Cross-posted from Hypermarc
I have to say that I’ve enjoyed the readings of the past three weeks. I’d spent a lot of time thinking about how mobile and geolocation technology could apply to my school library over the summer in a mobile web-app course, and I’ve done a lot of reading on new literacies over the past couple of years as it relates to my job and through more specifically school library courses (I love the work that Buffy Hamilton has done on transliteracy and was lucky enough to hear her speak on the topic at AASL in 2011). It’s good to see fresh articles and expand my thinking in these areas. What has really caught my interest, however was the idea of creation culture and how it might apply to the library setting. While I did write about some of these ideas in my last post, my thinking there was more specific to 3D printing and I’d like to work through creation culture and makerspaces here.
The biggest problem facing libraries today is the misconception that we are storage house for books. While we do serve this purpose, the importance of why we “store books” is more important than the fact that we do. I love the way Cory Doctorow puts it:
Every discussion of libraries in the age of austerity always includes at least one blowhard who opines, “What do we need libraries for? We’ve got the Internet now!”
The problem is that Mr. Blowhard has confused a library with a book depository. Now, those are useful, too, but a library isn’t just (or even necessarily) a place where you go to get books for free. Public libraries have always been places where skilled information professionals assisted the general public with the eternal quest to understand the world. (Doctorow, 2013)
The question becomes, how do we come to “understand the world?” Some of this understanding is built through reading in isolation related to conceptual pursuits, but much more of it is in relation to very tangible problems that need to be solved. Even the more esoteric questions are often wrestled with in concrete ways through the creation of essays, videos or other artifacts of our new learning. Sometimes it is the creation of these artifacts that motivates the quest for understanding.
This is where the library and the makerspace intersect. One cannot exist without the other. To make things requires a curated collection of resources to support these activities. We need to understand how to use the tools at our disposal but, more importantly, we need the resources to inform and inspire the creation of these artifacts. Lester, a character in Doctorow’s 2009 novel, Makers, demonstrates the cross section of creative brilliance and the reliance on cultural and technical background:
“You know how they say a sculptor starts with a block of marble and chips away everything that doesn’t look like a statue? Like he can *see* the statue in the block? I get like that with garbage: I see the pieces on the heaps and in roadside trash and I can just *see* how it can go together, like this.”
He reached down below a work-table and hoisted up a huge triptych made out of three hinged car-doors stood on end. Carefully, he unfolded it and stood it like a screen on the cracked concrete floor.
The inside of the car-doors had been stripped clean and polished to a high metal gleam that glowed like sterling silver. Spot-welded to it were all manner of soda tins, pounded flat and cut into gears, chutes, springs and other mechanical apparatus.
“It’s a mechanical calculator,” he said proudly. “About half as powerful as Univac. I milled all the parts using a laser-cutter. What you do is, fill this hopper with GI Joe heads, and this hopper with Barbie heads. Crank this wheel and it will drop a number of M&Ms equal to the product of the two values into this hopper, here.” He put three scuffed GI Joe heads in one hopper and four scrofulous Barbies in another and began to crank, slowly. A music-box beside the crank played a slow, irregular rendition of “Pop Goes the Weasel” while the hundreds of little coin-sized gears turned, flipping switches and adding and removing tension to springs. After the weasel popped a few times, twelve brown M&Ms fell into an outstretched rubber hand. He picked them out carefully and offered them to her. “It’s OK. They’re not from the trash,” he said. “I buy them in bulk.” He turned his broad back to her and heaved a huge galvanized tin washtub full of brown M&Ms in her direction. “See, it’s a bit-bucket!” he said.
Suzanne giggled in spite of herself. “You guys are hilarious,” she said. “This is really good, exciting nerdy stuff.” The gears on the mechanical computer were really sharp and precise; they looked like you could cut yourself on them. When they ground over the polished surfaces of the car-doors, they made a sound like a box of toothpicks falling to the floor: click-click, clickclickclick, click. She turned the crank until twelve more brown M&Ms fell out.
“Who’s the Van Halen fan?”(Doctorow, 2009)
There is no way that Lester would have been able to build such a weird and wonderful creation without extensive knowledge in a wide array of topics from welding, to the history of computational devices, to famous musicians’ contract riders. Where did Lester learn all of this? Over time, from his personal or public libraries. Much would have come from the web where he had learned to pursue a line of inquiry and curate his own content.
Certainly, makers or hackers will do their research in one place and then return to their workshop to apply that knowledge in much the same way that academics will often search the library stacks and go home to their study space to “do the work.” But what happens when the need for outside expertise is immediate? What if there are multiple people gathered working on the same project? A student’s garage, kitchen or dorm room may not have the space or resources to address the needs. What if the library had more tools to bring the knowledge acquisition and knowledge application tasks together in the same space. We already do this in terms of traditional academic forms of the making of personal knowledge artifacts. We would have no real need for tables and chairs in a library if all we were was a book repository. Our users would simply come, get what they needed and leave. We have always been a makerspace. We just haven’t kept up with that part of our role.
So, what do we need to fulfill this role better? This will entirely depend on our community. If our community is purely academic and only digests text and works with ideas through the creation of more text, then maybe we don’t need to expand our services beyond what the traditional library already offers. I would think that we’d be hard-pressed to find any library whose community is this restricted in it’s needs. Even the most traditional of English historians would benefit from some image manipulation and presentation tools along with digital text search and editing tools. What then, are the tools that are appropriate to your community’s needs?
I would suggest that this answer would come from the same kind of needs assessment that one would do to inform collection development. After all, we are wanting to know what our users need to know, how they need to access it and how they need to use that knowledge. In my situation, a single-gender, boys high school, we have curriculum documents from departments and the Ministry of Education that tell us what content is being dealt with. We have discussions with teachers to tell us how this content is being dealt with. We have studies on boys learning that tell us that boys tend to respond more deeply to spatial, visual manipulation of concepts. And we have our school mission statement that tells us of the values and outcomes that we wish for our students to gain prior to graduation.
We address these needs by making sure that we have computer technology (including power outlets) available to all students that allow all of the basic text editing and presentation functions. We also make sure that we have pencil crayons, scissors, glue, paint, staplers, paper and other materials for the making of posters and other creative 2D representations of their knowledge. But where we do go from here? More and more students are getting more sophisticated with their digital representations of their knowledge, so we will be installing a new digital media lab for basic audio, video and image recording and editing. There are other places in the school where students can go for advanced tools, but these tools are now important, at a basic level, for all students to have access to. We are also looking at the possibility of bringing in a 3D printer to allow students and teachers to work with 3 dimensional representations of concepts (see the Director’s Brief in my next post). But where do we go from here?
We don’t have space for these ideas yet, but there may be a need for simple power tools, wood, and nails like the makerspace at Reynoldsburg High School’s eSTEM Academy. Maybe we need to include a sewing machine or tools for creating game pieces like the library at East Middle School in Michigan do. Or maybe some basic electronic maker tools such as gauges, soldering irons and circuit boards are in order like what is going on at Marymount School in Manhattan. Or even a simple stage for music making and poetry reading. Whatever direction we go, we have to address the curricular needs of the students and make informed decisions about how our school mission supports bridging the curricular needs with more independent inquiry.
My thinking now is that makerspaces are not extension of the library’s core business, they are, in terms of most library’s missions, they are the core business.
Provost, A. (2013, June 18). Dive into the maker movement. Edutopia. Retrieved November 9, 2013, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/dive-into-the-maker-movement-adam-provost