Make it Work! Starting a Makerspace in an Academic Library, Phase 1

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Hannah Pope, Emerging Technologies Librarian at Appalachian State University.

Makerspaces are cropping up in libraries everywhere, but the process for creating one of these areas in an academic library can often be layered and confusing. This is especially true for librarians and staff who have had very little prior makerspace experience. A factor that can make the process even more difficult is the lack of agreement over what exactly a makerspace is. My personal definition is: a makerspace is a place where patrons have access to tools where they can create and innovate while simultaneously inspiring one another as a community. Like with all things in libraries, that definition can be up for debate!

Over the course of the next several months, I am going to be sharing with you the process of creating and implementing a new makerspace. A little background first: I am the Emerging Technologies Librarian at a mid sized university located in the mountains of North Carolina. Our library has been progressively moving into a more innovative direction, and the makerspace has been a natural extension of that growth. Although there has been a lot of institutional support, we have encountered numerous issues leading up to the creation of the space…

Space Issues

Like many of you, our library suffers from a distinct lack of space. To remedy this, we began a massive library renewal project which heavily featured weeding old materials and the creating of new learning spaces. While our building is only a mere decade old, it quickly became apparent that the changing physical landscapes of libraries were not represented in the original building plans.

Many of you are working in a similar situation; either the library is in an older building, or the current space that you have just never quite seems to accommodate what you need it to. We’ve all been there. The important thing is find a space that will work for you and the makerspace that you are trying to build. There are many factors that should be taken into account that are too numerous to list here, but a few important ones include: Is there enough space for the equipment you want? Will you need access to an outside wall to ventilate your machines? What flavor should your makerspace be? Luckily, my library has finally gotten to the stage of the process where the area for our temporary makerspace has been cleared out. Whew! One hurdle down. That being said, it is a temporary space. Although we will be offering a variety of machines to work with, our space will not reach its full potential until we construct a better ventilated area in the near future. The important thing for right now is that the makerspace program will be able to start helping students and faculty in the early spring.

Creating a Makerspace Theme or Lack Thereof

I mentioned before that makerspaces can have a certain ‘flavor’ or theme. This is especially true in universities. Some can concentrate on arts-based programming and learning, while the most readily recognized types include STEM capabilities. The nature of your makerspace is ultimately up to you – and the patrons that you serve. Even though some makerspaces tend to focus on providing machines and tools that are related to certain areas, others contain a hodge-podge of anything and everything. The makerspace in my library will definitely fall into that category. The people at my library and within our community have a wide range of interests, and our makerspace will reflect that.

Equipment and Budget

Once you have the space and theme, it is time to decide what to purchase for your library’s makerspace. Rule of thumb: always overestimate the cost! When purchasing for a makerspace, there are going to be unforeseen costs to making it all run smoothly, including replacement parts, supplies, and required accessories. While there will always be new and exciting things to buy, it is important to remember that the needs of the patrons come first, so stick to the budget. It is also imperative that the physical space is taken into account. It wouldn’t be a good idea to purchase five 3D printers if you don’t have enough the space to house them. Ideally you would have someone who had the expertise to run each of the machines that you choose to buy. While it is expected that there will be at least a bit of a learning curve, it isn’t generally a good idea to buy a variety of machines if no one in the library has used them before. Getting more people involved is always a good idea, but if you or your staff don’t have any training, starting out slowly in regards to equipment may be the best approach. Academic libraries commonly start a 3D printing service before they move into full makerspace territory. This gives the library a sense of patron demand, and it also allows for staff to learn the equipment properly. My library has used this model and it has been very successful so far.

The lack of physical space didn’t keep us from implementing a 3D printing service, but now that there is a designated makerspace, we need more equipment to fill it. As I mentioned, our makerspace is going to be as eclectic as the student body that we serve. We will have a CNC machine, vinyl cutter and 3D printers, as well as a sewing machine for e-textiles and electronics in the main workspace. I am also creating an area that is specifically for instruction so that classes and workshops are surrounded by the ‘making’ environment as they learn. In addition, we are also tagging on a more nontraditional makerspace element – a virtual reality and gaming room. The room will have multiple gaming consoles as well as the HTC Vive and Microsoft Hololens available for students to explore. We also provide software so that patrons can create video games. The variety of equipment speaks to the varied interests of our students, faculty, and staff.

Developing Curriculum

One of the most vital parts of creating a successful makerspace is developing instruction and activities that highlight student potential. Even though my space was not open this semester, I still conducted workshops about 3D printing, 3D design, Arduino and e-textiles. By offering up these opportunities, I was able to introduce the campus to some of the technology that we currently have and build momentum for the makerspace opening in the Spring. I also partnered with a number of professors who incorporated the technology into their classes.

Next semester, I will be expanding the instruction by adding more courses and creating e-learning modules for patrons to use when learning about the new tools available. There will also be more outreach activities that will consist of directed projects that revolve around one or more machines within the makerspace. The opportunities for expansion are endless!

Are any of you creating makerspaces in your libraries? Stay tuned for the next piece of the makerspace journey.

Theory as a keel: Developing a critical framework for open education

Virginians involved in education were extremely fortunate to have the 13th Annual Open Education Conference held in Richmond, at the Great Richmond Convention Center November 2nd through 4th, 2016. The conference, billed as the “premiere venue for sharing research, development, advocacy, design, and other work relating the open education,” offers librarians a unique opportunity to interface with researchers, technologists, publishers, and educators in a collaborative environment. While some of these connections happened during sessions on topics like inclusive design, open education policy, and licensing, many occurred between sessions. On the final day, I had the chance to eat lunch with several William & Mary faculty and student researchers interested in open education, along with Kathleen DeLaurenti, the librarian at William & Mary leading our OER initiatives. The lunch conversation afforded me great perspective on the challenges educators face when trying to access and utilize appropriate open education resources as alternatives in their classes, especially for advanced topic courses. I am excited to join deLaurenti and our Scholarly Communications Committee’s efforts to expand open education resources here at William & Mary, where we will be running a pilot of the Open Textbook Network Program beginning early next year.

Open education is not just about textbooks and materials, however. Among the presenters at the Open Ed Conference this year was a William & Mary Ph.D. student in the School of Education, Jamison Miller, who joins a growing contingent of open education scholars calling for a theoretical grounding to support the practicum, resource-focused open education movement, a component he feels will be critical to its long term success and sustainability.

Continue reading Theory as a keel: Developing a critical framework for open education

Self-Care: Focusing on you

This fall semester has brought a full load of classes, projects, and committee work. Add on the election and the stress doubles. Since I began my job as an academic librarian, I have constantly heard “self care, self care.” However, being the stubborn person I am, I did not really understand the importance of setting time aside and knowing your limit of stress or frustration.

Usually, weekends are an escape, but when there is too much to do, it becomes a habit to take work home. Here are some tips of how I learned to make time for myself and my thoughts (both at work and at home)

-Get out of your cubicle/office. When I was drowning in work, it just seemed like I could not concentrate. I needed a change of scenery, just for a couple of hours. Get a space that’s just for yourself. Take your laptop, notebook, task list, and take that time to do what you need to get done.

-Coffee breaks are your best friend (in moderation). It gives you the opportunity to not only get caffeinated, but people watch while you’re in line.

-Walk around campus. Take a 10 minute walk to refresh your mind and get a little exercise

-It’s OK to take a day off when it comes to exercise. I usually go to the gym after work, but sometimes I’m so tired and cannot find the strength to change into gym clothes.

-Exercise! If you feel up for it, exercising can be a bit of time that is just for you and your thoughts. Download a podcast and hit the treadmill (or stair master, weights, pool)

-Chores around the house. I don’t know about you, but as I’ve gotten older, I have found cleaning quite therapeutic. It keeps me busy and I also like to talk to myself while I clean my room.

-Write! A lot of people find writing as a way to let out your thoughts, frustration, anger, etc. Take 10 or so minutes and just write about what you want. I will admit that a lot of times, my writings tend to be rants. I find that after a few minutes of furiously typing, I calm down.

Do not ignore your mental health! Your mental health is important above all else and when all is not well, it can start to impact your work and relationships. 

I know that for many people, myself included, it’s been a tough two weeks. Like many others, my mental health was affected by the results of the election, the rhetoric of the presidential campaigns, and the frustration with some acquaintances that did not understand why so many people were afraid. Take all of this and add in the workload and deadlines. Let’s remember that not everyone can take time off of work or call in sick, but some may have to find ways to work through this while at work. I hope that some of my suggestions can help. I don’t say this enough, but I am grateful for all the ACRLog readers, viewers, and writers! Take care of yourself and each other.

On Critical Habits of Mind

This semester I’ve been working with a First Year Seminar on Business Ethics & Corporate Responsibility. For their semester-long research assignment, each student selected a company from the 2016 Forbes Most Ethical Companies list. They were asked to investigate the company’s relationship to its customers, employees, the environment, and international suppliers (if applicable), and how these relationships reinforce or undermine the company’s values, ethics, and/or statements of corporate responsibility. It’s an amazing assignment developed by one of our college’s philosophy professors, one that is ripe for critical thinking, questioning, and information literacy.

Two weeks ago I met with the students in this class for a second time. I want to check-in with them and facilitate a workshop where they could ask questions, share concerns, and discuss their information needs. As with many library classes, what I thought students would need and what they ended up needing were not quite the same thing. The students in this class overwhelmingly needed help developing critical questions, and by that I mean questions that interrogate the public image that companies put forth into the world.

How does your company treat its employees?

Oh you know, good. They say they value them.

But what does valuing an employee mean? Do they pay a living wage? What are their benefits like? Do they offer paid parental leave? Childcare? Do they negotiate fairly with unions? Do they offer flexible schedules? Do they practice inclusion in recruitment and retention? Is diversity and comfort of employees a top priority?

The list goes on and on.

I realize that part of the ease with which I develop these questions comes from being a working adult, but a bigger part of my ability to do this comes from the critical habits of mind I’ve worked to develop over the years. I’ve reached a point where I just can’t turn my critical consciousness off (nor would I want to do so), but I recognize that not all students are quite there yet. Learning to ask questions, to interrogate information you read, takes time.

So we practiced.

We spent much of the class thinking of different questions to ask about each company in relation to each of its stakeholders. Things like, Where are they manufacturing their products? to What kinds of advertising do they practice? Students dutifully wrote these questions down and began to think about how they might apply to their research of their selected company, then I got a question I get all the time, but in this particular context, surprised me:

How do we know if the information we find is credible? How do we know if it’s good?

We’d just spent the majority of the class period interrogating  company statements of corporate responsibility and asking difficult questions about their companies’ actions in relation to their stated values and ethics. But students couldn’t continue that line of questioning to the information sources they were finding in online news outlets, websites, and library databases. I got lots of “if it’s from a .com site it’s not credible,” when all of our major news outlets end in .com. Or, and this one is always my favorite, “it’s based on unbiased facts, not someone’s opinion,” which is, of course, all kinds of problematic.

These exchanges reinforced my long-held belief that critical questioning is hard. It’s not something we’re born knowing how to do, but rather, it’s something we practice day in and day out. I finally stopped the students and said that “good” sources are hard to categorize, and that it’s really up to us to do our due diligence. The SAME way you are really digging deep into your companies and investigating them online is what you should be doing for EVERY INFORMATION SOURCE YOU FIND. Who is the author or publisher? What do you know about them? What is the point of view this piece is trying to share? How might this be helpful to you? What kinds of other information sources is this piece citing, agreeing with or refuting?

Checklists are easy. Questions are hard. It’s important that we facilitate opportunities for our students to practice critical questions, I would say, particularly NOW more than ever. We need to pick apart statements that are made on campaign trails and rallies, question narrow-minded views of the world, and challenge anti-everything populist rhetoric. Critical questioning is not just an information literacy or academic skill, it’s a life practice and habit of mind we’ll need in the years to come.

Exploring artifacts of students’ learning trajectories, or The view from here

I’ve been serving on the Institutional Review Board (IRB) at my institution for a little over a year now. If you’re not familiar with the purpose and scope of an IRB, it’s generally the group’s charge to review, approve, and monitor research conducted with human subjects. It’s the IRB’s responsibility to ensure that researchers are taking steps to protect the safety, welfare, rights, and privacy of subjects.

A majority of the applications I’ve reviewed in the past year have been submitted by undergraduate student researchers. At my undergraduate-only institution, it’s not unusual for students to propose and conduct studies. I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to see students’ research from this perspective. While I often consult with students working on research projects, it’s usually from my vantage point as a reference/instruction-type librarian. I confer with students as they identify topics of interest, explore the literature, identify gaps, develop searching and organizational strategies, and so on. My position as a member of the IRB offers me a different view of their work. In their IRB applications, students describe: their research aims and procedures, the characteristics of their intended subject population, how they will recruit subjects, how they will protect the privacy and anonymity of their subjects and obtain informed consent from them, how they will safeguard the data they collect, the risks involved in their proposed research, and how they will reduce those risks.

Each student’s application is unique, of course, but my colleagues and I have noticed a few challenges that seem to come up more often than not. Most common among these problem areas is the informed consent form. Northwestern University’s IRB describes the importance of informed consent well: “Obtaining informed consent is a basic ethical obligation and a legal requirement for researchers. This requirement is founded on the principle of respect for persons … [which] requires that individuals be treated as autonomous agents and that the rights and welfare of persons with diminished autonomy be appropriately protected. Potential participants must be provided with information about the research project that is understandable and that permits them to make an informed and voluntary decision about whether or not to participate. The amount of information and the manner of presentation will vary depending on the complexity and risk involved in the research study. Informed consent is an ongoing educational interaction between the investigator and the research participant that continues throughout the study.”

The informed consent form, then, is an important method of communication between researcher and potential subject. In my recent sample of applications, I’ve noticed students struggling to effectively convey their projects’ goals, benefits, and risks to potential subjects. Students sometimes leave out important information about what subjects will be asked to do in the studies. Students also often use very technical or formal language that is not only unfamiliar, but likely inaccessible, to people new to their study or discipline. Of course, we all struggle with this. Once we’re inside a research project or, for that matter, a topic or a process of any kind, it can be hard to step outside and see it from a beginner’s perspective.

It’s interesting, though, to perhaps consider the disconnects visible in the forms students have drafted as artifacts of their transitions from research newcomers to insiders. The students, as they work to research and design their own studies, become increasingly steeped in and comfortable with the methods, language, and conventions of the discipline. They may begin to take pleasure in their growing fluency even. Their facility and satisfaction is visible in the informed consent forms they design. They may not yet, however, have the metacognitive awareness to look past–or perhaps back on–their own trajectories to consider how to communicate effectively with their potential subjects, newcomers to their work. Of course, it’s possible that I’m overreaching a bit with this analysis.

Still, the connections between this work and information literacy teaching and learning seem rather notable to me, especially around the concepts of information ethics and audience. When I began this post, exploring these ideas and accompanying opportunities for teaching was my original purpose. What I find more useful at this moment, though, is this reminder about the journey from newcomer to insider and the viewpoints that journey affords, but also sometimes occludes. Despite my best intentions, where and how have I, by virtue of my sightlines, obscured the potential for others’ understanding or blocked their entry? I’ve written before about how librarians are uniquely positioned as translators, which I consider as one of our profession’s core strengths, opportunities, and responsibilities. I’m grateful for these reminders to pause and reconsider my own position, journey, and viewpoints and how that facilitates or hinders my interactions with my students, as well as my colleagues.

desargues_theorem_alt-svg

Two perspective triangles, with their perspective axis and center” by Jujutacular is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.