Makerspaces have been a popular trend for the past few years, with public libraries being at the forefront of their development. An ever growing number of libraries are now taking part in hands-on activities with their clientele, a move which has been looked at in a recent post by the ILN.
Makerspaces have many known benefits. Hands-on activities aid in the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills, and allow for ‘real-world’ application of theory. Learning becomes collaborative, self-directed and experimental. And of course, they provide an opportunity to use cutting edge technologies. But can this makerspace craze extend into the academic library domain? Many university and college libraries have answered a resounding “Yes!”.
One of the most well-known technologies used in makerspaces is the 3D printer. Some universities have found that 3D printers can be used with students who are doing industrial design courses, to allow them to build real prototypes of their designs. Other disciplines such as engineering, art, architecture, medicine and even chemistry have been able to utilise 3D printers to extend their educational pursuits. At the University of Nevada, the Chemistry faculty “printed prototypes of molecules they’ve been working with for years. In doing this, they’ve made new discoveries. Being able to hold the object and see it in 3-D has allowed them to make adjustments and then recreate them.” (Lisa Kurt, as quoted in ACRL TechConnect Blog). Laser cutters, drill presses and even key cutters have been added to the mix at some university libraries, creating spaces for students to work on class projects or ‘get entrepreneurial’ (The New York Times). Many argue that this ‘tinkering’ helps students to expand their thinking, share expertise and develop a deeper understanding of what they are learning.
Practical laboratories in the STEM fields can teach specific skills related to these areas of study. Coding and programming skills can also be developed in the hands-on environment of the makerspace, with technologies such as the Raspberry-Pi, Arduino, circuits and robotics kits, and other IT and engineering tools available. The University of Sussex’s pop-up makerspace within a two hour workshop is a great example focused around these types of skills and technologies.