By Leah Kraus, Director of Community Engagement and Experience, Fayetteville Free Library
At the New York Library Association’s annual conference this fall, Fayetteville Free Library helped facilitate NYLA’s 1st annual “Library Makers Showcase.” Our library and several others from across the state got to show off some of the cool things going on in our respective makerspaces, including the innovation and entrepreneurship happening every day in our FFL Fab Lab.
Better still, we got to connect with others in our field who are excited bringing making and STEM learning programs to their libraries!
We found that there were a lot of “BUTS” out there.
Some pretty big ones, too.
We WANT to focus on making and STEM learning at our library….
- …BUT we don’t have the staff!” (“We are such a small library, we don’t have the staff available to man a makerspace or lead a STEM program.”)
- …BUT we don’t have the time!” (“We are already stretched so thin.”)
- …BUT we don’t have the knowledge!” (“No one on our staff would know how to teach a class about 3D printing/robotics/circuits/coding/textiles/etc.”)
- …BUT we don’t have the money!” (“We can’t afford the equipment.”)
- …BUT we don’t have the space!” (“Our library is so small – we just don’t have room.”)
I hate big BUTS and I cannot lie!
Okay, I’ll stop saying BUTS now. Except to provide a quick “food-for-thought” for each one :
BUT….staff: Involve your community. Let community members be the ones to lead your STEM programs, to facilitate clubs and groups, to staff your makerspaces. Ask them what they’re passionate about, and if they’d like to help share what they know with their neighbors on a volunteer basis. We’ve found that an astounding number will!
BUT….time: Involve your community. See above. Yes, facilitating the work of community volunteers takes time, but not as much as it takes to plan and execute everything yourself.
BUT…knowledge: Involve your community. Again, let THEM be the experts. Are librarians experts on magic, or zoo animals? Heck no. But this doesn’t stop us from having programs about them at the library! Librarians are experts at making connections – at bringing the people who want to know together with the person/tool/resource that can meet their information need. Your community members, collectively, know everything– they are your best resource! Library staff members
don’t have to shouldn’t be the ones doing everything – that limits us to sharing only what we know.
BUT….money: Involve your community. Ask local area businesses to partner, donate or contribute their expertise. We acquired equipment, materials, software, online learning resources and more in this way. By involving your community members on a volunteer basis or involving community organizations in mutually beneficial partnerships, you can do so much around making and STEM learning while investing very little. Additionally, be sure to ask yourselves – what are we currently investing in of behalf of our community that’s no longer important to them, does not cause significant community impact, or that doesn’t make sense from a cost-per-use perspective? We’ve found, for instance, that canceling subscriptions to little-used databases and moving away from paying for expert speakers and performers has allowed us to reallocate funds towards STEM and making initiatives that are highly valued and utilized by our community.
BUT…space: Involve your community. Listen to them. Observe what they do. What spaces are currently underutilized in your library? Is there a small room or corner that could be converted into a drop-in, hands-on space? Is there a cart that could hold equipment in a closet and rolled out for particular programs? Is there an existing meeting room space where making and STEM programs can happen on a weekly or monthly basis? Also, what spaces in your community are available? Where are your community members going? Can you get out into the community and meet the people where they are with your programs, equipment and services?
Moral of the story: Involve your community! Turn outward; focus on their needs in everything you do.
If you believe making and STEM learning at your library will meet community needs, by golly, involve them, and DO IT! No more BUTS about it!