On the Floor at ALA: What to Make of Makerspaces

Whether just starting out or expanding their resources, librarians at ALA 2016 in Orlando were excited about makerspaces. Getting started, though, can be a challenge.

For some, getting teacher and faculty buy-in to encourage student participation was difficult. Jaimie Kaplan, Library Teacher at Andover Public Schools in Andover, MA, says the goal of their program is to “Plant these engineering seeds at the ground level” so that later in High School they are interested in careers in engineering. Getting teacher and parent support is critical to helping those dreams grow. Yet at this age level there are unexpected obstacles.

For libraries geared toward younger students something as simple as using 3D printer can be an issue. Shelley Stedman, Library Specialist from New Fairfield Middle School, CT, says, “We don’t have software in the library that the kids can use. The kids can’t use free software because they can’t sign up without parental consent. It’s kind of a catch 22. They are too young—they are ages 10 to 13—and on some of the sites’ children’s rights are not protected, so they can’t sign up to use them.”

Barbara Cavanaugh, Director, Biomedical Library at The University of Pennsylvania, is very concerned about making sure the service stays free to clinicians, researchers, faculty, and students. “We want them to be able to experiment and play.” Making sure the program remains financially viable is a big concern.

Ava Ehde, Library Services Manager at Manatee County Library, Bradenton, FL, echoes many librarians when she says the biggest obstacle for her is getting funding. “I had been working on getting these into our libraries for the last 3 years. And it took a whole lot to have these conversations without an example. So what we did was start small with one example.” Ms. Ehde started with a small computer program by cobbling together some money and programs and involving the staff. “It was a great way to get one piece out there and then when people saw what the possibilities were…it’s getting a lot easier.” Several librarians suggest starting with programming as it’s easy to implement with an existing computer lab and software is generally not that expensive.

Anna Bolognani, Librarian at Twin Valley Middle High School, Readshore, VT, says the biggest tip she got at ALA this year was to view makerspaces as “collection development” in order to justify it to the administration and find budget for it.

Figuring out what technology the students are most interested in is also a challenge. With limited physical space and budget there was concern among many librarians about investing in high-end technology that might not get used. Shelley Stedman advises: “It’s important to talk to the students before buying materials. Find out the kinds of things they are interested in doing before you buy anything and waste a lot of money on materials.” Other librarians suggest doing Twitter and Whiteboard surveys to find out what technology they just don’t have access to anywhere else.

Carrie Hurst, Principal Librarian at Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library, says their branches have local “hives” and equipment can be brought to each hive for a program and then moved along to the next one. As interest grows and there is proven interest for a particular technology they can expand into having permanent makerspaces in each branch.

Want to start a small project to build enthusiasm for a new makerspace? Start small: Try a creating a Laser-Grid Intruder Alarm Maker Project for free. This is one of the Maker Projects available on AccessScience—the award-winning, multidisciplinary online STEM teaching and learning resource developed specifically for students and non-specialists. Education is changing…and so are we. Get started today.

For more makerspace insights, please view these videos from ALA 2016 in Orlando:

ALA 2016: Makerspace Challenges

ALA 2016: Makerspace Goals

ALA 2016: Makerspace Implementation

ALA 2016: Makerspace Insights

ALA 2016: John Rennie on STEM Learning and Library Makerspaces

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