This week’s guest blogger, Sue Kowalski, is the librarian at Pine Grove Middle School in the East Syracuse Minoa School District. Sue is actively involved in her local, state and national organizations and contributes by presenting, writing, and embracing her #leadoutloud campaign. In 2011, Pine Grove Library was awarded the National School Library Program of the Year from AASL. In 2012, Sue was recognized as an “I Love My Librarian” recipient from ALA. Sue was recently named a 2016 Mover & Shaker by Library Journal. She can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @spkowalski
“I am sensing an undercurrent of “maker guilt” in my professional circles. While many are sharing the successes and impact of their vibrant makerspaces, an equal number of library professionals are avoiding eye contact and apologetically whispering about their lack of a maker program. “It’s not that I don’t want a makerspace,” they’ll say with their shoulders slouched. Then the confession unfurls. Concerns about budget, space, supervision, staffing, management, community perception, and student responsibility make the “Reasons I am Not There Yet” list.
Some may view these concerns as mere excuses or minor obstacles that are easy to overcome. Just find a space, just write a grant, just get a few mentors, just learn from the leaders in the field…just just just…. just get going already and get your makerspace on the map. For others, those concerns will ring true for them, as well, and create a feeling of relief and solidarity for the “not there yet” club. Guilt-free conversations will ensue about the realities, the questions, the failures, the concerns, and the plans to shift forward.
Our 6-8 middle school is just months away from moving from the temporary digs we embraced for two years to a dynamic new building that has been totally transformed. The library will reflect the mission of a vibrant 21st century learning space. A designated physical makerspace in the library was a shared vision for our entire design team and the expectation for it to become a high impact aspect of the library program is a given.
Beyond exciting, right? Gorgeous new building, breathtaking library and even a designated space in the library named the “Innovation Studio” are bound to provide sustainable inspiration. How could this NOT work?
When I learn of opportunities and successes that are a result of vibrant maker programs across the country, I’m inspired. As students demonstrate the exceptional level of their learning, I take note about what empowered that learning. When best practices are showcased, I try to soak it all in. I’ve got mentors in the field that feed my quest for research, ideas and information. I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that I still have concerns, worries, and questions. Don’t misunderstand, I have always embraced and empowered formal and informal opportunities for students to think, explore, design, build, and create.
How do we ensure that our makerspace is not just a room with supplies and equipment, but a program that is:
- appealing to students
- a program and a concept; not just a place
- in alignment with our District mission, vision, and values
- self-directed BUT supported
- manageable for staff
- financially realistic
- not in conflict with academic needs of students
- diverse for different interests
- in alignment with other functions of the library
- adaptable to variety of learning abilities
- educationally sound
I know when I engage in conversation about what our Innovation Studio will be for our school community, there is enthusiasm and affirmation about how makerspaces are game changers for all who participate! There are also the voices of the critics, those currently unconvinced, or those who are completely unaware of the maker movement. These voices and opinions can’t be dismissed and no one should feel guilty about asking the hard questions about the goal of a makerspace program.
Those who question the purpose, goal, or logistics of a makerspace program are offering perspectives that can provide valuable input to the planning, development, and sustainability of the program. Everyone, even library professionals, have the right to ask the questions without being labeled as a someone who is standing the way of progress. There should be no shame, guilt, or self-doubt about vocalizing conceptual or logistical concerns. The more rich the dialog, the more our honest perspectives can shape the direction of strong maker programs.
As a library leader, I won’t just jump on board without a confident response to the questions, concerns, or doubt. The planning and development of our program needs to work with our school community. That means we may or may not be the same as other programs across the region, state, or country. We must open the lines of communication to make sure questions like “Why?” “How?” “What if?” “Who?” or “Why not?” are valued, not viewed as roadblocks.
I’m on board with the value of a strong maker program. I’m also on board with the need for thoughtful and honest conversations with our community to drive our program. We won’t just load up a room with “maker” supplies and equipment and call it day. We’ll learn and we’ll teach; we’ll agree and disagree; and we’ll succeed and we’ll fail. Throughout it all, we’ll share our successes and not be at all ashamed about what we haven’t achieved yet.
Makerguilt is stifling. The next time someone asks about the makerspace at YOUR library, own it. If you have a successful program, say so. If you haven’t even started, say so. If you have questions, ask. Let’s trade the smoke and mirrors for some honest conversations. So, tell me honestly, how is YOUR library embracing the maker concept?”