ON LIBRARIES: Makerspaces – A Lesson In Leadership

When Makerspaces burst onto the scene several years ago, it was the public libraries that led the way.  Proactive school librarians seized on the idea and, after a slow start, they are now in many schools, although not always in the library.  On the whole, it seemed to be an easy advocacy tool, increasing a positive perception of the library.  But not everyone has been happy with Makerspaces.  A few places have reduced or eliminated them.  Is this the new trend?  Were Makerspaces a fad that is fading?  Not really, but the reasons behind some of the dissatisfaction with them provides a good lesson on leading.

The first school librarians who incorporated Makerspaces were leaders, as early adopters usually are.  Most often they moved into it slowly, minimizing the risk of investing too heavily in a project before knowing the pitfalls.  You do have to be careful when blazing a trail, but those following shouldn’t assume the path is clear.

At the initial obstacles were financial, but eventually, the spaces became about more than expensive equipment like 3-D printers. Vendors, seeing a growing market began, producing affordable kits that were a natural for Makerspaces.  And they thrived and grew. Contributions and expansion into what had been seen only as hobbies and crafts made it easier to develop Makerspaces on a shoestring.  The kids were creating, problem-solving, and having fun.  The tie-in to STEAM which was a growing education trend made it even more appealing.

Click on the image to read the article at Knowledge Quest

All was going well until a few blips appeared.  Some librarians reported problems with Makerspaces which was an uncomfortable thing to share because everyone was still talking about how great the spaces were. Because only a few were having difficulties, the issue was ignored. People were too excited about this new “toy” and it’s embarrassing to have a problem when the vast majority are being wildly successful. But the truth is, there is a growing challenge to having and maintaining this aspect of your program.

Makerspaces had trouble when they were suggested to the librarian instead of by the librarian.  The fact that administrators loved the concept when librarians introduced it was a plus for the movement.  But when Makerspaces are implemented under the principals’ direction, they lose much of the advocacy opportunities, and how it is put into the library can have a negative effect on the program.  What has happened in some districts is that the administrator puts all the focus on the Makerspace to the exclusion of nearly everything else including literacy activities.  The principal believes he/she has a cutting age library program when in reality the true 21st teaching is being lost.

Makerspaces also tend not to be successful when the librarian plunges into it believing the simple existence of one makes it an advocacy tool.  If all you do is read the “contents” of a Makerspace and come close to duplicating it, you won’t have a successful program.  Leaders know planning is the key to success.

And planning always begins by reviewing your Mission and Vision (and possibly your Philosophy). How

From https://www.chiefoutsiders.com/blog/not-screw-up-value-proposition

will this addition help further these? In what way?  Who are the stakeholders?  How can you spread the word to the community?  Is there a way to involve them so they know and possibly participate in the aims and achievements of the Makerspace or whatever you are promoting?

Programs do not exist in a vacuum.  They need to be tied to something and your Mission and Vision helps you define their purpose and their ultimate goals. Planning should also remind you that nothing stays the same.  It either grows or dies. You don’t put a Makerspace into place and then just keep repeating it.  You need to assess what is happening with students.  Where do you want to take them next? How can you help them think deeper, bigger, and more critically?

Makerspaces can be wonderful. They are truly student-centered, promote inquiry, and creativity.  They can be tied to literature as well as STEAM.  They can be an important component of your advocacy plan.  BUT you have to plan.  It’s what leaders do.

 

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ON LIBRARIES: Are You a Distrupter?

distruption-aheadOf course you aren’t.  You are a team player.  You don’t rock the boat.  But maybe…you should rethink the question. Leaders are disrupters, and it’s time for more librarians to envision themselves this way.

The business world, which I turn to regularly, recognizes the importance of disrupters.  A Forbes article points out the difference between disrupters and innovators saying while all disrupters are innovators not all innovators are disrupters in the way that all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. Disrupters change how we think and behave.

The article links to a list of leading disrupters in business. Of course Bill Gates made the list as did the three founders of Kickstarter and the man who started Buzzfeed. You won’t recognize most of the names but they upended how we think of retail, get our television programs, and use social networking.

Okay, great for them.  But you can’t see how to “disrupt” your school – even if you wanted to take such a huge risk.  Let’s try a less scary term.  How about taking on the role of Change Agent?distrupt

Another Forbes article has the compelling title, “Every Leader Must be a Change Agent or Face Extinction.”  We have all seen how school librarians and libraries have been eliminated across the country.  Granted the economic crisis of 2008 caused much of the loss, but part of the reason was the perception that we didn’t make a sufficiently worthwhile contribution to be a good economic decision.

When confronted with widespread slashing of programs, what did many librarians do? They whined they weren’t appreciated.  They crossed their fingers and hoped their jobs wouldn’t be next on the chopping block.  What was and is necessary was to change the way we do business. There are numerous librarians who are doing that, but it’s incumbent on everyone to accept the challenge.

The second article has two quotes that stick with me. “Change is the new normal for leadership success, and all leaders must accept this fact,” and “Change is difficult; Not changing is fatal.” I have repeatedly said all librarians must become leaders or risk disappearing.  If you agree that is true, you need to accept the risk of becoming a change agent.change-is-difficult-not-changing-is-fatal-1

I had a Superintendent in the late 1990’s who alarmed everyone by saying, “If it ain’t broke, break it.”  This was when technology was rapidly expanding.  I am sure he got the quote from the title of a book by Robert J. Kriegel. It is a more confrontational statement but is aligned with the premise of another book, Good to Great by James C. Collins, which states as a premise, “Good is the enemy of great.”

Ranganathan, the father of modern library science, said “Library is a growing organism.”  But any organism either grows or it dies.  Now more than ever, the status quo is not sustainable. If you think your current situation is “good,” it’s time to make it great – even if you have to break it to do it.

What can you do to ensure you are growing?  Or what should you do as a Change Agent?  Librarians who are change agents are the ones who introduced Makerspaces and/or transformed their libraries into Learning Commons. If Makerspaces haven’t come to your district yet, that is one way to begin the change process. Makerspaces have had a dramatic impact on schools.

Creating a Learning Commons is more daunting, particularly in districts with small or nonexistent budgets, but you can move in that direction.  After researching various examples, consider what is possible through contributions.  You need a vision of course, and then, with the approval of your principal, consider developing a GoFundMe campaign.

A relatively simple change is to cover tables with whiteboard paper. This allows students working in groups to visually record their ideas as their project evolves. Anyone coming into the library will notice this dramatic difference instantly.  It alters how they see the library, which is what you need to have happen as a Change Agent—or a Disrupter.

Integrate the community into the library.  Just about every place has a local history and horticultural societies.  What else is available in your town or neighborhood?  Contact these groups and ask if they would like to set up an exhibit of interest to your students in the library. When they do, display resources you have on the topic.  Post everything to your website (or on a LibGuide on your website) and add online information.

Video and photograph students viewing the exhibit. Give them comment cards or record what they think.  Turn it into a presentation with Animoto or other similar resource and share it along with a thank-you note (from you and some of the students) to the society.  They may even display it in their location.  Suddenly their members are recognizing the library is not anything like the one they remembered.

agent-of-changeWith administration approval, reach out to the business community through Kiwanis and/or Rotary.  Ask for local business to share their “communications” with your library.  You can feature what they do and again create a supporting display.  Make a visual record and see if you can speak before the group and share what you did and how the kids reacted.

If we do what we have always done, we will get what we have always gotten. Ignored – for the most part.  Disrupt thinking.  Become a Change Agent.

Have you “disrupted” your school?  What have you done? What’s the craziest idea you’ve ever had for your library program?  Could it actually work?

ON LIBRARIES: Makerspace Magic

makerspace wordleThe Makerspace phenomenon is exploding in libraries everywhere and they are an easy platform to use to reach what seemed a difficult goal – library advocacy.

The popularity of Makerspace programs  slowly at first with public libraries acquiring 3-D printers and letting patrons use them.  Soon it spread to first-adopter school libraries and librarians who also managed to get 3-D printers for their libraries.  Now more and more libraries are offering these programs –with or without 3-D printers. The programs are as varied as the librarians and the populations they serve.

In addition to encouraging and developing students’ problem solving skills and imagination, Makerspaces are giving librarians a great platform for advocacy.  When a well thought out program is presented to administrators they often are quick to approve it.  Librarians are amazed to find they have strong administrative support for their program for the first time.

Why are Makerspaces embraced by administrators?  It’s not the library connection.  It’s STEM and often STEAM (including arts) or even STREAM (research and/or reading).  Reacting to the nation-wide push for STEM-related learning, principals and superintendents welcome a tested idea for infusing it into the school program.  And library programs reap the benefit.

For years I have been an advocacy advocate (Isn’t that a great phrase?).  I have written and given workshops on why it is important for librarians to know how to develop advocates for their program.  Because it requires ongoing work, it is a hard sell, but Makerspaces have transformed the atmosphere. makerspace1

As with any advocacy program, you need to make stakeholders aware of what you offer. So promote the existence of your Makerspace widely. Put it on your website.  See if you can announce it in the public library.  Write and send out a press release to your local paper.

You also have a great opportunity to involve others.  When they are a part of it, they become ardent supporters. Which teachers (or possibly administrators) have hobbies or interests which lend themselves to Makerspaces? Would they like to lead a program?

With administrative approval, reach out to parents and others in the community to do the same. Chances are you have untapped volunteers who would love to contribute time, skills or tools. The more people involved, the wider reach your library program has.  Participants are natural supporters. Bring in the media – local newspapers and cable to do a feature.  Have them interview students to talk about why they like the program and what they are learning.

And don’t forget books.  For each Makerspace program have a display of books on the topic.  It always helps to have a quick resource for students– other than watching a YouTube video, which may be blocked. You want to show how hands-on work leads to research which the library facilitates.

make itThis can be a great place for you to get creative too.  Find fun ways to publicize and share your new program and involve as many students as you can. Consider putting together some mini-Makerspace ideas which can be borrowed by students.  Some of the items would be consumable, just as with any Makerspace project while other parts would have to be returned.  List the non-consumable inside the box with the materials so it can be checked in.  Put a library promo piece in each box. You would need approval for this, but it’s one more way to show parents and others how the library program promotes student learning. (NOTE: This idea comes from when, many years ago, my former co-author Ruth Toor circulated “Science in a Shoebox,” each with a different science project, including directions and list or what was contained in the box.)

Do you have a Makerspace program in your library?  Not sure how to get started?  There’s lots of information out there to help you – or you can ask for specific advice on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook group.

I am off to ALA Midwinter in Boston this coming week so I won’t be blogging next Monday.  If you are going, I hope to meet you there.