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.

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.