Make Me a Maker

Chicago’s maker ecosystem

July 2, 2013

“Maker” seems to be one of librarians’ favorite buzz words right now and, frankly, as I’m not working in public libraries and I haven’t been working with students for the past year, I guess I just haven’t been getting it. That said, I’m curious, because making stuff is cool, I just haven't really understood where/why libraries fit into all this.

I just attended “Chicago’s Maker Ecosystem,” presented by the Chicago Public Library, which will be opening its shiny new makerspace in July. The Chicago area panelists covered the range of community programs that are already available to interested makers. The bottom line idea is indeed one I can buy into: Makerspaces provide the tools and physical space to help people turn ideas into reality with their own two hands.

The good part of makerspaces seems pretty obvious—you get to use your brains, your hands, and play with cool tools. I was more interested in the challenges of makerspaces, which some of the panelists brought up, since while I think the maker movement is all good, I’m trying to figure out why it should be important to me as a librarian. Some of these challenges include the maker movement being:

  • too adult-focused;
  • too geek focused;
  • unavailable in many diverse communities

While it was great to hear these challenges expressed, I was hoping for more discussion about how makerspaces are going to reach students. With the downturn in hands-on shop and technology classes in the public schools, the first thing I realized during this presentation is how much kids would love the chance to make. While makerspaces are incredible, they seem limited in their scope. In other words, makerspaces tend to focus on providing services to folks who’ve already self-identified as makers and know where to find the resources they need. But I don’t know of many teenagers or students who have ever heard of makerspaces—at least not the inner-city kids I used to work with.

Hopefully the energy surrounding the maker movement will push greater awareness into more libraries and school systems. I now understand why libraries should provide the access and outreach that has left many communities out of the maker world. Engineering and design can provide amazing outlets to students who are dissatisfied with the typical educational experience. It would be amazing to connect with those kids by giving them that outlet at their branch library.

KATE TKACIK is participating in the ALA Student-to-Staff program.