I’ve been thinking, reading, and talking about the maker “revolution” for some time now, but have not actually been to a maker faire until today. All I can say is WOW! Thank god I started with a mini-maker faire. I’m sure that if I’d started with New York or San Francisco, my head would have exploded. I was actually prepared to be disappointed. I’ve read that the maker movement is about all kinds of making, but I expected to see more along the lines of robot wars and Raspberry Pi applications. There certainly was some of that. I expected the stereotypical boys and men, geeking out with their gadgets and there was some of that too. But there was cheese making, textile arts, and LIBRARIANS!!!!!!!!
I went today to try and better understand how a maker ethos fits in a school library/learning commons. Regular readers will recall discussions at Treasure Mountain in Hartford last fall looking at the arguments for and against makerspaces in libraries. I saw examples of both sides of that argument today. There were a number of displays that dealt with teaching folks very specific skills to make very specific things. If maker learning was truly only about having kids build kits, I would have to agree that maybe he school library is not the place to be doing this. Or at least not the only place. You can build kits pretty much anywhere. But I also saw examples of some simply creative ideas: Thinking through the process of 3D imaging and replication from start to finish; bring the power of geolocation into small, local spaces; using DIY concepts to bring text digitization to the sight impaired for a fraction of the current market rate. These are folks who are makers working at the pinnacle of maker culture, transcending the tools to be truly creative and are using making as an authentic form of inquiry. If this is what making is all about, then the missions of the makerspace and the learning commons are one and the same.
The question then becomes, how do we foster a maker ethos in the school learning commons. This is different than a public library or academic library. A school library learning commons is first and foremost about learning and supporting that learning in individual and group (class) formats. Certainly, we can build collections that support maker learning. Resources that support the learning of new tools and skills need to be in place for when learners need a new skills to achieve their goals. But we can go further. We hear of tool libraries and the school learning commons go at least some of the way to filling this role. Maybe we can’t have a laser cutter or a CNC milling machine sitting next to our quiet study corner. But we can support computers to build the designs and 3D printers to prototype them. We might be able to supply raspberry pi kits, digital video and audio editing, crafting materials and basic supplies like paints, glue, different types of paper, batteries… And we can dedicate spaces that can get messy places to store ongoing projects. We can bring in folks to share their skills and provide opportunities for our students share their skills and work. We can do everything we can to try bring back the precious element that is unfortunately so rare in our education systems, curiosity.
We are not the TV production programmes in our schools. We aren’t our art studios or our wood shops. But we are the places where learners can start their journeys that might take to these specialized areas of our schools where they can specialize and explore even more deeply. We are the home of inquiry in whatever form our learners need inquiry to take. It is a good day for my journey of inquiry.