CJ Lynce, Manager, TechCentral, Cleveland Public Library (CPL), described CPL’s innovative TechCentral environment that was opened 2-1/2 years ago at the main library. TechCentral has many of the facilities of a computer lab, but it is more of a learning center in an open inviting environment than a computer lab. Lynce’s initial acquisition was a 3D printer, which was a mistake because they did not know what to do with it at first. After buying maker kits, audio synthesizers, and Lego sets for users to play with, TechCentral began to attract significant numbers of users. Cleveland’s first Maker Faire was held at the library, and it proved to be very popular. In the Faire’s second year, over 100 makers attended and the Faire filled two library buildings. Many people did not know they were makers! After that, TechCentral offered hands-on programming, opened an official maker space, and acquired a laser engraver, music instruments, and more 3D printers. They now have 15 staff members with a wide variety of experience, and users can “check out” a trainer for an hour to help them on any topic.
Here is the definition of a maker space from makerspace.com.
Notice that a makerspace is defined by what it enables, not its collection of tools. Makerspaces are learning environments with tools to facilitate learning and creating projects. Many of them have collections of instruction manuals for projects that users can create (see below)–quite different from convential reference collections!
Lynce showed slides describing some of the equipment useful to have in a makerspace and its costs. He discussed equipment for photography, music production, programming, wiring, 3D printing, a vinyl cutter, and a laser engraver. All of his slides are available on the conference website. It is important to note that it is not necessary to buy everything; in fact, much of it can be made or improvised. Here are some of Lynce’s comments on the equipment:
- Soldering kits are needed to create many of the projects, so those are not appropriate for young children. However, one of the most widely used pieces of equipment, the Arduino computer does not require a soldering kit.
- 3D printers do not, by themselves, give you a makerspace, but they open people’s eyes to the world of making.
- Extra-hold hair spray is very useful for fasteng models to the printer bed.
- The laser engraver is TechCentral’s most expensive machine; it took half of the maker space budget to buy. But it is the most used piece of equipment.
- It is important to make sure you have proper ventilation in your space because many of the machines use toxic chemicals or materials and create vapors from melting plastics.
- Library patrons aren’t the only ones making things; the staff does also! They make things for the library.
- Much of the equipment needed in a makerspace is easily transported, which allowed local TechCentral facilities to be established throughout the city.
Available space in branch libraries is used for maker spaces, particularly for projects involving programming. Most programming is free. TechCentral has no software budget and uses as many free resources as possible. Lynce recommends buying a case of laptops if possible. iPads are invaluable.
Here are some of the projects created by TechCentral users (see Lynce’s slides for details):
- Abstract art using pixlr.com (comparable to GIMP in many ways)
- Audacity for audio mixing
- Virtual jam session–garage band app
- Sticky Note speakers
- Tough wallet using a mailing envelope
- Duct tape wallet or purse (created by a user)
- Easy loom knitting
- Touchscreen compatible gloves for when it is cold outside (using conductive thread sewn into the finger)
- 3D Pet Monster (doesn’t require a 3D printer)
- 3D custom cookie cutters
- 3D papercraft (low-tech non-3D printing)–thinner cardboard is better
- Font making
- Codes & Cyphers (“007 Lab”)
- Camera Obscura (pinhole camera)
- Construction kits–Lego, K’nex, Erector Sets, etc.
- Homebrewing (up to the stage where the yeast was added and it became alcoholic)
- T-shirt making
Things to consider if you are considering launching a makerspace:
- Making is messy!
- It is noisy–when people are having fun, they get loud and share with others. Encourage this!
- You can make anywhere.
- Go out to as many community events as you can. Library attendance will surge after you do a program.
- Encourage critical thinking skills.