Warwickshire Council Libraries Let’s Make program

Top Do’s & Dont’s of Makerspaces in Libraries

Makerspaces encourage open exploration and a do-it-with-others approach. Over the past 10 years the maker movement has found a relevant place in public libraries.

What is a Makerspace?

A Makerspace is a physical location where community members of any ages can use digital and physical technologies for creative production to explore ideas, learn technical skills, and create new products.

Making at Yarra Plenty Regional Library

At a Makerspace participants can gain technical skills and make new products through access to the requisite tools and experts or experienced makers / creators. A Makerspace can also encourage participants to communicate and explore ideas with other people, adding an all important social aspect to making. Additionally, Makerspaces can provide opportunities to experience interdisciplinary integration of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.

The Dos & Don’ts of Makerspaces — lessons from around the globe

Recently I facilitated two online workshops for the staff from an Australian public library service on what a makerspace in a new library could be. We investigated the local maker landscape and through the generosity of public libraries around the world sharing their makerspace experiences came up with a list of Do’s and Dont’s for libray makerspaces. If you are considering a makerspace in your library consider these issues in the design and setup and you are off to a great start.

The Do’s

The Design of the Makerspace:

  • It is essential to consider adequate ventilation at the design stage of the building refurbishments/new builds to match the equipment needs for the makerspace. It is also essential to consider noise elements if you are planning on any recording spaces within your Makerspace.
  • A key consideration of Makerspace placement is to ensure users can easily see the Makerspace and the makers. This encourages visitors to explore the space and builds curiosity which will attract more makers.
  • Integrate an aligned collection into the space which could include loanable equipment. Public Libraries lend things so remember think about this function within the Makerspace program.
  • Flexibility within the space for furniture and set up is desirable. This way it can be adapted to the maker program being delivered.
  • Ensure power needs of special equipment is included at the design stage.

The Equipment:

  • Research equipment before purchasing and consider safety, ongoing maintenance and cost/availability of the materials it uses.
  • Catalogue equipment from the beginning for internal tracking and the potential to create maker kits for loan.
  • Safety and risk assessments need to be in place for all equipment prior to implementation.
  • Consider running regular safety inductions for equipment use for both staff and Maker Space users which will help to create a drop-in culture for makers rather than relying solely on programming in the space to activate it.

The Resources:

  • Recruit a dedicated Makerspace Coordinator and involve all library staff in the project delivery of the makerspace program.
  • Empower all library staff with skills and encourage innovation, including offering training and inductions on all equipment.
  • Seek to recruit maker volunteers to assist in the space. Consider what reciprocal benefits these volunteers could be rewarded with to keep them participating.
  • Seek strategic partners and networking opportunities within the local community to build supported programs within the space and broaden the responsibility of programming from just library staff.
  • Have a revenue budget set up to maintain the space, and develop a price model for materials to offset costs.

The Strategy:

  • Link projects/programs to wider organisational strategic planning documents.
  • Start small, test, learn and think big so you can build the program and maker community.
  • Define a specialist area for your Makerspace. Specialist areas can be different at different sites.
  • Ensure you have a good marketing strategy. Be clear about the audience you are targeting. Maker spaces, while welcoming everyone, will not be of interest to everyone.
  • Consult with the audience before running projects. Start with a practice of co-design with your community of makers.
  • Have an evaluation strategy in place. Set up feedback mechanisms and set success measures to inform funders, partners and users.
Makerspace.com for free ideas

The Top Don’ts

  • Don’t set unrealistic income targets. The space should be accessible and part of core library service.
  • Don’t separate library staff from Makerspace programs. All library staff should have the opportunity to co-design and/or deliver workshops, so it becomes part of their day-to-day activities. Build their capacity over time.
  • Don’t assume library staff or library members know what a Makerspace is. Have a marketing plan that explains the space — not just the programs.
  • Don’t be afraid to work with partners and let partners use the space in agreed times — that is what the inductions are for and it is important that the space is seen to be activated.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things and let staff explore new ideas. Have a learning evaluation in place so you are building on the learning — it is okay if an idea does not work as long as your staff learn from it.
  • Don’t design workshops or programs that are too complex. Keep it simple.
  • Don’t forget to allow staff planning time.
  • Don’t create unnecessary barriers for participation/use of the space.

Library staff at these types of libraries need to be able to proactively identify and build relationships and connections with skilled maker partners and community groups or individuals.

The role of the library staff members needs to become facilitator — building the communities expertise and allowing the maker community freedom to make. Not just the expert delivering skills to use the maker space. This is essential as it will:

  • Serve to bring diverse audiences and community members who may not have had strong connections with the library previously, into the new makerspaces.
  • Enable the library service to activate the spaces for longer periods of time with the user leading the activation rather than the library staff.

My sincere thanks to all the contributors to this project from the following library services:

Australia — Yarra Plenty Regional Library, The Edge, State Library of Queensland, Library at the Dock , City of Melbourne.

United Kingdom— Redbridge Central Library, Warwickshire County Council Library Service

United States of America — City of Clabasas California, University of Nevada, Reno.

Netherlands — Nieuwe Veste Library Center

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Jane Cowell

Jane Cowell

Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics