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Community: Engagement, Partnership, and Impact

Sue Considine

Sue Considine

Sue Considine, Executive Director of the Fayetteville Free Library (FFL), returned to CIL after her very successful presentation last year on the Fayetteville Fab Lab. FFL’s Fab Lab now includes Digital Creation, and Little Makers labs in addition to the original Fab Lab. Sue said that the power of fabrication is social, not technical.  It brings people together. Engagement in making  is community building; people come to the library to access technology that they can’t access anywhere else.

The FFL conducted Saturday classes on making; hundreds of people came from the area and beyond. Volunteers came forward to help.  Many talented people are in the community; FFL invited them to participate using a volunteer application form (adapted from The Abundant Community, by John McKnight and Peter Block). They invited people to come with their own ideas and opened the library to them. The form asks what they love to do and what they are passionate about.  Because of the volunteers the library can offer more classes at a fraction of the cost of hiring lecturers.  They have reduced their budget by 43% over the last few years. Many of the skills have led to successes in the workforce.

Hundreds of classes are led by volunteers. None of this would have been possible without the library. Here are some of the programs that have been offered:

Community Programs

Case studies of programs:

  • Sewing: There was no access to sewing machines in the community unless someone owned one. The FFL put announcements of its sewing program in the restroom stalls that was extremely successful. Impacts: dozens of lessons were held using donated fabric; over 800 people have attended so far; items made were donated to local charities; new mothers in need were helped.
  • Lego Robotics: Community members suggested this program because there was no FIRST Lego League in the community, so volunteers set one up.  Over 30 families came to the first meeting; they have hosted 4 teams every year. Impacts: students worked together and made new friends, developed innovative solutions, and were not afraid to fail. Hundreds of students have deepened their knowledge of 21st century social skills. Where should this occur?  In libraries! We are already in every community; the answer lies with us.
  • Geek Girl Camp: An immersion informal STEM learning opportunity for girls in grades 3-5.  There were none of these in the community for this age group, which is when children begin making judgments about which career fields are of interest to them. There is generally lack of a clear pathway for girls in STEM fields.  The camp seeks to meet these needs locally. The library invited women guest speakers who work in the STEM fields to come every day. Impacts: They asked the girls what they wanted to be when they grew up; many of them expressed interests in STEM fields.  The retention rate from previous camps was about 75%; they are now setting up a similar camp for boys.

The FFL Fab Lab has launched online certification programs,so people can get certified from home to use the equipment. Over 4,000 certifications on 3D printers have been, and over 10,000 hours of print time have been logged.

Making in the community contributes to discovery, entrepreneurship, and invention and leads to skills useful in 21st century workplaces. Local small businesses use the Fab Lab to prototype their products, print models of new products, and develop their business. The lab is a catalyst for inventive entrepreneurship. These relationships benefit the library as well as the community; some tools that have been developed could assist with maintenance of equipment.

Tours are hosted on a regular basis. They lead to new products and help other libraries develop makerspaces in their libraries. What can collaborations and partnerships look like to your community? Making has to start with the community; you must have a deep understanding of their talents, strengths, what problems they are seeking to solve, and aspirations.   It is not about the tools!

Partnerships: The Lab had to assemble an early 3D printer so they looked to the community to help. The library can take ideas and make them into programs for the community.  Once they had a 3D printer, supporting modeling software and CAD design was the next step.  Here are some results of the library’s partnering activities:

  • A local company donated a license to Solidworks, offers group classes on the software in the library. A wide audience from young children to seniors are now using CAD in the library.
  • Webucator gave free access to its self-guided courses on popular software platforms to library users.  Now they have a Library Partner Program which allows any library to distribute Webucator licenses.  This is a win-win; the library gets to use the software, and Webucator expands their reach to the local community.
  • The FFL helped Brodart get in touch with 21st century needs of the community and encouraged the company to turn to them.

Library makerspaces are an entry point into making; for profit makerspaces are about production. These are ways to develop mutually beneficial relationships to move your makerspace forward.

Making has let people use the library in new and groundbreaking ways and caused young people to get excited about STEM topics.  FFL developed an assessment tool to measure outcomes. They don’t develop new things because they are trendy or because they think they should.  They assess what the community wants and understand what’s working and most important, what’s not.before investing funds to develop programs.

Every new idea begins by identifying intended outcomes first. This is required for every new idea and helps focus individual thinking: What do we hope to accomplish? How much will it cost? What has to change? Time every month is scheduled to think together and plan all new services.  This prevents the “buy in” process, so be proactive and schedule the time. Try things to achieve a result, not because they are interesting and “cool”.

Don Hawkins

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