24 October 2017

Making Space for the Libraries of the Future

Over the past decade we’ve seen the unfortunate decline of public and school libraries, with fewer schools having the resources to accommodate the high costs associated with running a library, and as more and more people start participating in the online world. For a while the future of libraries looked fairly uncertain, until recently when a new generation of teachers and learners started to change the way we see these public spaces. In a 2013 presentation to the New York State librarians, Professor Dave Lankes, from the School of Information Studies, suggested that what would kill libraries was not ebooks, Amazon, or Google, but rather a lack of imagination.

Fourth-grader Nicolle palacios, creates a ramp during makerspace workshop at Claremont Elementary School

Fourth-grader, Nicolle Palacios, creates a ramp during a makerspace workshop at Claremont Elementary School

Enter the world of makerspaces! A ‘makerspace’ is a place where students can gather to create, invent, tinker, explore and discover, using a variety of tools and materials. As in the case of libraries, they are communal areas where learners are welcome anytime, allowing children access to shared resources that they might not have access to otherwise. They tie in with the idea of sustainability – instead of each classroom or child having to buy tools, lego, books, IT equipment etc., the costs are shared across the group. They are also learner-driven spaces where children get to decide what it is that interests them and what projects they would like to be involved in, and encourage group learning, with children taking inspiration from each other. In addition, makerspaces develop practical skills very much needed in a country like South Africa, and provide learners with insight into job opportunities beyond those offered by traditional universities and colleges.

No two school makerspaces are exactly alike: a makerspace can be anything from a repurposed book trolley filled with arts and crafts supplies, to a full blown workshop with 3D printers, laser cutters, and power tools. Obviously these spaces are limited by a school’s resources, both in terms of equipment and personnel costs, but many schools have been able to find outside funding for this purpose, and there are quite a few corporate sponsors interested in pursuing this particular area of education. And even in particularly low income schools there still exists the potential for a thriving makerspace. It’s not the tools that make the space, although obviously the do help, its what the learners do with the tools that will determine the success of the concept. The only limit is our imaginations.

P.S. If you still need clarity on what exactly makes a makerspace have a read through Diana Rendina’s article ‘Defining Makerspaces: What the Research Says‘. It’s written from an American perspective, but as the internet brings us closer and closer together, information becomes more globally pertinent, and this article does a really good job of explaining the concept in a clear and relatively concise manner.

Image courtesy of mathsgenius.co.za

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