It all started in the physics lab on a university campus. A 3D printer that had outlived its purpose was left to sit and collect dust. If no one was using it, then surely no one would miss it? And they didn’t at first. Yet once the University of La Verne Wilson Library in La Verne, CA put the printer on display in one of the most public places on campus, people started to take notice. And before they knew it, one 3D printer had created an impetus for an entire makerspace movement—all from a simple 300-sq ft. space.
A makerspace movement. Sounds like a budget buster, doesn’t it? Library Technology Coordinator Amy Jiang and teammates Karen Beavers, Jennifer Cady and Liberty McCoy say you might be surprised. Their Wilson Library makerspace was very much a grass roots project that grew from a library with limited funding but had an abundance of interest and support from faculty and very engaged students. In fact, it didn’t require many additional resources at all. Primarily, it’s the students who work, support, and train each other to run the makerspace which now includes a laser cutter, 3D scanner, Arduino Uno, RaspberryPi, soldering iron, cricut and 3D Doodler.
Ever since Fayetteville Free Library in New York State opened the first public library makerspace in the U.S., libraries have been shifting and reconfiguring space to provide the tools, technologies and workshop space where people can come together to design projects. Today patrons and students are using these community hubs to make everything from robots and drones to clothes and jewelry. No matter the creation, they are clearly influencing collaboration in compelling ways.
Jiang says the makerspace at Wilson Library has created an interdisciplinary phenomenon that not only changes the way young scholars look at their library, but how they view each other. Now on any given day, you might see an art student working with a computer science major. Or a physics student partnering with an individual from the humanities program. Together, they have created their own ecosystem for sharing knowledge and driving a culture that is spreading across campus and the greater community. Even high school interns have joined in this incubator for project-based learning.
In May 2016, Wilson Library and the LeoMakers Student Club sponsored and organized their first Mini Maker Fair, encouraging woodworkers, artists, scientists or makers of any kind to demonstrate the process of making things in their own exhibits. They depended almost solely on campus email to spread the word, made it an open call to all (not just STEM projects) and ensured young entrepreneurs attended by soliciting cash prize donations for a shark tank style judged contest.
The result? A treasure of inventions were born out of the makerspace and this event. They include everything from an LED light dress to digital signage, a joint creation by seven Business School students, which is now used by a local restaurant.
After attending an MIT makerspace workshop, the staff and students now look forward to developing the concept in ways they might not have imagined. This May, the Fair aims to attract more students and projects, and invite more people to speak. The big dream: to someday build a MakerCon.
Until then, the makerspace movement continues to add another whole dimension to “The La Verne Experience,” transforming the Education Department’s curriculum lab into a makerspace and requiring Computer and Physics majors to participate in the Mini-Maker Fair. Even the Physics lab is looking at the 3D printer in a whole new light.
With growing momentum behind it, there are great hopes to expand the makerspace, increase visibility and offer open hours to more of the student body and community. While still admittedly in the beginning stages, Amy Jiang, her staff and students are already seeing what a big impact a small change in a small institution can make. And they encourage anyone interested in using a makerspace to provide more accessibility of knowledge and creativity at a low cost.
Here are some of their key strategies for beginning to promote a maker culture:
- Start small and be willing to take the risk
- Be responsive to what your community needs
- Encourage experimentation and problem solving
- Find the right person with the technology skill and passion to drive the project