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.