Creating a makerspace in the library

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This year, Curtin University Library has implemented a strategic initiative to establish a makerspace and maker community through facilitating ‘making’ events, activities and projects, both within the library and the wider Curtin community, as well as seeking opportunities to engage with the community more broadly.

Maker Community

The main aim was to create an interdisciplinary maker community centred around an engaging, creative library makerspace that the Curtin community could use in order to develop skills and learn through creating and doing. We also wanted to facilitate collaborations between students and staff from disparate areas of the University (and beyond).”

Our first priority for 2015 has been to focus on building the maker community, which we have done by connecting and engaged with many different and varied groups and individuals both within Curtin and external to Curtin. These have resulted in established ongoing relationships and given rise to opportunities for further engagement around projects and events.

Curtin Teaching and Learning has been an important source of support and expertise, and we have been involved with the efforts of the Office of Research and Development to develop a coordinated approach to the use of maker facilities on the campus. We have appreciated the support and encouragement of the Humanities Faculty (particularly Visualisation as well as Art and Design) and Science and Engineering Faculty (particuarly Outreach as well as Robotics). We have also started to introduce Makerspace activities into the activities we run as part of the AHEAD in School and Community programs, and have connected with groups external to Curtin, including community makerspaces, public libraries, the home school community, and cultural and education institutions like Scitech and the WA museum.

Events and projects

The main ways in which we have built the makerspace and community has been participating in existing events. These have included:

Festival of Learning ‘pop up’ makerspace (March, 2015).   This was our first experience of facilitating a makerspace event, and it was very experimental, involving trying things out and seeing how they went. We borrrowed a 3D printer and 3d scanner, had some other tech things like Arduino kits and the VR viewer Google Cardboard, but also plenty of knitting, beading, and origami. It was great opportunity to connect with people, have discussions, and observe how people reacted to our activities, and we learned a lot about how the space was used.

Light Makers @ the Library (August 2015). Successfully applying for a National Science Week Small Grant ($2000) was the impetus behind creating a series of workshops and other events to run over a week in August around the theme of ‘light’. The activities ranged from making illuminated origami flowers, to light painting, to learning to program neo-pixel animations with Arduino. We had 14 different workshops in all, in which we engaged with over 300 participants (two thirds were from the wider community). It was quite a week!

Loud Shirt Day (October 2015). The Library Makerspace participated in this campus-wide event to help raise funds for deaf children. People came along to the makerspace to decorate white t-shirts by trying out a variety of techniques using fabric markers, spray paint, stencils, beads, buttons and glitter. Reflecting on this successful event, we realised that sometimes when things don’t go according to plan, something even better comes out of it!

Curtin Creative Festival (November 2015). Over three days of lovely weather we set up tables and shade umbrella’s amongst the beautiful gardens of Atkinson Court and showed off our latest gizmos to passers-by(the 3D doodler pens, the Eggbot and Watercolorbot), had fun with a carrot piano using the Makey Makey and helped dozens of people make badges, our most popular activity. We also had a lot of useful conversations, and realised more fully the value of taking the makerspace out of the library building.

Recently, we celebrated International Games Day in the library, playing board games, Go, games using the Makey Makey and Minecraft. There are more events coming up this year, including running Hour of Code sessions for Science Experience in December, setting up pop up makerspaces at WISE Sharecase and Ascilite conference, and running a Makerspace workshop at the Teaching and Learning Forum in January.

We have explored and experimented with a number of making activities this year.   We discovered that low tech craft activities are very popular, and have been very important in lowering the barriers for people to get involved in the more digitally oriented activities.   In this regard, we have introduced knitting, crocheting (and yarn bombing), beading, colouring, origami, lego and badge making.   It has been exciting to experiment with paper circuity, sewable electronics and LittleBits as a way of combining technology with art/craft.   We have also explored a number of activities around electronics and programming including Arduino basics, Makey makeys and Scratch, and robotics (e.g. Edison robots).   Dipping our toes in virtual reality and augmented reality, and learning about how to create immersive and interactive 3D environments, links closely with developing experience and knowledge about 3D scanning , modelling and printing.

From these activities and discussions we have developed and identified areas of interest among the Curtin maker community, with opportunities to work collaboratively on some exciting projects which will advance the aims and objectives of the makerspace and develop areas of expertise and knowledge.

Visualisation studies is an area out of which several exciting projects involving collaboration with Visualisation researchers and academics has emerged. Working with VisMedia students we have been creating a 360 degree panoramic virtual tour of the Library which will incorporate interactive digital storytelling elements, and are also participating in the HIVE’s (Hub for Immersive Visualisation and eResearch) student internship programme, where we will be working with a computer science student to create an e-learning environment in Minecraft EDU and explore interactivity with the physical space using a Kinect camera.

Our evolving space

We have established a physical makerspace in the Robertson Library and stocked it with some equipment in response to expressed needs and by resourcing activities and workshops (see our equipment list) . We are temporarily using a small room in the library lounge (which seats around 8 people) for storing equipment, and where small groups can meet to plan, make, tinker. For larger workshops and events we use the adjacent lounge area. We are currently developing an “open” makerspace area in the lounge, making craft materials (knitting, origami, colouring, beading), games and puzzles available 24/7.

The virtual makerspace is also important. We hope this blog will evolve as a way for the Curtin maker community to communicate about what they are doing, provide information about the makerspace, promote events and make online resources available. Minecraft is also potentially, an exciting extension of the virtual makerspace.

Due to pending infrastructure works set to occur at the end of 2016, our current space is temporary. However will be doing some minor changes to develop the space by moving the door, creating a viewing window into the space and creating an open ‘entrance’ space outside the room. With a modest makerspace budget confirmed for 2016 we will continue to consult with the Curtin maker community on which equipment and materials to invest in to ensure the space develops in response to the needs of its users.

Where to in 2016?

We still have some work to do this year to complete the process of establishing the maker community and makerspace, and there are a number of steps to be taken in the following months to ensure it continues to develop organically.  For example, we have yet to set up processes to manage and administer access and monitoring of the space and equipment, and ensure safety of users and correct use of equipment.

While we have had a significant level of involvement from library staff we would like to identify and support further staff who would like the opportunity to be involved in the makerspace in a variety of ways including developing experience and expertise around particular equipment, technologies and activities; coordinating events, running workshops or facilitating projects; administration activities (e.g. Buying materials and equipment); promotion, communication and engagement with the wider community.

In relation to developing the makerspace community, there are many opportunities.   We will continue to participate in events as we have done this year as an important means of engaging with the Curtin community and beyond. To foster and build ongoing relationships with the community, we would like to establish a weekly drop in session for any kind of making, as well as develop a more formal workshop series based on activities we have started exploring this year (such as paper circuitry, programming with Arduino etc). We will continue with our library visualisation projects, and hope to start other ones (e.g. building a library robot), provide support for other projects and facilitate interest groups.

With so much interest in makerspaces in the wider community, we will avail ourselves – as we have done throughout the year – of some of the many opportunities for engagement with schools, public libraries and other community organisations, as well as within Curtin.   We will also establish an advisory group to draw on the expertise available in the wider Curtin community.  Looking at ways to assess and evaluate our programs and activities are also an important priority.

Things we have learned

For anyone thinking about creating a makerspace in their library, this approach has worked for us so far, and might for others as well:

  1. Engage with people: Find people in your community who are already part of the maker culture, who like to make things, or a doing making as part of what they study, teach or research, or who don’t mind jumping in and learning new things.   Have conversations, sound out ideas, and gauge levels of interest. Find out what people would like to do in a makerspace and what their needs are. A good way to meet makers is to participate in maker-related activities and events.
  2. Make things together. Create opportunities to get together and make things. Don’t wait until you are an expert at something – just jump in, start doing it together, and learn through doing.   Get involved with existing events and become part of the program.   Ask students to assist as volunteers or work on projects through their course work, via work integrated learning opportunities.
  3. Allow organic growth: Let the makerspace evolve and grow organically, without being too proscriptive about what it should look like and how it should be. Capitalise on the skills, experience, interests and enthusiasm of those who would like to participate and be involved. Be responsive to people’s interests and buy equipment and tools in response to needs – that way it is likely that it will be well used.   Don’t overthink and overplan things, and adopt an attitude of experimentation – learning through experience of what works and doesn’t work well is all part of the process.

The most important advice we would like to give, however, is …. don’t be afraid of failing, and whatever happens, have fun doing it!