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Resources or Access? Weighing Priorities for Maker Spaces

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Teachers and librarians following developments at the intersection of maker spaces and education—including the push for more experiential learning in curriculum—may be surprised to find that not everyone is ready to embrace such facilities. It's not the idea of maker spaces, but how they're implemented that some feel is cause for concern.

Hugh Rundle, a prolific blogger and public librarian in Melbourne, Australia, recently suggested that adding 3-D printers and other fabrication technology to libraries may be a form of mission creep, or at least, putting the cart before the horse. He argues that "manufacturing" lies far outside the bailiwick of librarians, who, he says, "deal with intangibles." For Rundle, focusing too much on the physical can result in a narrow conception of what a library is and does; he recommends "thinking about 'the library' as a service rather than a place."

In a back-and-forth with commenters, most of them academic librarians well-versed in library technology, Rundle admits that the adoption of 3-D printing technology may not in itself be problematic. What he finds more troubling is the relative lack of preparation librarians undertake before introducing the technology.

His argument echoes those of ed-tech skeptics wary of adopting devices, software, or learning platforms without appropriate teacher training or extensive research to back up their effectiveness. Even those enthusiastic about technology in the classroom caution that ed tech is a means, not an end.

David Lankes, a professor and researcher in information studies at Syracuse University, disagrees with Rundle's suggestion that maker spaces in libraries are premature or inappropriate. He writes that the introduction of non-traditional technology can help libraries respond to specific community needs, thereby avoiding a solution-looking-for-a-problem scenario. He also suggests that technology tools in libraries can go beyond responsiveness, "to expand the capabilities of the communities" they serve.

The last word belongs to Andromeda Yelton, a librarian and co-founder of Gluejar, who writes:

Community publishing is a great thing some libraries are cultivating, but you need not create books in order to be deeply, transformatively engaged by them. Same thing with 3-D printers. Or whatever other tools you've got for letting the light in, provoking exploratory dialogue... Information is a tool. Libraries are experiences.

Maker spaces in libraries and schools seek to create learning and creating experiences for students through a wealth of tools and resources and a relative lack of structure. Librarians debating the purpose of maker spaces differ in their opinions on whether it's the provision of tools and resources—such as cataloged digital files and expert staff—or the freedom to jump right in that should take precedence.

For more context on maker spaces in education, be sure to read Sean Cavanagh's recent article on Cyberlearning: Transforming Education, a two-year-old National Science Foundation initiative now soliciting proposals for research and design in education technology. Alongside work that addresses personalized learning and better access to education for underserved populations, the program supports a number of maker spaces in schools and museums.

Researchers will examine the viability of maker spaces as teaching and learning environments, experimenting with expert feedback systems and other ways to test their effectiveness. If successful, their work may help smooth the way for the creation of more school and library maker spaces, and better prepare educators to run them.

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