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High Tech Makerspaces

by on January 22, 2015

The makerspace movement encompasses a wide berth from the basic to the high tech, and the free to the highly expensive. Determining what the library can afford, what it wants to accomplish with its makerspace, how best to utilize its resources, and whether partners can be found to support these efforts is incredibly important.

The Westport Library in Westport, Connecticut, has contributed a great deal of resources towards several expensive high tech purchases. One such acquisition is the SolidWorks computer-aided design software.[1] This was used to reach out to a niche community—primarily postgraduates trying to hone their skills—a purchase that benefits a fairly small audience.  Funding such projects could be controversial in some communities since it is funneling general funds towards a service that requires a fair amount of expertise to use and hence is fairly limited in reach.  The other way to view this is that the library is providing value to a group that might not otherwise look to the library for services.  It can also be a way to create advocates in the community from different sectors, particularly in this instance where it was in response to a suggestion from a local biomedical engineer.[2]

Generally, these decisions might be difficult to gain support for, but outside funding sources can greatly impact how an idea is sold to the Board of Trustees and the broader community.  The funding for a pair of programmable NAO Evolution robots was provided by a family foundation.[3]   While the funding for the robots was provided, it still required time and effort to promote these purchases, create programming around them, see that they are used in a manner that keeps them in good repair, and avoid any usages that might cause harm to patrons or the device.  This is not for every library, but it seems to have been well utilized by Westport.  The library received a great deal of media attention from news services throughout the country and from Russia, Spain, and Vietnam.[4]  This publicity can greatly enhance the library’s visibility and can inspire community members to look to the library for non-traditional services.

Yet investing in makerspaces is not only about creating media coverage. The high tech resources allow the library to create and share knowledge in new and unconventional ways.  Maxine Bleiweis, executive director for Westport Library, has noted how these additions are in line with the latest information on learning theories and how creating new content shows a high level of understanding of a given concept. She also correlated these costs to subscription costs for databases.[5]

Libraries should consider whether they can and should contribute part of their collection development budget towards new learning technologies. A key question that every library needs to consider when making a large investment of time and resources is how it relates back to the institutions mission.  The mission of the Westport Library “to empower individuals and strengthen the community, providing a welcoming destination that stimulates curiosity, encourages lifelong learning and promotes the open and lively exchange of information and ideas.”[6]  The high tech additions of the makerspace seem to effectively fit into this mission, and they have the resources to support this new technology.

A recurring question in library circles is what the library of the future will look like.  A key aspect of this is the extent to which makerspaces and particularly high tech makerspaces are a part of this future.  While it is unlikely that every library will have highly technical, expensive equipment, it should not be inconceivable that a library can provide this type of support if there is the community desire and the available resources.

Works Cited

[1]    Enis, Matt.  “Westport Maker Space Expands with Robots, SolidWorks Courses and Volunteer Training.”  Library Journal.  Accessed November 22, 2014.  http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2014/10/hardware-2/westport-maker-space-expands-robots-solidworks-courses-volunteer-training/

[2]    ibid

[3]    ibid

[4]    ibid

[5]    ibid

[6]    “About WPL.”  Westport Library.  Accessed November 22, 2014. http://westportlibrary.org/about

Cover Photo Credit: CSM Library CC BY 2.0

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