“Impact is never about knowing all the steps ahead, but about taking one intentional step after the other.” ― Bidemi Mark-Mordi
We had a wonderful time last week, at the first ever Library MakerFest. Hosted by the Tampa Bay Library Consortium and Novare Library Services, the event brought together nearly 20 libraries from around the state of Florida, and a half dozen vendors, including Eureka! Factory. The goal of the event was to give libraries an opportunity to learn more about the growing movement to bring more makerspaces to more libraries, and dozens of librarians visited to get up to speed on the idea.
One of the things we’ve noticed is, as with any great movement, there’s a lot of interest in creating makerspaces in libraries inspired by success stories of existing spaces, but some confusion by newcomers about just how to go about doing that and sometimes why to do it at all. School and public library librarians are finding themselves with new collections among the stacks, namely 3D printers,MaKey MaKey and littleBits kits and these things called Arduinos, along with sometimes vague new directives about creative content delivery.
The question is naturally arising in some libraries and communities: Are we creating new spaces and programs because they’re needed, or just because everyone else is doing it? That’s a good question, and an important one to ask, for libraries and for any institution or organization considering jumping into the makerspace/hackerspace/FabLab field of dreams.
In the 1991 book, “Crossing the Chasm“, author Geoffrey Moore proposed that a gap exists between the early adopters of technology and the mass market that utilizes that technology. The book is mostly focused on product technology, but has applications in the adoption of almost any new concept or idea. In “Rethinking Crossing the Chasm,” written 15 years later, ReadWrite blogger Alex Iskold made some sage observations that have even more relevance to library makerspace development.
“Often, what works for early adopters does not work for the mainstream, and the other way around,” he wrote. “Early adopers are typically techies, they want power tools; they eat, sleep, and drink tech; they are spoiled. Mainstream users are techophobic; they need one button at most; they freak out when things change. … the lucky ones that do get to the chasm today are going to face a big problem that did not exist just a few years ago.”
“Freak out” and “technophobic” are extremes that won’t apply to most librarians, but the basic tenet holds: it’s easier for early adopters of anything to jump right on board with a new idea they’re already interested in and totally get. It’s something else entirely, with a potentially steeper learning curve, for those learning about a new idea or concept for the very first time. Expectations should not and cannot be the same. Later adopters will need a little more help crossing the chasm, clearer purpose, more resources, better illustrations, and a stronger hand up.
What is the same though, is the approach to developing sustainable spaces. In every case study my co-author, Jeroen de Boer, and I reference in our new book, Makerspaces in Libraries (Rowman & Littlefield, August 2015), the unifying theme is always the need for a community defined and community led space From the veteran Fayetteville Free Library’s Fabulous Laboratory in New York, to the new Land O’Lakes Library Foundry makerspace here in Florida, librarians with successful creative programs and spaces counseled the same things: start small, understand your community and its needs, collaborate and cooperate with one another, stakeholders and potential community partners.
Those things require an intentional and thoughtful approach that not only provide the basis for makerspaces and programming that truly meet the needs of patrons and the community – and thereby have the greatest chance of success and sustainability – but also serves as an accessible entry point to staff and volunteers. Understanding community needs, as well as the inherent passions and interests of library personnel can help make the difference between idle 3D printers no one is interested in, and sewing machines that never stop thrumming, or active mechanical and woodworking programs in a community that prefers these things to electronics and web design.
Designing 21st century programs and spaces from the ground up, intentionally and with purpose, helps everyone, librarians and the communities they serve, cross the chasm together and make new tools, resources and opportunities available to all.