In our latest 2015 In-Depth Interview with Library Journal Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, sponsored by SAGE, we spoke with Sharona Ginsberg, MakerBridge Coordinator and learning technologies librarian, at the State University of New York at Oswego. Ginsberg launched the MakerBridge Project—a community with Maker information, tools, and best practices for librarians and educators—when she was still in graduate school at the University of Michigan School of Information, and has made it a point to advocate for inclusiveness in the Maker movement.
What do you do in your role as learning technologies librarian?
I teach workshops and informational sessions to various classes from all departments, basically about technology. A lot tends to [involve] creating multimedia for video and audio projects, and I’ve done some workshops on how to work with presentation software, like Prezi. A lot of it is professors saying, “We want our students to do this creative project that involves technology, but I don’t really know how to use that, so can you come in and do a workshop about this, demonstrate it, talk to them about it?” I follow up with that by being on hand to help students. Afterwards they can email me with questions, and I’ll have students set up one-on-one appointments to get more help.
A big part of [my job] is working with the equipment in the library. We have two 3-D printers, a 3-D scanner, multimedia creation technology, some good digitization technology—we have this really cool record player machine that digitizes [vinyl] records.
A lot of what I do is meant to be broad in terms of what “learning technologies” are—any sort of technology that’s being incorporated into a project in the classroom. I get to do a lot of different things, which I really like. Plus on top of that, I am liaison to two departments, Communication Studies and English. I do more traditional library stuff, collection development and library instruction sessions, for them.
When did you get involved in Making and how did you incorporate that into your librarianship?
I got interested when I was in grad school at the University of Michigan and I did some practicum work with the 3-D lab there, which is part of the library, my last year. For that project I built an online pathfinder, which got me interested in [Making].
That was also around the time I started MakerBridge. I read American Libraries quoting Travis Good saying that it would be great for libraries to get more involved in Maker spaces, and that there should be a portal where librarians could come together and share best practices and talk about it. That was my initial idea for MakerBridge, to create that kind of community, and then it was like a feedback loop. As I spent more time on MakerBridge, I learned more about Maker spaces, and I had more to put into MakerBridge, and it grew from there. As I built up the site and the community, my interest and my knowledge grew, and I got more and more into it. Then I was really lucky to get the position here and that they were so open to the idea of bringing more Maker equipment and ideas into the library.
What were some of the challenges that you ran into when you were developing MakerBridge?
Initially we set up discussion forums on the site, thinking that people would want to come and ask questions and talk. But it turned out that they weren’t really getting used that extensively, so we shifted to using Twitter and started building up a community there. We have more interaction on Twitter than we ever had in the discussion forums.
People’s needs shift and change. I think initially there was this idea that people would come and share their experiences, but what we found was that a lot of people had more questions than they had experiences. That was when we started our blog and started putting out our own content. Now it’s shifting again and people are having more experiences to share, so I’m trying to aggregate a lot of the resources that exist in other places. People are sharing a lot of great experiences, have their own blogs, are putting up their own websites with things like project ideas and lesson plans.
How do you make a case for your Maker space? How did you approach the library and college administration?
The first thing that was successful was, since we don’t have a dedicated space, having an alternative solution—instead of saying, “We are going to form a Maker space,” saying, “Let’s hold Maker events,” and reframing it so it doesn’t need to be about a room that we set aside, [suggesting] “Let’s get a bunch of smaller things. Let’s plan a number of events. We can put them where we have room, we can move them around.” The events happen and then we clean up, so it’s not taking space away from other uses [the space] might serve.
Since [we applied for] an internal grant, we were presenting our proposal to people from outside the library who also work for the college and there were questions about some of the things that already exist in other places. The technology education department has manufacturing labs, the art department has various labs, and they might even have some of the tools we’re looking at. So there was the challenge of convincing everybody that we weren’t just duplicating what already existed. My approach was to talk to the people in charge of those labs to find out what’s really going on, and to talk to the people who use those labs and get a sense of what additional things they want to see—not what [they are] already doing, but what there is a need for, working with those people to collaborate—to share what’s already going on, rather than having everyone become an isolated expert.
I think that even though it makes a lot of sense for the library to be involved in this, we [don’t] have to be the only source of Making on campus and the only location where everything happens. I think we can help bring together a lot of the scattered areas where Making is going on—offer a more central location but offer information about other sources as well.
How should libraries bring in more diverse participants to Maker spaces?
One thing that I’ve seen online a number of times, usually in public libraries, is controversy over how a library has advertised their event. They’ll say, “We’re having a robotics event for boys only,” or something like that. I know that there’s a really important issue in trying to get more boys into libraries, but I think it’s important to think about what kind of message they’re sending. If a girl sees that, is she going to think she’s welcome in the Maker space where people are working on robotics? I think the language of your advertising, and the language of a Maker space, is really important. It’s just not only focusing on the Makers who are already well-known, but trying to celebrate and recognize a lot of diverse Makers of different races, gender identity, sexual orientation.
A big [issue] that people might not think about is accommodating people with disabilities. In your Maker space, some of the tools might not be accessible to someone with a specific type of disability. It’s good to diversify the tools you’re offering, and make sure that there are alternate options.
You have the advantage of working with an academic library that is supportive of the Maker mission. How would you advise a smaller library to put together an engaging space?
There are a lot of types of Making and not all of them get recognized as often. Things that are more high-tech, like electronics or robotics or 3-D printing, are often the more public face of Making, but there are a lot of things that might be called crafting, like textile arts, sewing, or knitting, which don’t count. And it’s possible that there are some people in your library who are already into those things. Maybe you have a knitting group that comes to the library and you expand that and add some additional activities, some textile arts. Maybe you want to incorporate electronics a little bit, too, talk about electronic wearables. There’s the Lilypad Arduino which is a great example of taking textile arts and mixing them with electronics to create something really cool.
It makes sense to work with what’s already there and not necessarily overwhelm people. I think that’s when you get pushback, when people see something very new and very different from what the library is already doing. You don’t even have to call it a Maker space. Just work with the community that’s already coming into your library, then try to build it up from there.
What’s new in your Maker space these days?
Right now the way [our] 3-D printing works is that students send us things and we print for them, but I’m interested in getting the 3-D printer out on the floor so students can get a little bit of training and then use it on their own. I’ve been exploring a lot of software that is very simple to learn. One of the hurdles of 3-D printing is actually creating 3-D models, which can be really complicated. But there are a lot of good, easy options. I recently found this app that we wrote about on MakerBridge, MakerBot Printshop, which is super cool. Basically you just draw a picture and then take a photograph of that picture, and you can 3-D print the thing you drew. It doesn’t come out as good as a really intricately designed model that you made with special software. But it’s a really low-barrier way to get into 3-D printing—it’s a way to get people interested.
We also just got a 3-D printing pen, Scribbler, which, again, is not as sophisticated as the 3-D printer, but I’m looking for low-barrier ways to get people interested and to get them to be able to do things themselves without needing me as an intermediary. They already have the interest, but I want them to pick up the skills.
If you had to give three tips to someone starting out at an academic library who’s interested in instituting or promoting a Maker space, and who wants to lead, what would you tell them?
1. Start small and don’t overwhelm yourself or the people that you’re trying to get buy-in from. Just take small steps, do what makes sense for the climate of your university and for the specific library that you’re in.
2. Talk to and get feedback from your specific campus community. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all type of Maker space. Some campuses are going to have a focus on different types of technology, different types of Making that they’re interested in. People will lean in various directions. What you’re building should match the community that you have rather than an imaginary community. Really think about who is there, what are their interests, what are their needs, how can you fill them? I think of it like collection development because that’s what it is. You don’t want to buy books or materials that nobody is going to use and that are just going to sit there.
3. Collaborate and form partnerships. I know one of the drawbacks that librarians often see when they’re trying to put together a Maker space is: “How am I supposed to do all of this? I don’t know how to do 3-D printing.” Or, “I didn’t learn how to do soldering in library school, so how am I supposed to offer all these things to people?” And you don’t have to. Libraries are great at bringing together people for facilitating things. Librarians are awesome at getting together information from people who are experts and not having to be the experts on everything. And I think that applies for Maker spaces too. Those people on campus who might already have Maker labs in various departments, have certain specialties—work with them, get them to collaborate with you, involve them in your events, involve them in your planning so that it’s not just the library having to become an expert on everything.