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.