In 2011, armed with a 3-D printer and the catchy name Fab Lab, Fayetteville (N.Y.) Free Library became the first public library in the U.S. to set up a makerspace. Other libraries followed suit, with laser cutters, embossers, scanners, digital cameras, button makers, and sewing machines available to patrons, whether they are small-business owners interested in producing marketing materials, or school groups seeking enriching, and inexpensive, craft projects.
The main branch of the Cincinnati public library opened a makerspace in January 2015 using funds from its foundation. “We’re always looking for ways to provide services to our incredibly diverse population,” says Ella Mumford, team leader of the project. The makerspace, she says, “has been really successful at bringing people in.”
The program is not without its snags—and, in an ironic twist for an institution in the business of sharing books, a chief frustration has been setting up relevant book displays for the makerspace. Compiling titles requires navigating a Dewey system that places crafting titles anywhere from 006.74 to 794, she says, covering such diverse subjects as electronics, general crafting, and business “making.”
Similarly, Emily Faulkner, director of cultural and civic engagement at the Chicago Public Library, which opened its Maker Lab in 2013, feels publishers are missing an opportunity to highlight books useful to library makerspaces. “Even a tab on [a publisher’s] website that shows what DIY and technology-focused titles exist” would be helpful, she says.
Mumford would also like to see more series that cover basics. “Most people who come in are not interested in the why,” she says. “They just want to know the how.” She cites a children’s series, 21st Century Skills Innovation Library, as well as Maker Media’s Make series for adults, as ideal examples.
The first, put out by educational publisher Cherry Lake, in North Mankato, Minn., introduces 3-D modeling and game design, which are popular with middle schoolers. “They do a great job of explaining basic concepts and projects, and have a glossary at the back,” she says. “They don’t get too involved right away.” Maker Media, originators of Maker Faire in 2006, offers guidance in topics including rockets and Arduino (an open-source electronics platform), for all ages. “Finding adult books that explain basics concepts can sometimes be hard to do,” she says. “Most books assume the reader is not only interested but also knowledgeable on the topic, which sometimes is not the case.
Finally, Mumford says she and her fellow librarians could use more published guides on how to establish makerspaces. Being able to see the options available, she says, would help those new to the scene figure out what tools and materials will work best for their needs.