
  • Kansas City Public Library/Science City in Kansas City, MO
  • Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, IN
  • Anythink Libraries in Brighton, CO
  • DeLaMare Library, University of Nevada in Reno, NV
  • Sacramento Public Library in Sacramento, CA
  • OMSI/Multnomah County Library in Portland, OR

Preliminary Conclusions

Subsequent to this road trip I went hiking through red rock country with my younger daughter which gave me plenty of time to think about what I had learned. While still needing lots of input from the library community and resources to make happen, here’s what I believe would be useful as resources for libraries at every stage of readiness to put a toe into the waters of making, or jump in body, heart and soul.

Program Idea: Making resources abound on the Internet but they need to be packaged and positioned as useful programs for libraries. Projects need to be grouped by level-of-library-readiness ; some will only want to toe-dip and others will go whole hog. These projects need program guides written for them so librarians or library volunteers can facilitate projects without needing to be experts. Lastly these projects should have library community input so others can read ratings, tips for improvement, and just general banter surrounding projects. A library must be able to get up-and-running quickly and easily.

Best Practices: The above examples of Cincinnati and Fort Wayne illustrate two very different approaches to implementing making programs in libraries. There are probably 100 variations and thousands of lessons learned by each successful implementation. Why reinvent the wheel? Why not leverage others’ learnings and better insure success? By having a clearinghouse of best practices libraries can more often do the right thing first.

Funding Sources: Libraries will occasionally compete for funding so it may seem counter intuitive that funding sources should be made better known. However, the more people get funding that leads to successful programs, the better for the community. The rising tide will lift all ships.

Maker Spaces: As in colors of the rainbow, maker spaces come in all levels of readiness to  work with libraries but many are willing to share what they know to help libraries succeed. Unfortunately there is no list of library-ready maker spaces which libraries can turn to for contact info to start a dialog. There are hundreds of maker spaces across the U.S. We need a curated directory to help libraries find potential maker space partners.

Expect to read more from me about this in other venues.
For now, this gives you a sense for where I’m going.
The potential is great and I want to help realize it.

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