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.

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