3 Myths About Libraries, Makerspaces and Books
Even though they’ve been around since 2013, school library makerspaces still have a lot of misunderstandings surrounding them. This confusion can come from administrators, teachers, students and the librarians themselves. Unfortunately, believing these myths can often cause decisions to be made about libraries that are detrimental to the learning process. Today, I’m here to try to clear up a few of these myths.
Myth 1: Books don’t really serve a purpose in a library makerspace, so we should just get rid of them
A conversation led me to writing this post, but honestly this is an issue that I have been talking to people about constantly since I first started a school makerspace in my library in 2014.
A school librarian told me, with the sound of defeat in her voice:
“My school wants me to get rid of all our books so we can turn our library into a makerspace. What do I do?”
I’ve heard variations of this statement from SO many librarians and educators. The key problem that we need to address – in an evolving world where libraries are (and should be) changing, how do we continue to advocate for books and traditional literacy programs in our libraries? Both of the libraries I have worked in have makerspaces. Both also have robust collections of books (and yes, they still get checked out).
My view is that makerspaces are a part of the evolution of libraries. We have always been bastions of knowledge – a place where learners can find the resources they need, embrace their curiosity and find answers to their questions. Originally, our resources were books and periodicals and microfilm. As technology progressed, we provided copying machines, computers, internet access, printers, etc. Now it’s not uncommon to see other types of non-traditional items available for checkout (especially in public libraries), like cameras or tools. To me, the makerspace is the continuation of this evolution. 3D printers, LEGOs, circuit kits, craft supplies are all new resources that we can provide to our students. Makerspaces allow students to embrace their curiosity and find answers to their “what if?” questions.
Books don’t go away in this equation – rather they continue to enhance things.
Myth 2: If I start a makerspace in my library, students won’t check out books anymore
This is another pervasive fear among many school librarians. That if students have all these shiny new toys to be distracted with, checkout will stop. But that’s simply not true. A lot of this has to do with the procedures you set-up for your makerspace. If a student has a checkout pass or is with a class for checkout, are they allowed to also use the makerspace? If so, at what point?
Even at Stewart, where students were mostly always free to tinker in the makerspace while they were in the library, I didn’t see an impact on circulation. Sure, I had the occasional kid who would grab the first book he saw so he could play with the LEGOs, but I had kids that would choose their books the same way before the makerspace.
What I actually saw was an increase in circulation. More students wanted to come to the library. It was a cool place to be. I would often see students tinkering with their book they had just checked out on the table right next to them. They would talk about books while in the makerspace. A few even read books while working on projects. And don’t forget the books we added to the library that supported student interested in maker topics, such as 3D printing, LEGOs and coding.
Build a love of libraries
Yes, it is possible that some students will get distracted from the books by the makerspace. It is possible that you will have students who just want to come to “play” and not check out. But were those students coming into the library before? Were they readers that just suddenly gave up books for cardboard? Or were they students who hated coming to the library before, but now love it? Maybe they won’t be readers this year. Maybe not next year. But if we’re building that love of libraries in them now, they may discover a love of reading down the road. And I think that’s worth it.
Myth 3: If I start a makerspace in the library, I’ll become or be replaced by a STEM lab teacher
I have talked to many concerned librarians who worry that if they have a makerspace in their library, they’ll no longer get to be “librarians” but will become or be replaced by “STEM teachers”. I wonder, did we have those same fears when we brought in computers or other technological changes?
There are articles that talk about library renovations and how they got rid of the “dusty, unread books” to make space for collaboration and technology. And they reconfigured the role of the librarian to get rid of the “traditional” elements of that job. But, why were the books dusty and unread in the first place? Was it due to a lack of funding for new books? A lack of a professional librarian who could manage the collection?
A big part of this equation is advocating for our role as librarians and making sure that our school sees the value in what we do and the value that our spaces can provide. We need to continue to demonstrate to our school and our communities that the role of a full-time, professional/certified librarian is vital to the success of the school. Because if they don’t understand what it is that we do, it makes it easier to decide to replace or reframe the role of a librarian.
Libraries + Makerspaces + Books = Awesome
So, for real, you can absolutely have a library AND a makerspace living in harmony. You can have them separate or you can have them in the same space. But a makerspace in a library DOES NOT replace the library. Schools shouldn’t get rid of ALL their books to create a makerspace (just the ones that needed weeding). Makerspaces can enhance the traditional literacy programs of your library. They can strengthen them. And they can draw students into the library who would not willingly come in before. This is the next evolution for libraries – this is the next resource that we provide for our students. And I think it’s a very, very good thing.
(Bonus: Colleen Graves wrote a great post about how you can support a library AND a makerspace – how it doesn’t have to be one or the other.)