A few weeks ago, we started working with the Houston Public Library to explore the possibilities of a library makerspace. This is not a new concept. From Detroit to DC, there are all sorts of models for library makerspaces. And together with HPL, a network of community partners, and generous sponsors, we want to bring it to Houston.
But it’s silly to think that dropping a 3D printer into a teen room will magically create a cycle of making and learning. So when we got started, we took a cue from the coworking world. We wanted to discover our community. Who are these people? Are they teens interested in after school robotics programs? Or entrepreneurs interested in crafting? Or retirees looking to build new skills?
Our first step was holding an introductory town hall meeting. About 40 people showed up, and it turns out, there are a lot of different kinds of people interested in library makerspaces. We learned a couple of things:
- The library reaches everyone. Even in a small pool of 40 people, we heard from all kinds of people with a range of interests. There were educators, entrepreneurs, children, non-profits, City employees, and more. This program will have broad appeal, which will also force hard choices about where we begin.
- The library is an excellent place to learn entry-level concepts. Specializing beyond entry-level concepts requires money, space, time, and training. There are equipment costs, real estate costs, staff allocations, and so forth. For an unfunded pilot program, it’s just too risky. But entry-level workshops, taught by “maker” professionals, can be implemented right away. It makes good use of the library’s distribution, with 44 locations across the city (as well as mobile express trucks), and its ability to promote new ideas.
- There are local resources for advanced learning. Those maker professionals teaching entry-level workshops can follow the student as they progress beyond the library and into a local makerspace. There are several outside facilities that maintain more sophisticated equipment, and teach a more advanced curriculum. We envision an ecosystem where workshop leaders volunteer with the library periodically, and the library provides referrals for advanced learning.
As we develop this ecosystem, we hope to align our goals with the community. We’re hoping to have a better understanding of this concept by the end of March. In the meantime, our short term outcomes will be:
- More diverse programming, taught by professionals in their industry.
- Overall community growth, resulting in a better exchange between library patrons and the maker / educator communities.
- A clear 12-month strategy for a library makerspace. We’ll determine the best models for our community, tweak them for Houston, and start making it happen.
We’ll post updates about this project every few weeks. In the meantime, please contact us if you’d like to get involved.