More and more public libraries are setting up makerspaces in their buildings to enable and boost innovation in the community. A makerspace is a collaborative workspace for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses both high tech and non tech tools. These spaces have a variety of maker equipment, from advanced technologies like 3D printers, laser cutters, and computer numerical control (CNC) machines to non-tech tools including cardboard, Legos, and art supplies. These spaces are open to kids, adults, and local entrepreneurs, and allow people to explore their own interests, learn new skills, create innovative ideas, or improve things that already exist.
Given their innovation-related goals, programs and services that happen around the concept of makerspaces are an important way for your library to contribute to your smart city/community development. In some public libraries, patrons have taken advantage of the library resources and guidance to build parts and devices that help solve their issues. An example may include a father making devices to facilitate the activities of his daughter who has mobility issues. Some people prototype their ideas, sell them to other companies or start their own businesses.
To start a makerspace, there are several important components you will need to think about. The first one is the goals of your makerspace and the audience you want to reach. If you have a strategic plan, take it into account when deciding on the specific goals of the makerspace as well as the specific targets.
Also consider how your makerspace may contribute to the strategic goals of your strategic plan. In general, the goals of your makerspace will be related to boosting innovation in the community. Some examples may include targeting business owners that want to use 3D printers to make signs for offices, supporting entrepreneurs to develop prototypes that will be later on refined and commercialized, and hosting innovation fairs in your public library that may bring together business angels.
The second component you need to consider is the physical space where you will place the makerspace. Although most spaces in your library could be repurposed as makerspaces, given the size and variety of the tools they include, open and large spaces work particularly well.
In addition, in big and open spaces, you can host events that bring together different people that have an interest in innovation. Make your makerspace inviting and comfortable for your patrons to explore technologies and to collaborate with other patrons on projects. You may want to consider comfortable sofas, quiet study carrels, and, ideally, a few collaborative workrooms where people could meet, interact, exchange ideas, and brainstorm.
If your library has limited space, start small with one or several pieces of equipment (a 3D printer seems to always be a must!), that you can easily fit in a room. In order to get ideas about how you can set up your makerspace, consider visiting other public libraries similar to yours that may provide space-saving ideas that help carve our more rooms in your own makerspace.
You may also want to rearrange the current layout of your public library and shrink the space devoted for programs and services that are not that popular among your patrons. Further, you may bring in large toolbox on wheels, and store the tools and equipment on shelves with wheels to save space and increase mobility.
The third component you need to consider is the tools and equipment you want to have in the makerspace. The list of materials and equipment that your library could purchase to build a makerspace is virtually endless. This could include new advanced technologies such as 3D printers and scanners, microprocessors, or robots, as well as non-tech tools like cardboard, Legos, and sewing machines. Before you make any purchasing decisions, review your goals, and get to know your audiences to make sure you understand what type of equipment would serve their best interests.
For instance, you can survey your patrons to better understand what they would like to do in a makerspace, which will give you ideas about the tools and equipment you may need. This is particularly important if you have limited funding and limited resources to set up your makerspace. The survey will help you identify what the most common needs are among your patrons and to prioritize the equipment you need to invest in.
For example, if you have teenagers among your audience that want to experiment with new technologies to explore creative ideas, your makerspace may include popular digital production tools and equipment, such as 3D printers and laser cutters If you aim at supporting business owners, you may want to focus on different types of printers for making business cards and signs.
The fourth important component has to do with people. Having the space and the equipment will not be enough to accomplish the innovation-related goals of your makerspace and, therefore, to enable users to learn, explore, and create. Your staff will need to support your patrons to become familiar with the equipment in the makerspace as well as with the process of innovation.
In this respect, you may want to designate a tools “master” to manage the machines and make sure they are well taken care of. You may want to train one or two people in your library to become “masters”. You may also want to consider having volunteers in the community who have skills and knowledge about specific tools to train patrons in the use of those tools. Think, for instance, instructors from colleges who could help teach classes and lead workshops where your patrons could learn about the use of the digital tools, acquire new skills, and understand what innovation is and how it works.
General resources of makerspace:
TechSoup for Libraries: Digital Media Labs and Makerspaces for Small & Rural Libraries: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TU1DnGtjYt0&list=PLRCtupIatuLmJFSGDespQJFXfgg3GLhwO&index=65
A Librarian’s guide to makerspaces: 16 Resources: https://oedb.org/ilibrarian/a-librarians-guide-to-makerspaces/
Let’s Make Guide: http://www.letsmakeguide.com/