Enhancing the Experience: A Modern Library’s Guide to Makerspaces

As a culture, our expectations for public places like libraries, museums and shopping malls are shifting from a destination to an experience. The increased importance on “the experience” is a trend has been going on for decades. In fact, in 1998, two consultants coined the term “the experience economy” and suggested that businesses offer customers a memorable time, rather than a product or service.

Recap: Last week we wrote about library design, explaining that a change in scenery could spark interest in today’s library visitor – one who expects more than just a classic novel in a quiet corner. As we discussed, they are doing so by creating spaces that cater to creativity. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is through an organized makerspace.

What is a makerspace?

A makerspace is a collaborative learning environment that allows library visitors to explore their interests, share materials and skills and create their own projects. So much can be done with these creative workshops. They can be used for educational purposes or simply to allow people to explore their artistic side.

Examples of makerspaces:

  • Matching games and math problems for younger children
  • Mother-daughter crafts, like creating a community quilt
  • Painting and drawing workshops
  • Halloween mask-making workshops

Why should I organize one?

Makerspaces serve a dual purpose. Not only allow libraries to attract more visitors, they also solidify their role as an educational asset to the community. With music and art programs constantly getting cut, these activities encourage education and creativity in a way that local schools might not. Also, parents might not have the resources to make crafts with their children on a regular basis or give them access to movies and new technologies.

What about the other visitors?

People might argue that these activities are disruptive to regular visitors who like things they way they are, but for libraries, times are tough and money is tight. Anything that will help them attract more visitors is a good thing. Otherwise, they risk reductions in budget, staff or hours.

If you are concerned about disturbing others, you could organize your makerspaces for a time that does not experience heavy traffic. When there are fewer people in the library, it will be easier for them to escape the sound. Determining your peak makerspace times is easy with the right resources.

Rather that reviewing transaction history, which only tells you how many people rented books, you can use a people counting system to run traffic reports that will tell you how many people entered and exited the building during a certain time period. Knowing how many people are in the building during certain hours will also help you determine how many staff members are needed and how well your makerspaces are working.

How much is it going to cost?
It’s no secret that libraries often struggle to operate on tight state budgets. The great thing about makerspaces is that these collaborative activities are as cost-effective as you need them to be. A great creative and collaborative experience is a product of your staff members, not your space. They can be as simple as a small table and chairs and some construction paper.

If your facility is able, it can also be part of a larger initiative that teaches the community how to use tablet technology, for example. Facilities with a more comfortable budget can devote an entire creative corner to their makerspaces and incorporate the latest technology, like a scavenger hunt using hidden QR codes or math games using Sifteo Cubes.

How do I get library visitors to participate?

Libraries across the nation have been implementing makerspaces to encourage creativity. History shows that people will collaborate naturally when the creative workshop centers on a fun topic. If participants are having trouble breaking the ice, you could encourage them to communicate by creating activities that involve collaboration or being close to one another. For example, participants are bound to communicate while working on a community mural – an activity that will keep them engaged and keep them coming back.

In the case of libraries, a community member no longer needs to visit the library in order to conduct research because they most likely have Google at home. So in response, modern libraries are working to make their visit a memorable one. They are creating stories instead of giving them.

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