Why You Can’t Always See What You Make

July 2, 2013

At “Makerspaces: Creating, Exploring, Pitfalls,” sponsored by the Library and Information Technology Association, four successful makerspace enthusiasts discussed what makes a makerspace, and what gets made in those spaces.

Jason Griffey, head of library IT at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, moderated a panel that included Bradley Jones, youth technology librarian at Skokie (Ill.) Public Library; Matt Hamilton, director of information technology at Anythink Libraries in Colorado; and Steve Teeri, technical specialist at Detroit Public Library’s HYPE Teen Center.

Jones, Hamilton, and Teeri agreed that it’s crucial to think of makerspaces in terms of community and relationship building. “The best things that are made in makerspaces are not the physical ones,” Teeri said. Educational opportunities were also stressed. “It’s not really about the stuff, or the space; [a makerspace] is anywhere where you have peer-to-peer learning,” Hamilton said. Makerspaces can include expensive equipment, but they are built around experimental learning—something that Hamilton believes happens in libraries all the time, whether we recognize it or not. Libraries don’t have to dismiss the notion of a makerspace because equipment prices are too high or the staff’s technical competency is too low.

“Start with staff interests and enthusiastic community members,” Hamilton said, “Once the community gets involved, you’ll have more opportunities than you can handle.” Librarians don’t have to master all the technology, either. “It’s hard for people to become experts at anything. People learn from people who are learning,” Jones said.

Griffey presented a slightly different take on makerspaces. He challenged the audience to think of makerspaces not in terms of patrons, but in terms of libraries. What can having this technology, and leveraging those with expertise, do for us? Save money, for one, he said, comparing the cost of buying new gate counters and humidity monitors with the cost of buying the technology needed to make those ourselves. Spoiler alert: Making it was more affordable.  

For those thinking of throwing their hat into the makerspace ring, Hamilton offered this piece of advice: “Fail early, fail often. But you won’t really fail.”

T. J. SZAFRANSKI is virtual services reference librarian at Lake Villa (Ill.) District Library.