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School Libraries and Makerspaces: Can They Coexist?

Josh Weisgrau

Teaching and Learning with Making, Media and Design
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More and more schools are coming to value maker education and exploring ways to create makerspaces in their schools. Many schools are discussing how they might utilize their library to facilitate this. As my school has increased our commitment to constructionist learning and maker education over the last few years, we have done so in close collaboration with our school library. In exploring the relationship between the school library and school makerspace, it's not difficult to see why conversations about the growth of makerspaces are often tied to the conversation about the future of libraries. Both makerspaces and libraries are constructivist learning spaces that share a number of common goals, while approaching them in different ways and through very different material resources.

Similar Yet Distinct

Makerspaces and libraries are sites of informal learning.

In the constructivist sense, libraries facilitate constructing knowledge through access to information, while makerspaces facilitate constructing knowledge through the manipulation and creation of material objects (based on a theory associated with constructivism, known as constructionism). While formal learning can also happen in both spaces, as classes are brought in to work toward more prescribed learning objectives, most school libraries and makerspaces are equally as supportive of non-curricular, student-driven, independent explorations.

Libraries and makerspaces are inherently interdisciplinary spaces.

The library has space and material for learning about all academic disciplines. More importantly, the availability of materials spanning wide arrays of subject matter encourages constructing knowledge across and outside of disciplines. Makerspaces provide access to physical resources typically regarded as materials for crafting, engineering, design, robotics, or media. They encourage blending these specialties in the service of learning any academic or traditionally non-academic disciplines.

Libraries and makerspaces provide equitable access to materials and resources.

Libraries provide access many print, visual, and virtual information resources that would not be accessible to most students and faculty, even in today's highly connected world. Makerspaces provide access to tools and materials that would be too expensive or impractical for most students or teachers to have as individuals or in a classroom. However . . .

Makerspaces and libraries are more than just resource closets.

Librarians and makerspace facilitators are themselves resources, providing structured programming such as workshops and classes, as well as customized one-on-one or full-class guidance, mentoring, and much more. On-demand access to material and human resources helps students learn in powerful ways, unconstrained by limitations of time, space, and topics of inquiry.

Libraries and makerspaces serve the common goal of building community.

Communities of interest and practice are brought together and maintained through the design of communal space to promote sociality and collaboration (while also providing spaces for individual work). Other programming, like workshops, hackathons, book groups, and clubs, are encouraged to take place or to form in these spaces. These communities serve as an audience of users and viewers for the artifacts of knowledge being created in both spaces, and can help to share these artifacts even more widely.

Finding the Balance

We are not the only school that has tried to find the right connection between our makerspace and our library. As the push for makerspaces in schools continues to grow, school libraries and librarians are finding themselves in a variety of different positions about makerspaces. Some librarians, seeing the close connections between the missions of both spaces, are leading the charge in their school communities for the creation of a makerspace as a component of the school library. With the similarities outlined above, it's not difficult to see why co-locating library and makerspace might be desirable, particularly considering budget constraints and a lack of available spaces in many schools.

On the other hand, I've heard stories of educators advocating for the wholesale conversion of the library into a makerspace. It's important to see that neither of these spaces can replace the other. Librarians and maker advocates alike should be able to understand the need for both spaces and their different means for building knowledge, while recognizing and valuing the similar approaches to learning encouraged by each.

A balanced understanding of the many ways that informal constructivist learning can take place supports a nuanced view, one that recognizes the learning potential in developing a school makerspace, while still valuing the role of the traditional library in a school or community. Finding the right relationship between the school library and school makerspace is something that each school must determine based on its own needs, resources, ideologies, and community. Understanding that both libraries and makerspaces are interdisciplinary sites of informal learning, contain physical and human resources to aid in constructing knowledge, and are spaces that build community can be great place to start.

Has your school combined or overlapped its library and makerspace? Is it something that's under consideration? Please share your ideas and experiences below in the comments section.

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Josh Weisgrau's picture
Josh Weisgrau
Teaching and Learning with Making, Media and Design

Glad you agree, Colleen. I was seeing that some librarians were feeling threatened by the maker movement in schools and wanted to help show the synergies between the programs. Of course in some schools libraries are threatened by pressures to convert to a makerspace rather than coexist with one, so I hope this also helps them make their case.

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Josh Weisgrau's picture
Josh Weisgrau
Teaching and Learning with Making, Media and Design

Way to take the leap, Jennifer, and keep blogging about it. It's always great to read about others working in this space. I would encourage you to think about how you can frame the maker parts of your library beyond STEAM, as well, to make these elements even more inclusive. Making is a great way to learn about many things beyond the sciences and arts, too.

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Colleen Graves's picture
Colleen Graves
Maker Teacher Librarian @gravescolleen / Makerspace Author @ colleengraves.org

Although I would add that you should not force a makerspace into a library where the librarian is not excited or passionate about makerspaces. The facilitator of the space needs to be more than on board with the idea. Otherwise, it's like forcing a reading teacher to lead math tutorials. Schools need to match the right facilitator for the goals and outcomes they've designed for their makerspace!

Judi Moreillon's picture
Judi Moreillon
Associate Professor, Texas Woman's University

Dear Josh, Thank you for your post. You make many important connections. I appreciate that your school has taken a "whole-school" approach to launching your makerspace.

However, I have one concern with this statement: "understanding that both libraries and makerspaces are interdisciplinary sites of informal learning." While school libraries are indeed sites of interdisciplinary, informal learning, progressive school libraries are also sites for formal learning and teaching.

I believe it is essential for school librarians to not lose sight of their charge to coteach standards-based lessons with classroom teachers. This is the way school librarians can make a measurable impact on student learning outcomes.

If the whole school is responsible for facilitating the makerspace - not just the librarian - then it would be clear that the entire community is invested in students' learning via the makerspace. The librarian can be part of that just as all of the educators in the building support learning and teaching in both the library and the makerspace.

Best,
Judi

Josh Weisgrau's picture
Josh Weisgrau
Teaching and Learning with Making, Media and Design

Absolutely right, Judi. Earlier in the piece I also called out the role both spaces can play in formal learning experiences ("While formal learning can also happen in both spaces, as classes are brought in to work toward more prescribed learning objectives, most school libraries and makerspaces are equally as supportive of non-curricular, student-driven, independent explorations.") but could have reiterated that more. Collaborating with classroom teachers in formal settings is an important part of the role of both librarian and makerspace facilitator.
Thanks for reading and for your comment.
Josh

Judi Moreillon's picture
Judi Moreillon
Associate Professor, Texas Woman's University

Yes, I read that in your piece... but I have seen school librarians who get excited about the maker movement and forget the academic mission of the library. My fear is that if the work of the school librarian is not focused on measurable student learning outcomes and an essential part of the school's academic program, the school librarian can become a "nice-to-have extra." Then when the budget crunch comes... Thank you for addressing my concern, Josh.

Josh Weisgrau's picture
Josh Weisgrau
Teaching and Learning with Making, Media and Design

A totally reasonable concern, Judi. "Extra" programs are always in danger. I hope that culturally we are moving to a place where we can accept that not all valuable outcomes are measurable in the traditional sense, and recognize the vital importance of these roles on all of their merits, not just the formal and measurable ones.
Thanks for your engagement.

Michelle Cooper's picture

Thank you for sharing this article. I feel makerspaces are a natural extension of the library. Is there a better place to create, tinker and experiment? The library has always been a source of knowledge and a place to start a quest for new ideas and experiences. Makerspaces awaken our students' imagination and natural curiosity to learn. At White Oak Middle School we have a makerspace in our media center. We started a tech club that meets during lunch to invent, code and learn. I believe makerspaces are an enriching asset to students and teachers alike. Makerspaces do not take away from the traditional aspects of a library, but enhance it.

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Colleen Graves's picture
Colleen Graves
Maker Teacher Librarian @gravescolleen / Makerspace Author @ colleengraves.org

Dr. M and Josh, good points had by all. However, a library makerspace should give your librarian even more reasons to collaborate with teachers! Because of the design thinking process and problem solving involved in making and creating, makerspace resources are great tools for the librarian to be an instructional partner in Science, Engineering, and Math classes!

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