Whenever I talk with someone in the maker community about incorporating makerspaces into public library services, the initial response is almost always the same: “That is AWESOME” and “You need to start with the community-who is going to use the space?”. When I first was developing this ‘makerspace in a public library concept’ I would answer the second question with, well, everyone. My kind friends in the various hacker/maker spaces across the country would get a little quiet and then say something like, “Cool. But it has to grow organically. People need to understand the space.”
This always confused me. I didn’t think it was hard to understand what the space was for—it existed for people, anyone in the community, to make anything. It created an environment for people to learn new things, to participate and engage with other community members in a new way, to share knowledge. We ran a number of successful programs over the past few months at the FFL and I didn’t think much about this particular thing my maker friends had said. Until this Saturday, that is.
The FFL hosted a BristleBot workshop this weekend as part of the FFL Fab Lab. We had done this once before with Joe Deken from an organization called New Blankets and a class of kids from the New School. It was awesome, everyone had a great time, everyone (including the librarians and teachers) learned something new. But it went a little differently this time.
We had a few hiccups, like needing to run to the store to get bigger toothbrushes and batteries that would burn out too quickly. I think the kids were having fun but there were a few parents who were not pleased that the ‘product’ wasn’t working well. We were printing on the Makerbot in an attempt to show the kids how 3D printing worked but it quickly became about the object itself—what ‘toy’ they wanted to take home, not how it worked. The focus shifted, and I didn’t realize it when it was happening. It became about consuming, not creating, partially because I started treating them like consumers. Dr. Lankes was there with his sons and he pointed this out to me and I couldn’t stop thinking about what he had said all evening. When I woke up this morning I saw a post he wrote that explains the problem in a way that is clear and easy to understand. I would recommend that you read it.
I often write and talk about building makerspaces in libraries to support and foster a read/write culture in our communities but I never fully understood how hard it is, for both myself and our patrons, to snap out of the consumer mindset. I learned a very valuable lesson yesterday—and I give much thanks to both my maker friends and Dr. Lankes for bringing something to my attention that I didn’t fully understand. This is something that I need to work on. I can have FFL Fab Lab workshops every day but the focus of the event needs to be on the learning experience, not the ‘take-away’ object, or the entire concept of a library makerspace will not succeed.
I was watching the movie “Moneyball” on Friday night with my family, enjoying a night off to relax and spend some much needed quality time with people I love—work free. And then, half paying attention, I heard this quote.
“I know you are taking it in the teeth, but the first guy through the wall…he always gets bloody….always. This is threatening not just a way of doing business…but in their minds, it’s threatening the game. Really what it’s threatening is their livelihood, their jobs. Its’ threatening the way they do things…and every time that happens, whether it’s the government, a way of doing business, whatever, the people who are holding the reins—they have their hands on the switch—they go batshit crazy.”-Moneyball
I found myself nodding and thinking, “Yes! Yes, John Henry! That’s exactly it!” Cue mind spinning and end of relaxing work-free evening. Billy Beane and John Henry were talking baseball, not libraries; however the truth at the heart of this speech resonates across any field anytime change and innovation threatens to upend ‘the way we’ve always done it’. The very wise Sue Considine, my boss and mentor, has a habit of reminding me that the world isn’t filled with a “bucket of idiots”. These people who, in the words of movie John Henry, go ‘batshit crazy’ are not idiots. They are smart, dedicated people who perhaps don’t understand why things have to change and also that things ARE changing. The rug is being pulled, rather dramatically, out from under them. We have moved, as a profession, from discussion of “Do we have a future? What will we be?” to a growing understanding that we will be many different things. A hackerspace? Sure! A community center? YES! A job search center? Bring it on! This can be frightening and threatening (hence the crazy).
Dr. David Lankes gave an inspiring speech at ALA Midwinter where he challenged those in the audience to expect more: from ourselves, from our colleagues, from our communities. He said that the Grand Challenge in librarianship is solving the problems of our community, it’s asking the right questions and building services and programs that solve, or at least provide the tools to solve, these problems. The Grand Challenge is NOT preserving our way of doing things, it is not ‘doing less with more’, it is not hunkering down and staying under the radar. We need to be bold, brave and not afraid to take it in the teeth and get bloody. It is also not about simply coming up with ideas—it is about taking action. MSNBC has a series of pretty awesome commercials out right now with the message “Lean Forward”. This is what we need to do. Lean forward. Question everything. Be radical. Have a crazy, zany idea, develop a proposal, and DO IT. Stretch your own limits. Stretch the limits of those around you.
We recently ran a fundraising campaign on Indie GoGo for the FFL Fabulous Laboratory and our tag line for the campaign was “The Future is HERE. Be a part of it”. The future is here and it may be scary and even threatening. We owe it to ourselves and our communities to engage with it. Answer the question, “why do we do this” not with “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” but with honest analysis and open minds. What problems do we have in our community? What can we do to help?
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” -Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past