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From Come-Do to How-To

by on June 25, 2015

MakerSpace. CreateSpace. Incubator. All are the latest buzzwords in our profession, in our journals, at our conventions, and in our blogs. They stimulate us to transform our traditional library space into one where we invite our community to come to the library to experience invention, innovation, collaboration, and creative problem solving. I volunteered to serve on the Anderson County Library (SC) System’s MakerSpace committee because I remember a time when we didn’t have to stage a space for such activities. I’m just a tad younger than cosmic dust and in my childhood my friends, my siblings, and I rummaged through the attic’s junk, purloined goodies from Mom’s sewing room, borrowed tools from Pop’s work shed and garage, and carried it all away to “make something.” We had the back lot, the fields behind the house—all sorts of places where our play led to creation. Those were fun and exciting times. As a member of the ACL MakerSpace committee, I looked forward to reinventing those experiences for recent generations in a new and more technologically-advanced arena.

Our committee is a cross-section of talented staff from all departments and all levels, with a vibrant interest in our ACL MakerSpace project. We convened at the end of last year, and began by sharing what we knew. We first focused on gathering information, bringing examples from other libraries who have successfully built their MakerSpaces. After a month of envisioning where our MakerSpace would physically fit best and how we could finance it, suddenly we were stymied. We found ourselves considering a detour from our original direction. Why did we move from a project focused on Come-Do to one that invited How-To?

We couldn’t answer a major question: what would our adult patrons really want in the ACL MakerSpace? We already have some MakerSpace activities in both the Children’s and Young Adult Departments, like squishy circuits and Lego® challenges, but an adult-centered MakerSpace would be far too expensive to mount if based entirely on the philosophy of build-it-and-they-will-come. Our staff reflects the demographics of adults, ages 30 to 50, that we wanted to target, so months earlier we polled them about what they thought our MakerSpace should be. We found that although they showed a high interest in 3-D modeling and other technology-based activities, the majority chose more craft-based topics, more prescriptive and dependent on a set of ordered rules or directions. Would those activities lead to collaboration and experimentation inherent in an ideal MakerSpace? Again we wondered if we were heading in the wrong direction.

How could we reach our patrons easily to find out what they want to see in our library? One of our committee members suggested we hire someone to build a revolving, free-standing, four-sided, white dry-erase board kiosk, on which we would write questions to solicit patron input. It now stands in the space across from the Circulation Desk, and our Adult Programming Librarian monitors it. As appropriate messages are posted, she captures the input digitally and then erases the posts. She writes new questions on each side on a regular basis. We have gleaned a lot of patron opinion this way.

But what about our wider Anderson community? How could we reach them? A new business incubator project, e-Merge@The Garage, was coming to life in the remodeled City of Anderson garage. Its focus is to build and grow local and regional entrepreneurs, and is heavily funded with heavy-duty sponsorships. We invited the founder of e-Merge to share his vision with our committee. He offered his Grain Ideas, an open forum at his local pub, to help us find out what his clientele—who fit our targeted demographics—would like to see in ACL’s future MakerSpace. The forum was fun, and we established another community business ACL supporter, but unfortunately we did not gather enough representative feedback.

Each committee member had been searching for ideas as to what other libraries are doing to attract more residents to come to the library. Among all the interesting information we gathered was the article in American Libraries about Louisville (Ky.) Public Library’s first How-to Festival. Their schedule of presentations inspired us. If we held a similar venue, would it draw a large attendance? We could use our “How-To” to ask citizens what they thought a future ACL MakerSpace should be. “Yes!” we all agreed. “Let’s stage a How-To-Fair.”

Then cold reality hit us. The ACL calendar was already heavily booked with upcoming major events for the year: our Friends of the Library Spelling Bee, the Children’s Book Carnival, the Summer Reading Programs, the ComiCon, and our Friends of the Library annual three-day Storytelling Festival in the early fall. The only time when all our conference and meeting rooms were available on one day was in late April. We had less than two months to get it accomplished!

What did we need to do first? Find presenters to donate their time and talents? Advertising? Scheduling? All of it! One committee member quickly developed flyers to explain the nature of the event and to solicit presenters. Other members delivered them personally to community businesses as ACL ambassadors of the How-To Fair. We sent out emails to all staff members for suggestions as to anyone who knew someone who could do such-and-such. We made hundreds of phone calls and inquiries throughout the community. Key members of the committee created a presenter application form, a patron survey, the events schedule, plus a mapping of tables and locations, inside and outdoors. Within a month over 30 community presenters made firm commitments, and in less than two months our program was written in stone. With some trepidation and great anticipation, we held our first ACL How-To Fair on April 23rdfrom 2-8 p.m. .

A local blacksmith set up his forge and made square nails. A local dog trainer demonstrated canine handling. The beekeepers association gave tips on local bee husbandry. Our genealogical staff helped visitors use online databases for family research. Reference librarians in our computer lab showed how to use Novelist and Mango. Rabbits cuddled in a conference room and chickens clucked in the Children’s patio area, as their breeders offered their expertise. Master gardeners talked compost, flower arranging, pruning, and heirloom seeds. Home Depot demonstrated cordless tools, how to make a sink backsplash, and summer garden preparation. Backpackers shared their love of trail walking. Lowe’s helped DIYs with deck treatment. AnMed Health sent a representative who spoke on advanced directives planning. There were demonstrations on making balloon animals, quilting, crocheting, origami, fabric bracelets, scrapbooking, how to brew the perfect cup of coffee, digital photography, how to pack a suitcase, how to repurpose junk, and how to jumpstart your creativity. The local theater group showed how to audition. Yoga sessions, kicking a soccer ball, and salsa dancing lessons added to the excitement! The Teen room ran continuous activity stations, like underwater painting, and the Children’s Department had Lego® challenges. Committee members were assigned areas to direct traffic, answer questions, and provided a hospitality room with refreshments for the presenters. It took every staff member who wasn’t at a service desk—our library maintained normal operations!–to work the Fair.

As one committee member commented, “We didn’t know where we were going, but we sure had fun when we got there.”

But, to where?

In our post-event analysis, we found that we had these positives:

  • a collaborative and talented committee, seriously dedicated to staging the event, and newly emerging leaders;
  • a successful and fierce social media blitz to advertise the event;
  • enthusiastic presenters and attendees—a good start to amplifying community relations;
  • a wide-variety of sessions of interest to a large cross-section of attendees;
  • encouraging survey responses from both attendees and presenters, with calls for “do it again” next year!

But what about any 2nd Annual ACL How-To Fair? What should we do the next time?

  • Establish a How-To Fair Committee.
  • Brand our How-To Fair and develop a logo for advertising, and even emblazon it on staff T-Shirts.
  • Consult/contact other library systems that have held a How-To event. There is a lot of practical advice online from other libraries, but we reinvented the proverbial wheel. Learn what they learned.
  • Plan far in advance. . . at least six months. Two months is not enough time to advertise effectively, communicate with potential presenters, and allow for last-minute scheduling adjustments.
  • Appoint or elect a committee member to be the clearinghouse for presenter applications and contacts.
  • Restructure the schedule to avoid clumping events in too narrow a time frame.
  • Allow attendees more time to get from one presentation to another.
  • Refine the presenter application and questionnaire.
  • Encourage presenters to give multiple sessions.
  • Consider soliciting local business sponsorships, perhaps to help with advertising, the hospitality room, etc.

Did we find out what our community wanted for the ACL MakerSpace? No, not really. We made the assumption that the public-at-large would know what a MakerSpace is, because we librarians know. MakerSpace terminology is so much a part of our active vocabulary that we neglected to provide something at the How-To Fair to explain it to our public. When we asked our attendees to fill out a survey as they left the venue, their focus and emotional involvement was with this How-To Fair and not necessarily with providing input for a future MakerSpace. We do know, however, that this sort of event truly appealed to them, and that alone was worth the effort.

And our ACL MakerSpace Committee’s future plans? We have refocused and are considering. . . ah, but that’s for me to tell you in a future blog.

References:

  1. Kristin Fontichiaro & the Michigan Makers, University of Michigan School of Information, “What’s In Your Patron’s’ Dream Makerspace?” accessed May 20, 2015, http://fontichiaro.com/uploads/2014/booklist-makerspace-list.pdf.
  1. “Grain Ideas-Growler House, Anderson,” accessed May 20, 2015, https://roundtown.com/event/2712891/Grain-Ideas-Growler-Haus-Anderson-Anderson-SC.
  1. Judy Rosenfield, “Barbecue? Flamenco Dancing? Learning Gets Interactive in Louisville,” American Libraries, October 30, 2012, accessed May 20, 2015, http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2012/10/30/barbecue-flamenco-dancing-learning-gets-interactive-in-louisville/.
  1. “eMerge @ The Garage: Driving entrepreneurship,” accessed May 20, 2015, http://www.emergeandersonsc.com/#!about_us/cjg9.
  1. Website for Anderson (SC) County Library System: http://www.andersonlibrary.org
  1. Link to Anderson (SC) County Library System’s How-To Fair: http://www.andersonlibrary.org/how-to-fair/
  1. Facebook event page for Anderson (SC) County Library System’s How-To Fair: https://www.facebook.com/events/1593649477548555/
  1. Facebook album for Anderson (SC) County Library System’s How-To Fair: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.952981931400316.1073741828.354814934550355&type=3

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