Susan Considine, Director of the Fayetteville Free Public Library (FFPL) in Fayetteville, NY (near Syracuse) and a pioneer in makerspaces in libraries, described how her efforts have affected the community. She noted that no matter what type of environment we are in, we work with people. We often hear about transformation in our industry, and we are involved in transforming people, lives, and communities. We must understand our roles; true meaningful engagement with people in our communities informs us. What do we know? What are our talents? What is challenging in the life of our community today? We need to create access to support transformation at the individual and community level, and librarians can facilitate this transformation.
The FFPL has a history of innovation leading to transformation. In 2010, they noticed people were becoming curious about technology, but they had nowhere to go locally to access disruptive technologies. A student intern developed a proposal to make 3D printing available in the library. Making was a natural fit for FFPL’s existing mission in the community: “to provide free and open access to ideas and information”. The key ingredient was the people, and making could provide a new hands-on end to fulfilling their needs. Traditionally, literacy has been defined as the use of printed materials to achieve one’s goals. In the 21st century, it encompasses many other skills, including making. We focus on transformative technologies.
Supporting STEAM supports the local economy. Some knowledge of it is vital to informed decision making. It is up to libraries to create fun and interesting STEAM learning opportunities, especially for kids. The best way to do this is not to ask them what they want to be when they grow up; instead, ask them what problems they want to solve. Get them thinking they can make a job, not take a job.
The Innovation Challenge: Taking the First Steps
Don’t wait to start on developing innovation until you get everything you think you need. Build on small successes incrementally and grow from there. Involving staff early is important.
Identify needs and priorities. FFPL’s maker space (the Fab Lab) was created so that the library to fill needs in the community. Here are some photos from the Fab Lab.
The lab started with donations of 3D printers, and there was a huge community response. Community members began to contribute ideas, which formed the basis for adding other technologies to the Fab Lab.
The best way to develop your makerspace is to see where your successes are, then grow and adapt accordingly. Involve staff across all areas of responsibility early and often. All new innovations have implications in every area of library operations. No one should feel like innovation is happening in a vacuum and therefore has nothing to do with them. At FFPL, monthly meetings are held to discuss all areas of technology, including those in the Fab Lab. Making is not seen as just one member’s or one department’s responsibility; everyone has a share in the success.
Key funding strategies include partnering (both inside and outside of our industry), applying for grants (many are available), and asking what you can stop doing so you can reallocate your budget. Once a maker program is underway, there are opportunities to apply for grants. Every time a staff member writes an article or does something similar, you are increasing your library’s visibility and promoting it as a player in the do-it-yourself or maker areas. Resource reallocation is a critical strategy. Most items in the Fab Lab were purchased from funds that already existed in the library’s budget
Outcomes and impacts
The current data being used by many libraries is not doing them justice because it is outdated. Librarians need to convene the right discussions and implement change and innovation. Be relevant through action; spend time doing and promoting the true value in the community. For example, some local entrepreneurs got their start in the Fab Lab, and the Lab collaborates with many small businesses.
Libraries are not only resources for passive information but they can serve as a catalyst for real world problem solving. Here are some areas supported by STEAM learning.
The library hosts tours regularly for people who want to find out about new technologies and how they can be used. Local area high schools have toured the lab and then set up their own maker spaces.
Assessment tools and strategies
A variety of assessment forms, some of which are listed below, are used as tools to capture the impacts of its programs. Constant organization-wide assessment promotes growth and ensures that library staff that they are collecting the data that tells them what they need to know.
- A proposal template is used to ensure that programs are developed with a view toward the community.
- User surveys are used to collect feedback on whether the programs met their needs, hear users’ stories, and develop marketing opportunities.
- A story capturing form collects meaningful evidence behind the user stories. Over 4,000 people to date have been trained on Fab Lab equipment, and this tool lets us hear the impact of their use of the lab.
- A community participation form is used to identify expertise that exists in the community and whether people would be interested in sharing it with their neighbors.
There has been an amazing response to FFPL’s programs. Samples of the above assessment tools as well as others are available at on FFPL’s website.
A personal note: I visited FFPL and it was a fascinating experience. If the opportunity for a visit arises, I highly encourage it. You can also read my article entitled “Making and Community Engagement in the Library” in the October 2015 issue of Information Today about my visit. The article also includes several photos of the Fab Lab.