What is Maker Space in Libraries?

Benjamin Franklin has been credited by some with inventing the modern public library. He was indeed a prolific inventor. There is little doubt that he would be excited to see that libraries are now adding to their offerings of areas where the public can come to invent.

Enter the Maker Movement. Public and university libraries have joined a movement, which involves offering equipment, gathering areas and events that support hands-on invention, learning and sharing for people of all ages. These spaces and get-togethers for tinkering are referred to by a number of names, including: Makers space, hacker spaces, hack labs, fab labs and invention or creativity camps.

Maker Movement Goes Viral

In July of 2013, a headline in The Calgary Herald reported that the Maker Movement was going “viral” across Canada and beyond. The newspaper estimated Canada to be home to 40 of about 900 Makers spaces or “hack labs” worldwide. The Herald detailed a typical Maker meeting in Halifax at which an inventor demonstrated how to build a spot welder from ordinary objects, including a microwave power cord and a hand-held control made from a micro switch embedded in a hockey puck.

Makers spaces can focus on a broad range of invention, from children creating tiny moving toys to independent inventors sharing lab space to design robotic equipment. Projects also may include botanical experiments, jewelry construction, sock puppetry, gadget tinkering, video making, software creation and motor vehicle design.

Offering Maker Space in Libraries

Some of the equipment can be pricey, such as 3-D printers, which are used to build three-dimensional objects through a process involving the automated layering of materials. Much like the original libraries that offered books that would have been out of reach to the general public, our modern libraries are now providing equipment and resources that may be hard for individuals to afford. Once again libraries are coming to the forefront of learning and opening doors to new opportunities for all of the public.

At the January 2013 midwinter meeting of the American Library Association participants rated the Maker space movement as “red hot.” Now librarians are becoming supportive of making room for technical learning and creativity, as witnessed by teen programs such as 3-D modeling and Lego robot building at New York’s Fayetteville Free Library, the first U.S. public library to open a Maker space. Fayetteville calls its warehouse-sized workspace a Fab Lab. In Canada, one example of a Maker space housed in a public library is Hackforge, which has been open since June 2013 at the Windsor Public Library of Ontario. Hackforge occupies a former woodworking museum space and includes a 3-D printer among its equipment.

At the University of Victoria, creative thinkers have extended the Maker space idea to traditional academia by creating the Maker Lab in the Humanities. Aside from giving students a way of being more social and interactive in sharing thinking, it helps them to learn technologies that they otherwise might not touch, including filmmaking and fabrication. Then students consider questions, such as how fabricating objects affects the maker’s view of artifacts and the culture that created them.

Making Space for Maker Spaces

Modular and moveable equipment and storage are often necessary in libraries to maximize use of space for patron interaction. Sound, dust and fumes are also major considerations in designing a Makers space in a public library. There are many considerations that must be accounted for when planning to take this step into the future.

This process begins with staff considering public spaces and furniture that is already available as well as the efficiency of shelving in collection areas. For example, one way to increase floor space for Makers spaces is to move part of a library’s on-floor collection to its archives or to use mobile shelves to compact existing collections.

Mobile shelving is mounted on runners and electronically or manually moved to condense storage. It makes room for additional shelves in the space formerly left open for aisles. This means that existing volumes can be stored in half of the original space and still be easy to access. Decreasing the floor space of stacks in the public areas doesn’t need to mean decreasing the number of books and other publications available to patrons. This increases room for maker-space type programming in the public areas.

Makers space is causing quite a stir in all library systems. If you are considering one for your library be sure to contact a company with library experience to see how your existing space can be modified to accommodate this new and exciting innovation.