Back when I was in school, libraries were all about books — books, books and more books.
During my frequent visits to the library, I would pore through encyclopedias and fill out countless checkout cards before heading home with a backpack full of reading material. Of course, teachers also scheduled regular media time so students could use the library’s computer pod, but technology wasn’t nearly as integral to the library experience as it is today.
The advent of the digital age had a profound impact on school libraries. Expanding Internet use gave students access to academic texts from their home computers and, later, from mobile devices.
That change has forced the school library to shrug off its title of knowledge gatekeeper and embrace its role as a steward of collaboration and innovation.
According to the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition, schools all over the nation have begun promoting content creation over content consumption. Educators feel that through investigation, storytelling and production, students gain a more enriching learning experience.
As part of this growing trend, school libraries are stepping up to the plate to offer students unprecedented access to tools and technology. Across districts, resources include everything from the parts and equipment necessary to build electrical circuits to the hardware and software that would enable students to print their own 3D prototypes. Some makerspaces even include traditional woodworking and crafting tools.
While the value of time spent tinkering may not be immediately apparent to some, makerspace proponents say hands-on work helps students hone their critical-thinking and problem-solving abilities, all while encouraging them to collaborate with peers. With those competencies in their toolkit, students can more easily navigate the STEM education network and, eventually, the workplace.
For schools looking to get started on their own makerspaces, funding is the first hurdle. Some makerspace programs have gotten their start through grants and awards. Others have been born of corporate sponsorships, crowdfunding campaigns and PTA support. Schools can also turn to the community, accepting donations from local businesses, parents and staff, or choose to roll out equipment in phases to lower upfront costs.
Once a viable funding plan is in place, schools can take a deeper look at tools and materials. The former are those items that can be reused again and again (think tablets, 3D printers, laser cutters, power tools), while the latter are mostly consumable (3D printing filament, batteries, glue).
When evaluating equipment, administrators need to consider how it will work with the space. Technology like 3D printers and tablets require adequate connectivity, while circuit-making and woodworking tools need proper ventilation. Administrators should also look at the library’s power supply and its accessibility for large equipment.
Finally, educators should think about how makerspace technologies would be used to further student learning. Companies like Makerbot have published comprehensive online guides designed to help educators incorporate 3D printing technology into course curricula.
Technology partners represent equally valuable resources to schools beginning the makerspace journey. With a goal of bringing together the best of the digital world with the best of the physical world, experts can help schools choose the right equipment on the right timeline. In the end, schools will be left with libraries that stand at the forefront of education, bringing students authentic learning experiences that will benefit them for a lifetime.
This article is part of the “Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.