Lately, like many people working in public libraries, I’ve been thinking about makerspaces–creating room in your library where people can make things, build things, DO things. I went to a great program on the topic that talked about using 3-D printers with middle schoolers, offering hands-on workshops on bike repair, sewing, electronics, silk-screening, wood-block printing–you name it. I love to go to meetings like that where I can hear what other libraries are doing and get excited about it, too, so that when a staff member at my own library wants to do something original, I don’t just stare at them and start giving them all of the reasons it won’t work. “Wood-block printing, are you crazy? They’ll hurt themselves! We’ll get sued!” etc. Once you see what other libraries are doing and how they’re making it work (and you hear what they learned along the way) it makes you realize that the possibilities are almost unlimited as long as you have a good match of topic and audience.
Some people will still think this is outside the scope of the public library. But as big a fan as I am of books–and if you could see my house you would know that I am a BIG fan of books–I think the mission of the public library is broader than that. I also would guess that a lot of people who define the mission narrowly are doing so deliberately, because they want to see the public library line on their tax bills go away. Programs and activities get in the way of that, but to me, they are all part of learning.
The great thing about makerspaces is that a lot of people don’t have the room, equipment, or expertise at home for learning a lot of new things. The public library has always been the place for information and learning and pleasure, and this is a new way to offer that. Bring in the 3-D printer where a potential inventor in your area can create a prototype of their great idea and to be able to improve their design. Bring in cloth and mannequins and scissors and a sewing machine and let teens learn how to construct clothing. Make your library a space where people who can’t afford fees for programs (let alone the $2,000+ for a 3-D printer) can come and make their lives better by learning new skills. It’s another way of serving the patrons, and if you haven’t noticed, it’s an exciting time to be working in the public library.