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.


ON LIBRARIES: The Challenge of Collaboration – Part Three

collaboration 2For the past two weeks I have been blogging about meeting the challenge of collaboration.  So many librarians are unable to make the connections which combine the expertise of all participants and create a larger result than if the librarian worked alone.  On a more subtle, but no less vital, level these collaborations build a deeper understanding of the library program and develop the advocates who fight to retain librarians and their programs.

You must find and use the assets that are within your reach.

Once again here is the first Guideline under “Teaching for Learning” in AASL’s Empowering Learners which focuses on collaboration:

The school library program promotes collaboration among members of the learning community and encourages learners to be independent, lifelong users and producers of ideas and information. (p. 20)

The actions supporting the Guideline expect the librarian to:

  • “collaborate with a core team of classroom teachers and specialists to design, implement, and evaluate inquiry lessons and units
  • collaborate with an extended team including parents, community members, … museums, academic and public libraries… to include their expertise and assistance in inquiry lessons and units
  • work with administrators to actively promote, support, and implement collaboration
  • seek input from students on the learning process.”

The one most librarians feel is beyond their reach is the second bullet point. As with the others, the best way to incorporate this is by starting small and building on it. The Makerspace movement is an excellent way to begin collaborating with parents and community members. start small

Once you have launched your Makerspace, use your website, Twitter account, or however you reach parents and invite them to share their expertise with students.  Whether it’s building an app or knitting, you will find volunteers who will be glad to teach and help students.  You provide the materials along with print and online resources.  Take pictures and do a video of your “expert” and students at work and their final products.

If the students are willing, see if the public librarian will let you set up a display to showcase what occurred. Add an “advertisement” for community members to lead a Makerspace. Find out in advance from your administrator what needs to be done to permit this.

High school librarians can contact academic librarians if there is a community or four-year college in the area.  With some planning, set up a field trip for a class beginning a research project. The college librarian can teach students how to access and choose the extensive databases available, letting them see and experience what research will be like once they graduate. The local media outlet can be invited to cover the event and record student reactions.

at the libraryMost towns have some sort of historical society or other museum area.  Find out what they are, what they have on exhibit, and any special ones that are upcoming.  Look to see if this matches with curricular units.  Either arrange for a field visit or have the curator bring the items to your library to share with students, giving them a deeper understanding of what they will be exploring.  Again invite the media – and your administrator.

Educators have been stressing authentic learning, and our national standards enjoin us to develop inquiry-base units. The two combine when you develop a large network of people with whom you collaborate. Each project spreads the word on what a 21st century library program is. The groups you collaborate with, the more people are invested in continuing the success of your program.

Advocacy is an on-going, never stopping campaign.  It’s not about begging people for our jobs. It’s about everyone recognizing that what we do is invaluable for our school community and the success now and in the future of our students.

How are you reaching out and building collaborative partnerships?