Emerging Technologies Librarian, Piscataway Public Library, NJ
MLS, Rutgers University, 2007
Photo by Patrick Heagney
Making It, Statewide
In 2016, as the second annual statewide NJ Makers Day neared, the event’s lead founder, Piscataway Public Library (PPL) emerging technologies librarian Doug Baldwin, received ten Maker kits. The good news: the kits had been paid for by a sponsor. The bad news: they arrived so late that Baldwin had to convey them himself to participating sites. “I got in my less-than-reliable car and mapped out a path to deliver all ten kits…in one day,” Baldwin says. “The fates certainly smiled on me as my car did not break down logging those miles.”
The first NJ Makers Day, in 2015, drew 17,000 people to 152 participating sites—schools, libraries, museums, Maker spaces, and colleges. In 2016, it saw 40,000 people at 232 sites. The 2017 event, to be held March 24–25, has 263 locations. “Doug is the driving force [of the project],” says Pat Tumulty, executive director of the New Jersey Library Association. “Without him it would not have been so successful.”
It all got started when Baldwin wondered aloud one day to his PPL colleagues whether a statewide Makers event could work. He had been managing PPL’s own Maker space—the first in a New Jersey public library—since 2013, along with all of the library’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) programming and training. As a result, he and his coworkers reached out to organizations in and outside the library world; soon they had 150 events that offered hands-on Making of everything from textiles to robotics.
“NJ Makers Day is as much about connecting and community building as it is about STEM and the Maker movement. Connecting does not take a lot of money,” Baldwin notes. “What is needed are driven, passionate people willing to work together where they have common ground.”
Makers Day is one example of the many nonlibrary collaborations Baldwin has created, says James Keehbler, director of PPL. Among them are partnerships with the career-oriented ManufactureNJ; the manufacturing-centric NJ Dream It, Do It; and Soldering Sunday, which creates affordable, electronics-oriented Maker kits. This collaboration has led to one-day start-up competitions in entrepreneurship and product design for high schoolers called Build It Better, which have taken place in Piscataway and Newark.
Baldwin thinks NJ Makers Day, which recently became a nonprofit organization, is replicable. “I hope people look at the model and what has been accomplished and bring this to their states,” he says. Key to that model: each event should have grassroots organization and local-level appeal “that truly incorporate the uniqueness, flavor, talents, and resources of those communities.”