This past August I finished my second master’s degree. For me, it was not a job requirement as an academic librarian (at least in my current position), but for professional development. I had the opportunity to receive my master’s degree in adult and professional education from my employer, tuition-free.
When it came time to do my capstone project I decided to study makerspaces. I manage not a makerspace, but a 3D printing service at my library. For this project, I interviewed three staff members at a liberal arts college on their experiences with a makerspace.
Here’s the TL;DR:
Workload remains the key factor in smaller academic libraries, with one employee often shouldering much of the makerspace work. Training is self-directed. Organizational and teaching abilities are considered the most important skill set. Workload equity and hiring additional staff will foster sustainability of the makerspace.
Below is my full report.
As academic libraries transition from repositories of materials to collaborative spaces for learning, investigating niche services will be key. One such service is a makerspace – a place to tinker with technology and explore arts and crafts. This study investigates makerspace impact on library staff at one academic library at a small liberal arts college. In interviews with staff, the conversation focuses on: 1) defining a makerspace, 2) workload, 3) skills and training, and 4) makerspace success. Bolman and Deal’s (2013) four frame leadership model is used as a framework to analyze employees’ views and foster sustainability of the makerspace.
Adapting to cultural and technological changes, libraries now position themselves as community centers, offering an array of educational programs and services. One recent trend has been the adoption of the “maker movement” by libraries. This movement focuses on the do-it-yourself learner, from hobbyists to entrepreneurs, who tinker with new technology such as 3D printing and Raspberry Pi, or traditional items such as crafting supplies and sewing machines, to collaborate with members in their community, university, or school (American Library Association, 2017). Libraries, long noted as a locus for self-directed learning, are a natural fit for a “makerspace” – a place to make “things” (American Library Association, 2015).
My interest in this topic stems from my academic library’s addition of a 3D printer. At the present time, library staff process 3D printing requests for clients. No hands-on learning occurs with students and faculty. We offer no training or workshops. Anecdotal feedback from our 3D printing clients, combined with results of student survey that my library conducted last year, indicate that there is a growing interest in training and education in 3D printing and other maker movement topics.
Statement of the Problem
As the makerspace trend proliferates in libraries, library staff will encounter shifting job duties and new skills that need developing. As an academic librarian, I am interested in answering the question: In what ways do makerspaces affect academic library staff?
Makerspaces, also commonly known as hackerpaces, makerlabs, or fablabs trace their origins to the 1990s when educators began outreach to community members interested in creating or tinkering with materials; the concept took popular hold beginning in the mid to late 2000s (EDUCAUSE, 2013; Mandavilli, 2006). Although no official directory of library makerspaces exists, MakerBridge maintains a self-reporting directory. This online site lists nearly 100 library makerspaces in the United States, including over twenty at academic libraries (School of Information, University of Michigan, 2017). Based on my own professional observations through social media and peer networking at library conferences, the number is likely underreported. This, coupled with the trending rise in library makerspaces necessitates the need for more research. As an emerging topic, current research focuses primarily on the implementation process of library makerspaces–best practices and lessons learned (e.g., Fourie & Meyer, 2015).
Minimal research has been directed toward staff feedback on library makerspaces. The research that does exist usually features brief snippets of interviews with library staff. Koh and Abbas (2015) looked at skills needed by library and museum staff to manage makerspaces. Filar Williams and Folkman (2017) found a need for more staff training in their home state of North Carolina. Moorefield (2015) discovered that staffing models are a concern among some library staff. Interestingly, the research lacks much input from library administrators. This is surprising since one could surmise that large-scale projects like a makerspace do not move forward at a library without the approval of senior administration. From the research, it is obvious that much time is spent in the planning stage, but there is little focus on library staff, post-implementation.
For makerspaces to transition from a trend to a core library service, gathering library staff response to makerspaces — the people who plan, administer, fund, and teach with library makerspaces — will be key. By going deep, this qualitative case study focuses on the staff of one academic library, adding a rich and detailed framework of library staff and library administrators’ experiences with makerspaces. This research benefits academic library staff and administrators in any stage of working with makerspaces, from initial planning to those with successful makerspaces. In today’s budget-conscious climate, it is hoped that findings gained from this study can assist academic libraries in positioning staff and resources for a successful makerspace.
Purpose Statement and Research Questions
The purpose of this study is to describe academic library staff response to a makerspace, post-implementation. The study’s central research question is: In what ways are academic library staff affected by a makerspace? From this, I have developed four sub-questions:
- In what ways are staff trained for a makerspace?
- What competencies/skills do staff need to manage makerspaces?
- In what ways have the job duties of staff changed since a makerspace was added to their library?
- What criteria do staff use to define success for a makerspace?
Makerspace staffing, equipment, and programming vary from library to library. Common resources in makerspaces include 3D printing, crafting and art supplies, toys (e.g., Lego blocks), technology (e.g., laser cutter), and mechanical equipment (e.g., sewing machine). Some libraries, like my own academic library, have elements of a makerspace (e.g., 3D printing) but offer no educational programming or collaborative opportunities. These educational activities form the backbone of a true makerspace. Thus, it is important to start with a working definition. EDUCAUSE, the higher education information technology association, offers this definition of a makerspace:
…a physical location where people gather to share resources and knowledge, work on projects, network, and build. Makerspaces provide tools and space in a community environment–a library, community center, private organization, or campus. Expert advisors may be available some of the time, but often novices get help from other users. The makerspace–sometimes referred to as a hackerspace–is often associated with fields such as engineering, computer science, and graphic design (2013).
Since an examination of staffing in an academic library makerspace forms the key component of this study, defining various terms associated with this is important. For the purpose of this study, these definitions will be used:
- Academic library: As defined by the National Center for Education Statistics (n.d.), “An academic library is the library associated with a degree-granting institution of higher education.” This could include community colleges, technical schools, and colleges and universities from the bachelor’s degree through doctoral levels.
- Academic library staff: I define this as any employee of an academic library.
- Professional librarians: Commonly referred to as a librarian. I define this as an academic library employee that holds a master’s degree in library/information science. A professional librarian may or may not be in a supervisory capacity.
- Support staff: I define this as an academic library employee who commonly holds a high school diploma or bachelor’s degree in any field, and commonly hold titles such as library clerk, library technician, or library assistant.
- Library administrators: Usually of a subset of professional librarians. I define library administrator as the executive in charge of an academic library. This person often holds the title of library director or library dean.
Theoretical Framework: The Bolman & Deal Model
Makerspaces elicit images of 3D printing and crafting. However, at their essence, makerspaces are about people–from end users to staff. This research primarily investigates the views of academic library staff that work in makerspaces. As such, using a framework that analyzes the complexity of an organization is vital to understanding these employees’ perspectives. Bolman and Deal (2013) developed a four-frame leadership model to classify organizations. Each frame is a “coherent set of ideas or beliefs forming a prism or lens that enables you to see and understand more clearly what goes on from day to day” (p. 41). These four frames include:
- Structural frame: Organizations maintain clearly defined roles, relationships, policies, and goals. Efficiency and productivity may be achieved through the appropriate division of labor. Its image of leadership is social architecture. A factory is a metaphor for the structural frame.
- Human Resource frame: Organizations exist to serve people’s needs, not the other way around. Employee “fit” is mutually beneficially for both the individual and the organization. Its image of leadership is empowerment. The family is a metaphor for the human resource frame.
- Political frame: Organizations consist of collections of individuals and interest groups who hold different views and values. Power comes into play because resources, often minimal, must be allocated–a difficult task. Its image of leadership is advocacy. A jungle is a metaphor for the political frame.
- Symbolic frame: Organizations tell a story through myths, rituals, and beliefs. This forms the culture of the organization. This culture can help employees work together. Its image of leadership is inspiration. A carnival, temple, or theater can be a metaphor for the symbolic frame.
Bolman and Deal point out that to be effective in your organization, you must use “multiframe thinking” (p. 18). Each frame presents ideas and assumptions–essentially a roadmap to make the job easier. However, one frame is not better than other. Effective employees should be able to move between the frames. In referencing Gottschall (2012), Bolman and Deal write:
Each frame tells a different story…but no single story is comprehensive enough to make an organization fully understandable or manageable. Effective managers need frames to generate multiple stories, the skill to sort through the alternatives, and the wisdom to match the right story to the situation (p. 20-21).
By interviewing multiple staff at one site, I hope to see how their “stories” impact the makerspace within their organization.
Research on makerspaces, particularly focusing on academic libraries is still fairly new. However, it is worth noting that makerspace research on public and K-12 libraries is still applicable to academic libraries because the educational, creative, and collaborative elements remain the same.
Library Space Utilization
Because makerspaces are often the result of re-purposing of library space, there is a large body of research on the changing nature of libraries and space utilization, in general. Colegrove (2013) argues that the transition from print materials to electronic materials leaves libraries with a unique issue: potential open space in the building. With this prime real estate, the author recommends that library staff be proactive in approaching their parent institutions in repurposing space into an inviting and collaborative space lest it be reclaimed or its use dictated by the parent institution. Robinson (2009) emphasizes that for a makerspace to work it must be tied to the needs of the library’s community. This approach will help library staff visualize the makerspace in a positive light. For academic libraries, Bieraugel & Neill (2017) examine student learning behaviors in both library and non-library spaces at a large undergraduate university. They found that a makerspace encouraged the most innovation and creativity among students. Academic libraries, often a central hub for campus, looking at fostering this type of learning may want to adapt spaces such as a makerspace for their library.
Makerspaces and Learning
Although my study focuses on the library staff side of makerspaces, it is important to bring in research on the educational aspects of makerspaces because this affects the training and skills of the library staff, and the makerspace programs offered by the library. Kurti, Kurti, and Fleming (2014) in their research with K-12 school makerspaces emphasize that makerspaces promote deeper learning among students due to the collaborative and exploratory nature. This allows for students to own their learning. Sheridan et al. (2014) in a collective case study investigate how people learn from makerspaces. The authors found that the interdisciplinarity of makerspaces foster creativity and allow people to navigate through different learning approaches. In another study, Halverson & Sheridan (2014) discuss the overall role of education in the maker movement, providing a good theoretical background tied to themes such as informal learning, progressive education, and constructionism. Interestingly, the authors question if the institutionalization of makerspaces will threaten their creativity and note the libraries are likely the best avenue for keeping makerspaces democratized.
Best practices and a “how we did it” approach forms the largest component of library makerspace research. Oliver (2016), focusing on K-12 makerspaces, provided recommendations on makerspace design and set-up, equipment needed, strategies for engaging students, and teaching strategies. Likewise, Fontichiaro (2016), also focusing on the K-12 community, argues that long-term success of makerspaces depends on a three-pronged sustainable model focused on funding, supplies, and staffing. Similarly, Herron and Kaneshiro (2017) detail a systematic process for setting up a makerspace in an academic health sciences library, while Pryor (2014) developed a list of policies and procedures for setting up a 3D printing service in an academic library. Transitioning to public libraries, Lille (2016) developed a list of indicators for success in makerspaces, focusing on increasing participants’ use of new technologies, the number of makerspace events offered, providing participants with access to new technology, and measuring the self-confidence of participants.
Research on staffing, training and skills needed for library makerspaces is particularly important since this project focuses on staff aspects. In an investigation of 3D printing in a public library, Finley (2016) notes the importance of cross-training staff so that library users are not left waiting for the “expert” to show up. Staff training and delineation in duties will become more common themes as the makerspace trend increases. Research on Australian public library makerspaces by Slatter and Howard (2013) found that for makerspaces to succeed, library staff buy-in is key and must be coupled with professional development opportunities for staff working with makerspaces. This finding highlights the fact that, although ultimately a library exists to support its community, services must have strong staff support. Likewise, Moorefield-Lang (2014) in a collective case study found that most library staff have to seek their own training, as little support is given. Koh and Abbas (2015) developed a list of core competencies and skills needed by library or museum staff who work in makerspaces, while Filar Williams and Folkman (2017) developed a series of in-person and virtual makerspace training sessions in North Carolina. Originally envisioned for library science graduates students, it was quickly expanded to library staff of all types due to demand. The need for training may be impacted by staffing. Moorefield-Lang (2015) conducted interviews with librarians that manage makerspaces and noted that staffing models are a concern. Some libraries have started too big and had to scale back, while others have had to cut services because they do not have enough staff. Researching on staffing helped to form questions used in this study.
Methodology and Design
This capstone project employs a qualitative method using a case study as the research design. A case study was chosen because it allows the researcher to provide rich and detailed information, something that the current literature lacks. By deeply researching one case, I hope to transform my own professional practice. Merriam (1998) explains that:
A case study design is employed to gain an in-depth understanding of the situation and meaning for those involved. The interest is in the process rather than the outcomes, in context rather than a specific variable, in discovery, rather than confirmation. (p. 19)
This case study focuses on one academic library staff’s experiences in working with a makerspace. A purposeful sampling technique was utilized. While attending a professional librarians’ conference in spring 2017, I recruited staff at a small liberal arts college library in the midwestern United States. After permission was granted to interview staff, I visited the site in summer 2017 for a tour and conducted semi-structured interviews with: 1) the professional librarian who manages the makerspace, 2) a support staff member who is an instructional technologist that assists with training in the makerspace, and 3) the director of the academic library. By interviewing three categories of employees, I hoped to uncover any differences in philosophy. Each interview was conducted separately and ranged from 30 minutes to one hour.
Data Gathering and Analysis
Data from the interviews was gathered using a laptop voice recording application, supplemented with handwritten notes. In addition to this, I took photos of the interview site to aid in the description while writing. Audio from the interviews was transcribed using word processing software. I then coded the data by hand since my interview pool was small. This project was exempt from Institutional Review Board approval. However, to protect my interview subjects and to allow for them to talk freely without any potential workplace repercussions, I have assigned pseudonyms to the participants and to the interview site.
Description of the Site and Interview Subjects
Prairie Banks University (PBU) is a small liberal arts college located in the midwestern United States. With an enrollment of 1,500 full-time equivalent students, PBU is categorized as a Carnegie baccalaureate college with an arts and science focus, and as such, it remains a traditional undergraduate residential university. Like a lot of midwestern college towns, the community that PBU is located in is a mix of traditional manufacturing and service jobs. Owing to PBU’s proximity to the downtown area, the community gives off a college town vibe. The campus has the classic liberal arts college admissions brochure look – green grass, leafy trees, and a few stately buildings mixed in with newer facilities. The faculty to student ratio is low. Throughout the academic year, in additional to regular-length courses, students request “tutorials” for credit — essentially mini-classes — on various topics. Some of these tutorials are taught by professional librarians at PBU, who are considered part of the teaching faculty.
The staff at the PBU library includes the library director – the senior administrator in charge of the library, assisted by a staff of 14: seven professional librarians and seven support staff members divided into traditional academic library functions such as reference, information literacy, archives, technical services, and technology. For this study, three employees were interviewed:
Leanne. A professional librarian, Leanne, manages the library’s makerspace and is the primary point person for teaching and support with the makerspace. She was part of the grant team that brought the makerspace to the library. Employed at PBU for 11 years, her other library duties include reference and research assistance, teaching information literacy sessions, library media services, library website administration, social media marketing, and emerging technologies projects.
Norris. A support staff member, Norris, works as an instructional technologist. Employed at PBU for 11 years, his primary responsibility is to assist faculty with incorporating technology into their teaching. Norris was involved with the grant that brought the makerspace to the library. He devotes time as a makerspace trainer. Norris reports to the director of instructional technology.
Ken. The library director, Ken, has worked at PBU for 27 years. He is Leanne’s direct supervisor. Although personally interested in makerspaces, his management style is fairly hands-off. His primary goal is to support the makerspace with staff and funding, not day to day operations.
Makerspace Visit and Overview
The current library at PBU opened in the 1970s. A squat-looking building located in the center of campus, the main entrance is located down a sidewalk that runs perpendicular to the main thoroughfare through campus. Walking into the library, visitors enter onto the main floor. The circulation desk sits immediately to the left with the reference desk over to the right. The main floor includes a substantial reference collection, a large collection of music scores, various reading rooms, and staff offices. The library includes four upper levels with a mix of book collections, periodicals, study areas, and offices. In addition, the library houses the university’s information technology and instructional technology departments.
I entered the library early for my appointment with staff with the plan to look around on my own. Upon entry, I looked for signage or wayfinding directing me to the makerspace, but did not notice any. However, Leanne quickly spotted me and came over to welcome me. She then directed me back to the makerspace, tucked away in a corner behind a large imposing wall. An open seating area outside the makerspace welcomes visitors with promotional materials and samples of prints and objects from the makerspace. Card swipe access to the makerspace allows students and faculty who have received makerspace training to access the room any time the library is open.
The makerspace room occupies the library’s former media services unit, which consisted of two offices. When the offices were transformed into a makerspace, a wall was removed to enlarge the space into one room. Counterspace along the walls house various makerspace equipment: PCs for 3D design, two 3D printers, two 3D scanners, an electronic cutter, a sewing machine, a painting and collage station, and a coloring station (e.g., coloring books). Instructions and procedures for using the equipment dot the walls. Supplies are readily available, including 3D printer filament, crafting and art supplies, and tools such as pliers, files for sanding, a hot glue gun, and tape measures.
Primarily operating on a self-service model, the makerspace room remains unstaffed. Students, faculty, and staff wanting to use the makerspace must first make an appointment for a training session conducted by the Leanne, the makerspace librarian; Norris, the instructional technologist; or a student trainer. After completing the training session, users can make an appointment for the equipment in the makerspace. Trained users are given card swipe access to the room. Students, faculty, and staff using the makerspace are asked to record their jobs and any technical issues in a usage log, which Leanne tracks. Troubleshooting is primarily self-mediated by the user through the use of support manuals and instructional directions posted in the room. Leanne also developed an extensive online help guide to direct users. However, both Leanne and Norris readily make themselves available to assist with projects or troubleshooting that require more advanced effort.
The origins of the library’s makerspace date back to when PBU opted to leave a media services staff position vacant following a retirement. The library, left with an unused space in its media services unit, decided to transform it into a hands-on collaborative learning space. Leanne, Norris, and a professor worked to formulate grants to bring a makerspace to the campus that would be open to all university constituents. At the time, one department on campus had makerspace elements (e.g., 3D printing) but usage was limited to students and faculty in that department. The library makerspace would be a central hub for for creativity and collaboration for the entire campus. Initially, the makerspace team sought an internal grant for funding. After that failed, the team successfully applied for and received an external grant of approximately $25,000 to cover makerspace setup, technology and equipment, supplies, and training. The makerspace debuted in Fall 2015.
Analysis of the Themes
What is a Makerspace? Because the makerspace model can vary from library to library, I opened my conversations with PBU library staff by asking each of them to describe what a makerspace means to them. Perhaps not surprisingly, Ken – as the library director and senior administrator – with his strategic planning responsibilities took a big picture approach:
A makerspace is a model for what the library should be, because I think the whole library is essentially a makerspace. We make things in different ways. I talk about the library being less a warehouse than a laboratory, less a grocery store than a kitchen. It’s a place where we go to make things–where we put things together to make other things…The makerspace is doing this in a more tangible, physical way that libraries have traditionally not done. It’s a way for us to think about how libraries ought to work–so it’s a testbed.
Ken’s response hits at the rapid changes that academic libraries have been facing–the shift from print materials to digital and the centering of the academic library as a collaborative place for students and faculty.
Leanne, perhaps because she is the professional librarian focused on the day to day aspects of the makerspace, emphasized the traditional aspects of a makerspace–namely hands-on learning and creativity. She responded, “I think of it as a place for creating things, not just consuming.” This view, again, reflects the changing nature of the academic library from a place where people use or access materials into a place where people create materials. She went on to say:
The idea for our space was for people to be able to apply what they are learning into something hands-on and creative, because I know that no matter what your major is, there will always be creative people who want to do more than just read and write papers.
Ken echoed Leanne’s comments about this shift in academic work, stating, “Here on campus we’re hearing less about papers and more about presentations, posters, and projects.” For their makerspace, the staff see it as an extension and outlet for these collaborative types of activities.
Norris, meanwhile, placed himself squarely within the maker movement, explaining that having studied fine arts and art education, that he has always been drawn into creative work. He sees the makerspace as an outlet that combines student creativity with a student need. Norris said, “I’ve had art students, biology students, or chemistry students come in because they have an idea they want to manifest–and the makerspace really supports those endeavors.” He offered this story:
We’ve actually had students – men – who never had a home ec class in their lives, ask if they could learn how to sew [in the makerspace]. They had an idea that they could express themselves in some sort of fabric…that’s what I see as a makerspace.
The views of the PBU library staff reflect the varied viewpoints of professionals in the makerspace community. At its base level, the makerspace is a creative outlet for learning, but at a higher-level, the makerspace model could help inform library-wide practices.
Workload. As makerspaces are added to libraries, monitoring staff workload for equity, analyzing shifting job duties, or identifying cases where a pitch for additional staff could be made, will be important. Workload and staffing formed much of the conversation with the PBU library staff. Leanne, as the professional librarian in charge of the makerspace, shoulders most of the responsibility. Readily admitting that she didn’t necessarily want so many responsibilities, Leanne explained that the makerspace duties fell to her because she was one of the instrumental people on campus pushing for it. In addition, the space that it would occupy — Media Services – fell under her purview.
She has had limited success in getting other staff or students involved. Leanne trained other library staff members but found a lack of support: “they don’t seem interested in taking on additional makerspace responsibilities.” A student group, the Maker Club, functions as another outlet for possible support. Leanne envisioned using a train-the-trainer approach with the students so they could assist her with clients, but the group demonstrated a lack of follow-through and ownership. At the same time, makerspace usage continues to increase. Since it opened, nine courses have used the makerspace for projects. Those nine courses account for over 120 students, all who need to be trained by Leanne, Norris, or a student worker. Although, they often try to group students together for training, these sessions consume a substantial amount of work time. Besides the makerspace, Leanne juggles other duties as a professional librarian:
I do reference. So I’m at the reference desk a couple hours every day. I help with research appointments and classroom instruction [information literacy sessions]…Then I’m also responsible for the library website. When we changed our library catalog over [to a new system], I was responsible for getting that set up and running. We try to have a pretty robust social media presence at the library. The library administrative assistant and I team up on that…I’m also supposed to be on the lookout for emerging technologies. But then this media services stuff became a part of what I do, and then the makerspace. The librarians are considered faculty, so I’ve done tutorials [mini-courses that students take for credit]–so that take up a lot of time.
She remains fairly matter-of-fact about the workload: “I’m open to having others work in [the makerspace] and take on additional responsibilities, but you know how it is in libraries. We often have too many responsibilities as it is.” The amount of work time Leanne needs to set aside for the makerspace can vary, depending on the cyclical nature of the academic year. At some points during the academic calendar, the makerspace accounts for about 40 percent of her work time. During low periods, the amount falls to around 20 percent.
Leanne is clearly dedicated to her growing list of responsibilities and responsive to student and faculty needs. She accomplishes it with cheerfulness, aplomb, and little complaint. However, Ken, the library director and Leanne’s supervisor, recognizes that he may need to make changes, commenting:
Most of the makerspace is falling on [Leanne’s] shoulders…it’s brutal for her to try to do her own job…and all the other stuff we expect…I think we’ll need additional staff. I’m hoping [Leanne] can survive long enough until we get to the point where we can make a strong enough case for hiring somebody else.
For his own part, Ken is fairly hands-off with the makerspace, stating:
I thought I would be more involved because I’m interested in this kind of stuff. I love tinkering with machines, but it just hasn’t panned out. I try to be as supportive as I can in terms of both people time and money…Mostly I’m supportive of people doing good work.
Meanwhile, Norris, as the instructional technologist works primarily with faculty to incorporate technology into their teaching. He is called in to assist with makerspace training sessions. Norris volunteered himself for the additional duties as he has a personal interest in applications such as 3D printing and joined the team, with Leanne, to write the grant. Makerspace duties were officially written into his job description when he oversaw the space while Leanne was on maternity leave. Since the makerspace opened he has seen some of his duties shift from faculty support to student support. However, Norris sees faculty and student support in a symbiotic relationship:
[The makerspace] is a little outside the realm of supporting faculty’s use–but not really–in that a lot of the equipment is new to a majority of faculty. I am able to circulate and talk it up and approach them to get them thinking of sending their students over here for an assignment or some sort of project. [Faculty] want to know how this stuff works and have their students be supported in this work. So I’m enjoying the opportunity to work with more [students] in different ways.
By supporting students, Norris is supporting faculty with their assignments and curriculum that involve the makerspace.
Skills & Training. Because the makespace was a new addition to the library, investigating how the PBU library staff went about educating themselves and developing a new skill set directly impacts makerspace success and sustainability. Thinking strategically, Leanne and the grant team wrote professional development as part of the grant. This allowed the team to bring in a consultant to teach Leanne and Norris about makerspace equipment and set up. In addition, a highly regarded guest speaker came to talk about higher education and maker pedagogy. In terms of learning, Leanne prefers a mix of auditory and kinesthetic styles of learning:
I do really well with the traditional method of just listening to someone talk and me taking notes, but I do find hands-on to be extremely helpful as well. Honestly, I don’t have much experience with formal learning of equipment. I have always just tinkered around to figure that stuff out.
For Norris, his eyes lit up when describing a trip he took to California to visit one of the United States’ first maker fairs. Through this professional development experience he was able to “get a better sense of who these makers are and what their motivation is. [I] was really blown away by the extent that people are using their hands and intellect to create anything.” Like Leanne, Norris describes himself as a self-directed learner. He talked about problem-solving using online discussion forums for the makerspace equipment. However, in learning about makerspaces, Norris also captured two essential elements: “I’m more of a trial and error person–where I made a lot of mistakes [with 3D printing].” This trial and error approach sits fully within the realm of using a makerspace to explore and create something. In addition, he relayed a story about how he was continually unsuccessful with a 3D print until a group of students stepped in with a suggestion that solved his problem. This demonstrates the collaborative aspect of makerspaces and the concept that all participants can be both teachers and learners.
On the subject of skills needed to manage makerspaces, Leanne, Norris, and Ken all emphasized the organizational aspects. Leanne discussed spending a significant amount of time on organizational or administrative tasks such as developing documentation and the makerspace’s online support guide. However, above all else, she spoke about adaptability:
One of the things I’ve found is to be ok with not knowing how to do something. Just be ok with trying to figure it out either by digging in and taking something apart and putting it back together, or looking through documentation and forums online.
All three touched upon the theme of teaching. Leanne mentioned that the job is more about teaching than troubleshooting, while both Norris and Ken said the job required good teachers. Norris stated, “The best teachers are those that are excited about the subject matter, so that would be a value.” Likewise, both Norris and Ken identified patience as a skill, with Ken commenting: “You have to be willing to be patient to help other people use something for the first time. [The makerspace] has a lot of moving parts and isn’t something that [clients] necessarily learned growing up.” Ken also recommended that as a general rule, library staff that manage makerspaces, should have the skill set as identified by research conducted by Koh & Abbas (2015) that includes management, program development, grant writing/fundraising, technological literacy, and learning facilitation.
Makerspace Success. How do you know if your makerspace is successful? Leanne, Norris, and Ken rely primarily on usage statistics. Leanne requires students to record their projects on usage logs and she uses the data to determine if students were successful. If not, she or Norris can intervene with the students and provide assistance. Likewise, Ken, as the library director, pays attention to numbers and uses them for his current metrics: how many items are printed, how many items are made, number of class visits. He readily admits that the staff will need to start thinking about long-term goals soon. Norris compares activity in the makerspace when it first opened to activity now, almost two years later:
I guess the fact that initially we had to recruit makers–we had to, in effect–assign students with projects and since that introduction and forced participation, the numbers just continue to go up. Students are coming in on their own…We just sort of put [the makerspace] out there and [students] are coming.
Success can also be tied to client responsiveness. Norris relayed the story about male students wanting to use a sewing machine. Leanne purposely added it as a piece of makerspace equipment to counter stereotypes that makerspaces primarily appeal to male audiences. As usage of the makerspace has increased, students have sought out Leanne for tutorials (mini-courses where students receive credit) on 3D printing with new students coming up to her saying, “Hey, I heard you did a 3D tutorial last year?” Leanne enjoys this and generally agrees to offer more tutorials. Anecdotes such as this help demonstrate the makerspace as a successful addition to the library.
Discussion of Findings and Comparisons to Other Studies
To make sense of makerspaces, I opened my interviews with the question: What does a makerspace mean to you? Although some research points to makerspaces as comprising of educational programming and training (Kurti, Kurti, & Fleming, 2014), Leanne did not view that as a requirement. This reflects the views of Sheridan, et al. (2014) who argue that makerspace participants can learn independently or informally with peers; it does not need to be via formal training. Norris, with his background in art and technology, embodies the spirit of a maker and brings those practices to the makerspace. He is not bothered by the fact that a lot of the students use the makerspace for “fun” (e.g., non-academic or personal purposes) because he knows that there is still learning involved within the process. This dovetails with research by Rosenfeld Halverson and Sheridan (2014) that argues we should re-think what counts as learning. Likewise, when it comes to “re-thinking,” Ken’s commentary on the whole library as a makerspace points to examples that other academic libraries are doing, including the successful Hunt Library at North Carolina State University. Hunt Library was named a landmark library by Library Journal for its innovative services for collaboration, learning, and technology (Puckett Rodgers, 2016). The idea that the makerspace can lead to other collaborative and innovative practices in the library – to be a testing ground – for the entire library is a provocative view.
Workload formed the bulk of the conversation with the PBU library staff. As academic libraries add makerspaces, it will be interesting to see if library administrators:
- carve out new opportunities by adding staff,
- shift employees’ responsibilities, or
- let the mantra “other duties as assigned” become the usual work practice.
Leanne carries the weight of a large majority of the makerspace work. She juggles it with a diverse set of other library responsibilities from research assistance to technology. Her scenario lines up with research by Moorefield-Lang (2015) that discovered most makerspaces are primarily one-person operations. Related to this is a trend in libraries to carve out niche areas, like a makerspace, for an employee, and then saddle that person with all of the responsibility, but little support. This can ultimately lead to failure for both the library service and the employee. Gavia Libraria (2011) terms this trend “Coordinator Syndrome.” In some ways, Leanne’s job reflects this. Conceding that she did not necessarily want so many responsibilities, she nevertheless performs them all in a commendable manner. However, the workload may not be sustainable in the long run. Moorefield-Lang (2014) discovered that workload was a key factor with some library staff reporting that makerspace services floundered because no staff member had full-time responsibility for the makerspace. This is something that the PBU library will need to investigate to ensure sustainability of the makerspace.
As working professionals, neither Leanne or Norris were specifically trained during their formal university education for makerspaces. In fact, makerspaces did not exist. Skills were gained through on the job training. This mirrors the experiences of most library staff working with makerspaces. Moorefield-Lang (2015) found that library staff consulted online forums and that library staff with an “adventurous spirit” (p. 110) tended to be more successful. Leanne and Norris embody this adventurous spirit. Both discussed the willingness to tinker around with equipment and to use a trial and error approach. Norris, particularly, relied on peers–which in the makerspace environment includes students–to troubleshoot issues and learn new skills. As far as specific skills needed to manage a makerspace, Leanne, Ken, and Norris all touched upon organizational and teaching skills. These are two of the skill sets developed by Koh and Abbas (2015) as essential to employees who manage makerspaces. Incidentally, the other areas – grant writing, technological literacy, and program development – were themes that one or more the PBU library staff addressed during the interview. Ultimately, to be successful at developing the appropriate skill set, libraries need to afford staff with the opportunity to learn. At the PBU library, this has been accomplished through a variety of outlets including on the job training, self-directed learning, professional conferences, consultants, and guest speakers.
The PBU library makerspace primarily relies on usage statistics (e.g., how many clients, how many projects) to constitute success. While usage statistics are important, they remain a very basic metric. Ken alluded to this by stating the need to think about long-term goals. Lille (2016) developed several indicators for makerspace success, including assessing users’ ability with new technologies. However the research remain slim. At the same time, as higher education shifts to a more evidence-based model, demonstrating the value of the makerspace will become key. The Association of College and Research Libraries (2010) developed a report outlining how to tie academic library services to student success, learning, and engagement. Some examples, detailed by Oliver (2016), include online portfolios and student reflection pieces. Collaborating with faculty and students to measure this should provide the library with powerful data and stories to illustrate success. In turn, this data could be used in lobbying for additional funding or employees.
Application of Study to Theoretical Framework
Bolman and Deal’s (2013) leadership model, used to analyze organizations, offers four distinct prisms to look at the PBU library makerspace: structural, human resource, political, and symbolic. It is clear, in talking with Leanne, Norris, and Ken, that workload plays a large factor with the library makerspace, particularly with Leanne. This naturally lends a look through the structural, human resource, and political frames of Bolman and Deal. Because of my limited time with the PBU library staff, it would not be appropriate to analyze through the symbolic frame which requires an in-depth understanding of the organization’s culture–which in and of itself could be a separate research study.
When viewed through the the structural frame, one sees that as a small academic library, the organizational structure is relatively flat. Employees perform many different tasks. However, one of the hallmarks of the structural frame is the appropriate allocation of work (Bolman & Deal, 2013). Based on Leanne’s description of her varied work duties combined with Ken’s comment that he hopes Leanne can “survive” clearly indicates a need to look at the structural balance at the library.
Along these same lines, the human resources frame looks at people within the organization. It is all about finding the right fit (Bolman & Deal, 2013). Leanne’s current workload with the makerspace, although performed admirably, runs the risk of bordering on exploitative. The library has received Leanne’s energy and motivation for her job for the past 11 years. This should not be a one-way street. The library clearly invested their trust in Leanne in developing the makerspace, now is the time to fulfill her request for additional staff.
For the PBU library, the political frame is less clear cut. This frame deals with differences among individuals and coalitions who hold different values and views. Conflict may arise when scarce resources are allocated (Bolman & Deal, 2013). For the library’s part, many of these “scant” resources would be doled out by the larger institution – the university. Issues with workload would easily be solved if the library had the full resources – budget and employees – that it needed. Ken discussed about needing “argue” for or lobby the university for an additional employee to assist Leanne. The library would be wise to build upon the strong reputation that the makerspace has. This power may ultimately help them build a successful case for additional resources.
Limitations and Further Research
Owing to the fact that I interviewed three people at one site, I cannot draw large-scale conclusions on the state of academic library makerspaces. Rather, this small scale qualitative study could be used to develop questions for a larger, quantitative study. Because the library science field lacks quantitative research on academic library makerspaces, perhaps a survey addressing the themes in this research could be used as a starting point. In addition, because this is a new service in many academic libraries, as makerspaces become more popular, the number of potential sites and interviewees to study will increase.
Overall Significance of the Study
As an emerging topic in academic libraries, this research provides a large-scale exploration of makerspaces at one site. Addressing themes such as staff workload, and skills and training, are not only important to makerspaces, but to the evolving mission of the academic library in the twenty-first century.
As makerspaces develop from a trend to a core service in an academic library, its impact on library staff will be vital to ensure success and sustainability of the makerspace. This study investigated makerspace impact on library staff at one academic library at a small liberal arts college. In interviews with three library staff members, the conversation focused on: 1) defining a makerspace, 2) workload, 3) skills and training, and 4) makerspace success. Findings indicate that workload remains the key factor, with one employee shouldering much of the makerspace work. Training is self-directed, while organization and teaching are considered the most important skills needed. Using Bolman and Deal’s (2013) four frame leadership model, it can be argued that a reallocation of workload and hiring additional staff will foster sustainability of the makerspace.
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