Making a Makerspace

Before starting at the University of Washington, a former coworker once asked if I was going to be taking classes on how to sew and thread a needle in my MLIS program due to the makerspace my employer launched in 2018. At first, I laughed with him knowing it was a subtle critique of the makerspace and what our staff training entailed before opening the space. Now, I see just how popular this makerspace is within my community…and how few resources there are for rural library school students with no existing access to a makerspace to learn the skills needed to work in one.

I wasn’t involved in selecting the initial round of equipment, but was happy to learn how to use the Carvey by Inventables and its accompanying web-based software. YouTube videos on drill bit sizes and cut settings were constantly playing in the background. I broke more bits than I care to admit, but eventually, it was ready for the public to use. After high attendance at my instructional programs dropped on this machine, interest in what else might be added increase.

Less than a year later, it was on to learning about raster and vector engraving, proper laser fume ventilation, and creating designs without expensive software. My minimal three semesters of engineering coursework during undergrad had since been replaced with anthropology principles and Spanish linguistics, my brain was already overwhelmed with other MLIS coursework, and no amount of YouTube videos could teach me what I needed to know. Thankfully, enough research on laser engravers and more community interest in 3D printing led us to drop the laser engraver addition. After more research on 3D printers, filament types, and threatening the printer with a hammer after multiple failed prints (I helped a coworker troubleshoot her failed print while typing this), we’re about ready to unveil our 3D printer to the public. Wyoming did not have a free, public makerspace like this until last year and the community is ready with questions. So how do we learn to answer these questions when it is just another thing we won’t have time to learn in library school?

A quick look at my own program shows topics that could have some sort of makerspace component added onto an assignment, and having taken Leadership for the Future of Libraries, I know that the Maker Movement is a trend covered within ALA’s Center for the Future of Libraries. However, looking at descriptions and projected schedules for special topics leaves a large hole regarding makerspaces in my program. The University of Washington does have a makerspace but adding on the various places my distance classmates live essentially throws out any potential to take a hands-on class about makerspaces and libraries. Hopefully your current or future program has elements of makerspaces actually embedded in courses or offers the opportunity to add makerspace components to other projects.

In my 3D printing endeavors, I quickly discovered how limited Tinkercad can be for designing CAD files and found that my university offered a 3-year educational license of AutoCAD for its students regardless of educational program. After the initial launch of AutoCAD, a failed attempt at making the program do anything, and a softball game to blow off some steam, a classmate pointed out our online access to Books24x7. I saw quite a few books to page through over summer break about makerspaces in educational settings, CNC milling, and CAD design.

For those needing a solid place to start for all things makerspace, the Public Library Association provides some basic information, although some of it could use updating to reflect changes in makerspace technology and use. If you have an interest in makerspaces but don’t see a class in your program, I encourage you to look into the possibility of an internship at a local makerspace.

A year after launching our makerspace and I’ve already forgotten how to thread our serger machine. Thankfully, my coworkers support each other and share resources. Similarly, we as students may not be able to learn it all, but by using what information we have around us, we can “make” it happen.

Photo by Tomas Yates on Unsplash

Conrrado is an online MLIS student at the University of Washington iSchool and works as an Adult Services Specialist at the Natrona County Library in Casper, WY.

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