Why a Makerspace Is Not a Magic Cure-All for Your Problems


Why a Makerspace is Not a Magic Cure-all for Your Problems

I realize that this title is going so upset some people. That some might accuse me of click-bait. But I think this is a topic that is often being left out in the discussion about makerspaces. Many school librarians have beautiful visions of putting out some arts and crafts supplies or LEGOs or robots and think that starting a makerspace will transform everything about their library. But sometimes, we need to put other things in order first.

Why a Makerspace Is Not a Magic Cure-All for Your Problems

I’ve spoken to many school librarians when I present at conferences and workshops, and I’ve read and responded to many e-mails. I’ve heard from many librarians who are unsure of how to start a makerspace in their school or who have attempted only to see their efforts fail. They’re faced with many problems and issues that hinder their journeys. I’m hoping to respond to some of that here.

“My teachers only let my students come to the library for ten minutes at a time. They give them a buzzer to make sure they don’t stay longer.”

If your teachers or administration are already hyper-restrictive of how your students spend their time outside of the classroom, your LEGOs are going to start getting dusty in the corner. Speak to your administrators and your teachers about the importance of providing students time to visit the library. Collaborate with your teachers on curriculum-aligned lessons that can incorporate your makerspace materials. Offer a makerspace play-day for teachers. Gradually, work towards finding a way for your teachers to support more student time in the library where they can have free, open exploration in the makerspace. It may take some time to convince people – it isn’t going to happen instantly.

“The behavior at my school has been awful this year. The administration is refusing to deal with it. We tried to start a makerspace, but I’m being constantly pulled, leaving the library unsupervised, and students are breaking materials and writing obscenities on the whiteboard tables.”

There’s a whole lot to unpack here. It’s a sad situation for both the teachers and the students. This is a point where you might need to go above the administration. Work with your teachers’ union.  Speak to the school board.  If your school has chronic behavior problems and you’re being asked to leave your library unsupervised, it might not be the best time to pilot a makerspace. Advocate for major changes to happen. And if they aren’t happening, leave and go somewhere less toxic.

“My administration offers me no support. They’ve told me they don’t see the point of libraries anymore. I’ve tried to start a makerspace, and now they’re watching and waiting for me to fail.”

My initial instinct is to say “Prove them wrong!” But unfortunately, if you have an administrator who is out to get you, they will likely do what they can to sabotage your efforts and prevent your success. Focus more on working with teachers who support you. Get lots of data to backup what you’re doing. Incorporate makerspaces gradually. E-mail them articles about how makerspaces are transforming schools.  Hopefully, your admin will be open-minded enough to listen. But if there’s emotional abuse coming from your administrators, report it.  And don’t be afraid to jump ship if it gets horribly toxic.

Get Your House in Order

Makerspaces are amazing and wonderful and have the power to transform how your students learn. But you need to make sure that you have a strong foundation and a plan before getting started. If there’s already a lot of other issues, try to deal with them first and start your makerspace slowly. You can get there, but it may take time.

What is your advice to librarians in situations like these? How have makerspaces helped to transform your library?

Author: Diana Rendina

Diana Rendina, MLIS, is the media specialist at Tampa Preparatory, an independent 6-12 school. She was previously the media specialist at Stewart Middle Magnet School for seven years, where she founded their library makerspace. She is the creator of the blog RenovatedLearning.com & is also a monthly contributor to AASL Knowledge Quest. Diana is the winner of the 2016 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator Award, the 2015 ISTE Librarians Network Award, the 2015 AASL Frances Henne Award & the 2015 SLJ Build Something Bold Award. She is an international speaker on the Maker Movement and learning space design and has presented at conferences including AASL, FETC & ISTE. Diana co-authored Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace and is the author of Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.

Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons

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6 replies

  1. Thank you for this article. I worry that Makerspaces are another desperate trend to keep school libraries relevant. I think they are a great movement, which I fully support, but makerspaces are not going to keep us open or protect our jobs from budget cuts. Literacy and information literacy comprise our dual mission. Makerspaces are something to add when your library is humming with success in the other two areas.

  2. Though provoking post Diana. By only sharing awesome makerspace experiences, we’re doing little to support those of who’ve tried with far less success. The reality is that many in our profession face obstacles which are difficult, if not impossible, to overcome. Personally, our sewing machine has become so popular, that I spend more time helping kids sew, than assisting them with their information needs! Our role has become increasingly confusing to teachers and administrators over the years, and I can’t help to feel that seeing me sewing with students, only makes it it more confusing! How do we do it all when there’s only one of us to do it? How do we prioritize? How do we effectively share what we do, with focus, so that teachers and admin get it?

  3. Diana, this blog posts makes me so happy to be a part of this great profession for several reasons. 1.) We try and try. Sometimes we are successful and sometime we aren’t but we keep trying. I love that about us. 2.) It’s okay to have doubts and it’s okay to start small. And finally, 3.) Encouraging librarians to focus on the positive relationships is great but I love how you also give advice to stand up for the program in a relentless ways! We have to be able to speak up and sometimes it is hard. Thanks for this great post!

  4. YES, what Sara and Deb said. I love making things. I love helping kids make things. Yet I want it to be crystal clear to all-kids, teachers, and budget-makers-that the core of a library is literacy and critical thinking, AND that these concerns alone are enough to keep us relevant and vital. The Year of Fake News drove this need home, hard. I hear the cautionary tale in Deb’s concern about being a sewing teacher at the expense of advising readers…

    I also said this, on Facebook:
    I thought the title was going to lead to an entirely different article- perhaps about how you need to get your library house-collaborative collection development, creative research projects, and book-related programming-in order before adding the layer of a makerspace. In my school (of 10 years) I have a lot of the barriers listed in the article, plus we’re in a small, “temporary” location while our new school is built. But these are not the main reasons I have not gotten into full makerspace swing. I have a fixed schedule preK-5 and plenty of learning targets to hit, as well as collection development supporting teachers as they handle changing standards and new curriculum, ELLs, IEPs, etc. And then there’s the ever-present need to book talk, run book clubs, etc. I incorporate art and Legos into our projects and centers but I feel my core “library” work around reading, research, media literacy(!!!), and curriculum support take-and deserve- the bulk of my advocacy and time. Am I alone?

  5. I had the most pleasant conversation with one of our district administrators recently. She had attended a worship in Princeton and the presenter had told them “Do NOT dump maker spacers into your school libraries!” I can honestly say it felt like a weight was lifted off me. I do have some maker space activities that I’ve done (and will continue) during recess, but I’ve been wrestling with how this fits in with the true purpose of the school library. We need (more than ever) to be teaching information literacy, not creative thinking skills. (Not that creative thinking skills are ever a bad thing!) But the maker space movement was not intended for the school library. It was a way for the public libraries to draw more people in. And I hope that continues. I just see that with students having limited time constraints (20 minutes at recess, 40 minutes of class time) we can’t really be all things unless we have full admin support, full staff and a very big budget. I’d rather do what I can do well, than do a thousand things badly.

  6. thank you for this source! i am working on an argumentative essay and needed a bad side to makerspaces! :D

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