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.
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
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.