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School Libraries and Makerspaces

Written by Josh Weisgrau
May 19, 2015

As our 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 is not difficult to see why conversations about the growth of makerspaces is often tied to the conversation about the future of libraries. Makerspaces and libraries share a number of common goals, while approaching them in different ways and through very different material resources.

● Makerspaces and libraries are both 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 (physical and virtual). In this way, both spaces provide agency in the form of facilitating self-guided learning

● Libraries and makerspaces are both inherently interdisciplinary spaces. There is space and material for learning about all academic disciplines in the library. More importantly, the availability of materials spanning wide arrays of subject matter encourage constructing knowledge across disciplines and outside of disciplines. Makerspaces provide access to physical resources typically regarded as materials for crafting, or engineering, or design, or technology, and encourage the blending of these specialties in the service of learning in all traditional academic and non-academic disciplines.

● Libraries and makerspaces both provide equitable access to materials and resources. Libraries provide access to a great number of print 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. . . 

● BUT, both 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 authentic ways, unconstrained by limitations of time, space, and topics of inquiry typically imposed in the traditional structures of schooling.

● Libraries and makerspaces both 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) and structured programming for classes and other interest groups. These communities serve as ready made audience for the artifacts of knowledge being created in both spaces, and can help to share these artifacts even more widely.

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 librarians are finding themselves in a variety of different positions in relation to makerspaces in their schools. Some librarians, seeing the close connections between the missions of the two spaces are leading the charge in their school communities for the creation of a makerspace as a component of the school library, and with the similarities outlined above it is not difficult to see why co-locating library and makerspace should be considered. 

On the other hand some school administrators have pushed for the full conversion of the school library into a makerspace and librarians in these schools have felt a need to take a stance in opposition to this. It is important to see that neither of these spaces can replace the other, and that hard lines need not be drawn as pro-makerspace or anti-makerspace. Librarians and maker advocates alike should be able to understand the need for both spaces and their different means for building knowledge, while still valuing the similar approaches to learning encouraged by each.

A balanced understanding of makerspaces and making in education supports a more nuanced view that recognizes both the commonalities of the library and 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.