What is a MakerSpace?

A big article on what a MakerSpace is, and how it relates to other types of work areas for artists, designers, and Makers.

So, that’s the way I see these things — MakerSpaces revel in the sheer joy of creativity; DesignSpaces build things with a purpose; ArtistSpaces explore creativity without necessarily giving it purpose; and TinkerSpaces are for sticking things together until you get ideas… but won’t necessarily help you build anything real.

Where does your space sit in the definitions?  Are you really operating a DesignStudio when you think you’re running a MakerSpace?  Is your school’s MakerSpace really a TinkerLab?

Read the full article; it’s worth it.

What We Do

The Thinkery is a consulting service.

We charge money for our time, and in exchange, we help you understand three things:

  1. How to build a MakerSpace in your school or library;
  2. What tools, equipment, and materials your MakerSpace should have in it; and
  3. how to grow the knowledge and skills of your staff to make that MakerSpace successful.

That third point is really critical.  A lot of people don’t understand this, but we do — if you don’t have the right personnel, with the right skills as artisans and the right mindset as Makers, your MakerSpace will sit unused.  Your stakeholders will see it as an unsuccessful waste of time and resources.

Fortunately there are solutions to those problems. They involve training your people, and teaching your administrators what they need to know to support, build and schedule a successful MakerSpace in your institution.

We know how to do that.  Do you want our help? Contact us.

Seeing a Space

Late last week, a library board member gave the Thinkery a tour of a storage space at a Connecticut library.  It was all very unofficial. I don’t know that anyone knew we were there.  We barely knew it was happening ourselves.

When we say “storage space”, though, what we really mean is “junk room”.  Broken tables. Broken chairs. A shattered podium “that someone with carpentry skills is planning to fix.”  Boxes and boxes of old books and magazines that would “eventually get sorted for the sale rack by volunteers.”  Supplies “for the teen program” that looked like they hadn’t been opened since a Clinton administration year. Some stuffed animals from the children’s space that had been “removed for cleaning after a lice scare” (Did they ever get washed?).  No one had clear responsibility for the room, and so the room was never cleared.

After the visit, the Thinkery sat down and wrote up a plan for that space as a MakerSpace.  We envisioned some redesign of the shelving; some tables in the middle; some computers and some equipment along one wall; a work-bench on another wall.  We wrote up a two-year plan for a more detailed response to an RFP, a construction phase, a training program for library staff and volunteers; and some technical documentation about websites and equipment the library could get.  We imagined a space that forward-thinking libraries would love to bring to their communities; and our initial estimate on what it would cost was very reasonable.

And then we closed up our notebook and put away that whole vision. Because the library we visited last week isn’t ready for that plan.  They’re too busy trying to plan another conference and presentation room with chairs, and a digital projector, and a podium.  They want a community conference room, very much like the other conference and presentation room they already have.

But when they’re ready, we’re ready too.  We have sketches.  We have a calendar. We have an initial estimate on a budget.

In other words, we have a plan.  And we think your community of patrons will like it a lot more, because it’s not about seeing another film, or hearing another lecture.  It’s about putting those “children’s program” supplies to use. It’s about clearing out the junk.  It’s about making something new.

Thai Chang Bank Repair

IMAG0248One project today was the tear down and rebuild of the Thai Chang bank. We were not happy with the failure of the trunk to deliver its payload of a coin. So, we took it apart.
Sure, a simple mechanism — how hard could it be?
Well… since there are two springs, they get sprung when released from tension. But they fit together in a fairly logical fashion, with one spring bent around the cast iron pin on the trunk, a loop around the trigger lever, a hole and a matching pin for the tail.
We figured out how it works with the plate off easily enough.  Refer to your library’s copy of 507 Mechanical Movements. Of course — if your library’s MakerSpace bookshelf doesn’t have a copy yet, buy it now.
I was reminded of the adage “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.” Somehow, even though all we had done was taken the bank apart and put it back together, it seemed the spring was absolutely strong enough. Wasn’t I brilliant?
 With the help of a clamp and my young apprentice, we got the plate back on after a good fifteen minutes of fiddling, fumbling, and the like.
Oh yeah, that spring was strong. I must have put it together better than it had been. My apprentice put the final screw in and have it a test.
Whoah, Whoah, whoah! What have we here??
IMAG0251Weak.  It seems that gravity is in effect and this cast iron trunk is too heavy for the spring. But, with the help of Hagrid and a hair tie for reins, the wise Chang can now deposit his change.
The lesson for Makers and for MakerSpaces, of course, should be obvious:  “In theory, theory and practice are the same.  In practice, they are different.”  It’s easy to read a number of articles about MakerSpaces and how easy they are to set up — but to keep them going requires a staff that isn’t afraid to take things apart, to figure out what does or does not work, and who are not afraid to make changes or modifications based on what they find inside.

Knowing About — and Knowing How

Most librarians are great at knowing about.  It is easy for them to know “about” information — the capital of Ecuador, the languages of China, the best books for a 15-year-old, how to apply for a government grant — because that information is available in the books of the reference department, or on the internet, or in the librarian’s own lived experience.

But MakerSpaces in Libraries represents something new.  A MakerSpace is a community-focused space concentrated on making and building stuff.  It’s noisy and messy — things not usually associated with libraries — and it requires a different style of knowledge: knowing how, as well as about.

It is not easy to know about things, but it is also not easy to know how things are done or made.  The Thinkery’s partners know both, though — we’re Makers and we’re Knowers.  We’ve built and managed MakerSpaces, and we know how Librarians and Libraries think. We can help you bridge the gap between what you know about Making, to helping you help your patrons be Makers themselves.  The bridge is helping you learn how to Make, and not simply learning about Making.

The Tools We Carry

What tools do you carry?

What tools do you carry?

The tools a person carries for problem-solving says a lot about the kinds of problems they’re equipped to solve. When a person carries a computer, their solutions have a tendency to look rather digital.  It’s hard to imagine solutions for the real world, when those solutions are generated inside of an imaginary world carried around on a hard drive and animated with a video card.  Sure, it can look impressive — but when every designer on a team starts with a digital foundation, none of the solutions are going to look human.

Technological solutions scale — that is, they get bigger and more elaborate the more technology is added to the mix.  But scaling rarely cares — technological solutions don’t really care about the humans they serve. So, usually humans wind up serving the technology rather than the other way around.

That’s why we travel with a fully-analog tool kit — ruler, compass, folding tools, knives, pencils, and pens.  Sure, we’ll use digital tools when they’re appropriate. But we start with human-centered tools, and with a human-centered approach to finding solutions to your problem.

Strategic Planning for Maker Spaces

Are you a library or a school, planning to open a MakerSpace to the public?  Are you a team of designers, considering building a semi-private workshop to paying members?  Are you hoping to start a business serving budding Makers?

We can help.

Our consulting team has a combined 40+ years in school teaching, carpentry, workshop behaviors, and design skills.  We’ve designed and built workshop spaces for three people, and workshop spaces for twelve.  We’ve taught classes in treehouse building, bookbinding, weaving, electronics, and 3D printing, so we can help you.

contact us today.


Today, members of the Thinkery staff walked through a client’s new house.  The client’s family is expanding, the whole family is moving to a new residence, and — immediately after the closing — the client wanted a sense of how the various rooms in the house were going to be used.  On the spot, we laid out a number of working ideas about how to finish some of the house’s unfinished spaces, where to place existing/owned furniture, and how to organize different spaces for new baby, existing kids, and adults who need private time too.  We also created a 12-year occupation plan for the house, suggesting particular projects for upkeep and improvements to the house infrastructure along the way.

We even helped move some of the furniture in.

Start Up!

Welcome to The Thinkery.

The Thinkery is the name that the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes used for the school of Socrates — a man whom he admired, but also a target for some of his cleverest jokes.  We mean it in something of the same sense — a place and a team where individuals, corporations, and non-profit organizations can train themselves to do new things and think new thoughts, but which doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Operating on a base of rationality and playful design, the staff of the Thinkery meet regularly to solve problems and design solutions suited to the real-world and digital environments.  We’ve helped each other overcome challenges and solve difficulties using a combination of modern technical know-how, historical research, and plain common sense.  Our methods include design thinking, Renaissance-man training, graphic presentation, game-storming, and methods for opening up lateral thought processes in ourselves and in our clients.