A Brief History of Makerspaces

Makerspaces & Libraries:

a Brief History & Rationale

Makerspaces of all types are growing at an exponential rate. As Davee, Regalla and Chang (2015) report, “Google Trends shows the search term “makerspace” has quadrupled in the past two years and is currently in its highest rate of growth in search frequency” (p. 2). In fact, according to the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition, “makerspaces are expected to be increasingly adopted by schools in one year’s time or less to make use of mobile learning and cultivate environments where students take ownership of their education by doing and creating” (p. 1). Therefore, with makerspaces emerging as a worldwide phenomenon, the following questions surface:

  • Where did this growing maker movement originate?
  • How did makerspaces arrive on the educational front?
  • How did makerspaces end up in school libraries?

Makerspaces: the Beginning

“The surge of interest in creating physical items with digital tools and Internet-shared plans and techniques is known as the maker movement” (Burke, 2014, p. 11).

A “brief” history of makerspace origins is not easily articulated, as there are a multitude of contributing factors to consider. Therefore, what follows is a condensed version of the history of the maker movement and how it has emerged on educational and library fronts.

The Maker Movement

As some would argue, making and makerspaces have always existed.  It is an inherent part of human nature to ideate, plan and create things with our hands and with tools. So how did this phenomenon called the “maker movement” begin? Burke (2014) explains that while certain aspects of the maker movement such as hobbyists, arts and crafts groups, shop classes, practical education and science fairs have existed for ages, it was the launch of Make: magazine  in 2005, and its published information about maker-related projects, that gave the maker movement its impetus (p. 11). It’s important to note that Make: magazine, according to Martinez and Stager (2013), “is the Gutenberg Bible of the burgeoning ‘maker’ community” (p. 27).

Anderson (2013) reports that a further catalyst for the growth and surge of the maker movement occurred when Make: magazine devised “maker faires”, as “a series of venues for makers to express themselves” and share their creations (as cited in Burke, 2014, p. 11). It was then that the “movement was born, at least as a collective concept” (Burke, 2014, p. 11). Since that time, we have seen makerspaces, maker faires and other maker communities emerge in a variety of venues worldwide.

One significant characteristic of the maker movement, which distinguishes it from previous versions of people simply making things, is the impact of community-building and the collaboration of people working to make things within a single space (Burke, 2014). As Peppler and Bender (2013), explain, “a hallmark of the maker movement is its do-it-yourself (or do-it-with-others) mindset that brings together individuals around a range of activities” (p.23).

MIT’s Fab Labs and Makerspaces

The makerspace also has its roots in the MIT’s Fab Labs. Neil Gershenfeld, of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, is an originator of the Fab Lab, which has had a significant influence on makerspaces (Burke, 2014). Fab Labs, are designed to fabricate things, and “consist of digital equipment for designing products and the digitally driven tools to create them” (Burke, 2014, p. 12). In their book, Invent to Learn, Martinez and Stager (2013), share some powerful stories about the learning environment and collaborative culture that emerged from Gershenfeld’s MIT course, “How to Make Almost Anything”.  These “Fab Lab” stories very much reflect the dynamic that occurs in today’s makerspaces.  There are now hundreds of fab labs throughout the world as the concept has gained popularity, “all of which operate with a common minimum equipment requirement and a shared mission” (Burke, 2014, p.12).

The Maker Movement and Education

The maker movement has now landed firmly on the steps of educational institutions and many schools are ushering it through their doors with open arms.

Sheridan et al. (2014) report that “makerspaces and the collaborative design and making activities they support have generated interest in diverse educational realms” (p. 506).  For example, many museums, libraries, and schools have firmly embraced makerspaces and maker learning as a part of their educational programming.  One driver of this increased interest in makerspaces within the U.S. was President Obama’s (2009) “Educate to Innovate” campaign, in which he promoted the value of making experiences: “I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent—to be makers of things, not just consumers of things” (as cited in Sheridan et al, 2014, p. 506). Subsequently, the White House hosted its first Maker Faire in June 2014, after which followed the commitments of numerous large companies to support community based making activities (Bevan, Gutwill, Petrich & Wilkinson, 2014).

Harvard’s Agency by Design (2015) asserts that the growing maker movement within communities, libraries, churches and schools is due to the many advocates promoting its value, in addition to the hundreds of magazine and journal articles and books that have been published which champion the movement.  Agency by Design’s (2015) whitepaper on Maker-Centered Learning summarizes the current nature of the “maker front” in schools:

The educational sector is taking note as well. Schools are building out or repurposing spaces for maker-centered activities. Shop classes that were once de-commissioned and cut from curricula are being rebranded as makerspaces and tinkering labs. Tech Ed positions are replacing Ed Techs, as schools move to embed technology teachers into their programs. Across the country educators, policy-makers, and researchers alike are beginning to investigate the tools, tricks, and trends of the maker trade (p. 1).

Makerspaces are beginning to seed and take root within the educational soil of many institutions. Only time will reveal the kind of growth that they will experience in the future.

The Maker Movement and Libraries

Some contend that the maker movement is nothing new on the library’s horizon.  For example, in 2013, American Libraries Magazine published a short, “History of Making” timeline.   This timeline begins with making activities situated in the Gowanda Free Library (N.Y.) in 1873 such as quilting, knitting and sewing. It ends with the opening of the 21st Century’s first makerspace in the Fayetteville (N.Y.) Free Library in 2011. Loertscher, Preddy & Derry (2013) assert that “making has always been a part of any vibrant library program; it is just now blossoming into a major movement utilizing much more technology, tools, and advanced resources in a variety of ways unlike ever before” (p. 48).

There are numerous reasons and rationales for why public and school libraries have become a natural placement for makerspaces.  One of the most compelling comes from Fleming (2015) who states, “The library has long been an engine for the democratization of knowledge and information, but we have to recognize today that a library’s role is no longer simply about providing access to information.  Libraries are open access by nature, and makerspaces can take advantage of such openness to create opportunities for partnership, collaboration, and creation for all” (p. 42). Abram (2015) argues that school library makerspaces can help to diversify the library’s offerings and resources to support a greater range of learning styles. According to Abram (2015), “Maker strategies support those who may be great learners but may not be the greatest readers unless they find the right motivation to read.  Maker activities can support their learning preferences and talents while giving them a motive to research and read—in print and online” (p. 3).  There is also the argument that makerspaces can be a means of “future-proofing” libraries to ensure that the library evolves along with advances in technology and changes in client or student needs (Slatter & Howard, 2013; Moorefield-Lang, 2015).

Teenagers and children can benefit from expanded experiences and resources within the library.  According to YALSA (2014), library makerspaces and making experiences can help to provide the following benefits for students: bridge the growing gap in the digital and knowledge divide; motivate teens to learn; provide needed training for the workforce and connect teens with community members and agencies.  Finally and perhaps most significantly, school library makerspaces closely align with the Canadian Library Association’s (CLA) new Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada. Of the CLA’s five core standards of practice, makerspaces closely align with three of these standards that seek to address the many complexities of 21st Century Canadian education.

Works Cited

Abram, S. (2015, January-February). Real makerspaces in school libraries. Internet@Schools22(1), 10+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com.cyber.usask.ca/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA398074020&v=2.1&u=usaskmain&it=r&p=CPI&sw=w&asid=ea3b90858b251012cdbb8193031d055b

Agency by Design. “Maker-Centered Learning and the Development of Self: Preliminary Findings of the Agency by Design Project.” Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Graduate School of Education, January 2015. Retrieved from http://www.agencybydesign.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Maker-Centered-Learning-and-the-Development-of-Self_AbD_Jan-2015.pdf

American Library Association. (2013). Manufacturing Makerspaces. American Libraries, 44 (1/2). Retrieved from http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2013/02/06/manufacturing-makerspaces/

Bevan, B., Gutwill, J. P., Petrich, M., & Wilkinson, K. (2015). Learning through STEM-rich tinkering: Findings from a jointly negotiated research project taken up in practice. Science Education, 99(1), 98-120. doi:10.1002/sce.21151

Canadian Library Association. (2014). Leading Learning: standards of practice for school library learning commons in Canada 2014. Retrieved from http://clatoolbox.ca/casl/slic/llsop.pdf

Davee, S., Regalla, L., & Chang, S. (2015). Makerspaces highlights of select literature. Retrieved from http://makered.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Makerspace-Lit-Review-5B.pdf

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2015-nmc-horizon-report-k12-EN.pdf

Loertscher, D. V., Preddy, L., & Derry, B. (2013). Makerspaces in the school library learning commons and the uTEC maker model. Teacher Librarian, 41(2), 48-51. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/utecmakermodel/

Martinez, S. L., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom. Torrance, CA: Constructing modern knowledge press

Moorefield-Lang, H. M. (2015). Change in the making: Makerspaces and the ever- changing landscape of libraries. Techtrends, 59(3), 107-112. doi:10.1007/s11528-015-0860-z

Peppler, K., & Bender, S.. (2013). Maker movement spreads innovation one project at a time. The Phi Delta Kappan95(3), 22–27. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23611809

Sheridan, K., Halverson, E. R., Litts, B., Brahms, L., Jacobs-Priebe, L., & Owens, T. (2014). Learning in the making: A comparative case study of three makerspaces. Harvard Educational Review, 84(4), 505-531. doi:10.17763/haer.84.4.brr34733723j648u

Slatter, D., & Howard, Z. (2013). A place to make, hack, and learn: Makerspaces in   Australian public libraries. Australian Library Journal, 62(4), 272-284. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1627660135?accountid=14739

Young Adult Library Services Association. (2014). “Making in the Library Toolkit: Makerspaces Resource Taskforce”. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/yalsa/sites/ala.org.yalsa/files/content/MakingintheLibraryToolkit2014.pdf