ALA 2016: "This Is What a Maker Space Looks Like"

Heather Moorefield-Lang—who spent the past three years traveling around the world documenting examples of maker spaces— led this session, which was full of surprises.
Heather Moorefield-Lang takes to the aisles to engage her audience.

Heather Moorefield-Lang takes to the aisle to engage her audience.

More than 160 school and public librarians crowded into a room at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL, to attend “This Is What a Maker Space Looks Like: A Visual Perspective” at the American Library Association Annual Conference. The hour-long session, presented by Heather Moorefield-Lang, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina, focused on the endless possibilities for creating maker spaces in libraries and schools. As a qualitative researcher, Moorefield-Lang has spent the past three years traveling around the world documenting examples of maker spaces.

Redefining a term

The lively presentation began with an interactive FlipQuiz. Attendees were asked to identify types of material that might be found in maker spaces based on photos and to offer words that come to mind when thinking of these areas. Many suggestions were shouted out, including innovation, design, active learning, and crafting. Moorefield-Lang stressed that it doesn’t really matter what we call them; there isn’t any one correct term. “This I can tell you, no two are the same,” she noted.   The word cloud for maker spaces

The word cloud for maker spaces

Lead by example

The hour focused on examples of maker spaces Moorefield-Lang has seen in her travels, including a variety of LEGO boards and a Lite-Brite wall. She recommended Diana Rendina’s blog, Renovated Learning, for inspiration and directions and on how to build a LEGO board, and shared photos of the maker space at the Detroit Public Library (DPL), where teens learn skills in coding and bicycle repair from community volunteers. DPL also hosts a Robotics Petting Zoo where children build their own robots, then invite community members to see their creations. The library is “giving to the community and the community is giving back,” said Moorefield-Lang. Moorefield-Lang encouraged forging partnerships with community groups and recommended that students be involved in planning and building maker spaces. “Maker spaces can be anything your patrons and you want them to be,” she stressed. Some spaces are constructed around themes such as gardening, sewing, art, or robotics. “Since no two libraries or schools are the same, it’s important to figure out what works for your setting.” She encouraged everyone to share and borrow ideas when planning their areas and programs.

Making on the move

Mobile maker spaces were also a topic of discussion. The FryskLab in the Netherlands is a mobile “fab lab” that resembles a bookmobile and provides opportunities for residents to try out 3-D printers, use vinyl cutters, and learn coding. Examples of smaller-scale mobile maker spaces include shoe boxes filled with craft materials that can be circulated to patrons and repurposed book carts. Greenwood Elementary School in Plymouth, MN, owns a fleet of mobile maker spaces that teachers may check out and use in classrooms. Each cart is organized around a specific theme or skill, such as robotics, knitting, or 3-D printing.

Full STEAM ahead

During the fast-paced session, Moorefield-Lang provided examples of STEAM projects that were created in maker spaces. Photos showed students working on green screen projects, masks for a public art display, and anatomical models of human hearts. As the session came to a close, Moorefield-Lang addressed a hurdle that can keep librarians from forging ahead with maker spaces: tradition. “People will question the traditional role of the library. That’s why it’s important for us to ask, ‘Where does this all fit?’” Attendees left understanding that there is no one correct way to design a maker space. Librarians should engage their patrons/students in the process to figure out what will work for them, and how whatever that is fits into the overall role of their library. “When we get hold of an idea, we make it our own,” Moorefield-Lang concluded. Cathy Potter is a school librarian at Falmouth Elementary School in Falmouth, ME.

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