What is a Makerspace?

I first learned about makerspaces several years ago when a librarian friend of mine won a grant! (Sheena Kelly is rad. Look her up.) She turned a little corner of her K-12 school library into a magical space for student innovation. Mostly, she did it by buying some 3D printers, getting some sewing machines donated, and putting together a whole ton of random craft supplies. The result, though humble at first, was an outpouring of student creativity. Kids wanted to 3D print everything. They learned how to draft and render things on the computer. They learned to sew their own costumes. Eventually she expanded her efforts, bringing in a green screen and recording equipment. Teachers started to devise lessons around this creative space, and kids met the challenge.

So, is a makerspace something that libraries do for kids? Yes, and no. Makerspaces are popping up all over the country, in all kinds of ways. Here’s everything you need to know:

1. What is the “Maker Movement”?

In short, the maker movement is formation of a community who wants the freedom to engineer, design, and innovate. It emphasizes learning by doing in a peer-led, hands on environment. This isn’t necessarily a new concept. People have been crafting, building, and making stuff since the dawn of time.

What makes the “maker movement” new is the addition of technology and accessibility. “makers” use the newest, coolest technology to try and change the way we make stuff. 3D printers, laser cutters, robotics, and coding language are just a few of the technologies that makers are using to create. On top of that, makers want this technology to be available to everyone! That’s where makerspaces come in.

2. Why Makerspaces?

These new technologies are cost prohibitive for your average tinker fiend. A 3D printer can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to a few thousand dollars. AutoCad, the industry standard for drafting software, costs over $1500 for a yearly subscription. Even a craft staple, like the Cricut die-cutter, is a few hundred dollars to purchase, plus a software subscription.

Part of what makes the maker movement special is the desire to make technology accessible. It’s the reason that schools and public libraries are jumping on the makerspace bandwagon. A large institution may have, or be able to raise, the funds for expensive technology. Private makerspaces run like collectives or businesses, with membership fees paying the high overhead cost of these devices.

3. What’s in a Makerspace?

Because of the cost of new technology, what you find in these spaces is highly variable. Makerspaces often tailor themselves around specific types of technology. They might focus on fiber arts, providing huge work surfaces, sewing machines, and screen printing equipment. Many will opt for small scale manufacturing technology, like 3D printers or laser cutters. Spaces may or may not provide computers with licensed software. It all depends on community support, finances, and the mission of the makerspace. The one thing that seems fairly consistent across the board is an environment of collaboration and cooperation. Everyone shares to lift everyone up, and the results can be awesome.

4. Why Would I Use One?

If you are reading this blog, then you are a crafter. You might love to paint, knit, or create cool stuff on your iPad. You might be building your own tiny house in your backyard. Maybe you make cat toys out of recycled cans. Whatever your hobby, making something with your hands feels great.

For me, a lifelong hobby jumper, I am always looking for a new skill to learn. I’ve wanted to get my hands on a cricut since… the first one was released in 2006. (I went through a tiny scrapbooking phase.) When I started watching Face Off, I needed to try a vacu-form. I watched the promo video for the GlowForge once and was half way through applying for a personal loan before I came to my senses. (Or maybe my loan app was denied, I can’t remember…)

A makerspace is a perfect place to learn new skills, try out new technology, and create awesome projects. On top of access to all this rad stuff, you have access to all these rad people! The maker community is there to help. They want to teach and they want to learn. Why wouldn’t you want to go to an awesome workshop, full of cool stuff, with people who are interested in the same stuff you are?

5. How Do I Find One Near Me?

This is harder. Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes. The Idea Foundry in Columbus, Ohio has a 20,000 square foot workshop, and that’s just the first of three floors. The corner of the library that my friend Sheena turned into a makerspace? That one was maybe 100 square feet, and only open to students.

Make magazine’s website has a Makerspace Directory to help people find a space near them, but it isn’t a comprehensive list. The best place to start would be local libraries and universities. Check out public spaces to see what’s available. Meetup.com is also a great resource, as many makerspaces will hold events for makers.

6. How Do I Support the Maker Movement?

If you think this is an awesome idea, then help it spread! There are lots of things you can do to support makers and makerspaces. First, find a makerspace near you and use it! Whether it’s a private business with a membership fee or your local public library, using the spaces supports the movement. Second, spread the word. If there isn’t a makerspace in your area, talk to people about how cool you think they are. Mention it at the library. Mention it to your kid’s third grade teacher Mention it to your third grade teacher! Write a blog about it. The more people who know it’s a “thing”, the more makerspaces there will be. The more makerspaces, the more innovations. Third, support your local makers. Go to craft fairs and farmers’ markets. Buy jewelry or a purse from a local vendor. Buy something on Etsy! Supporting the artists who make handmade goods supports the movement.

Finally, make stuff. Don’t worry about not being good enough or not having talent. You are and you do. And also, who cares! Make stuff for the joy of making stuff, and hang that beautiful, wonky art in your home. Wear your handknit sweater that is too short and too wide to be flattering. Keep sending your friends hand painted birthday cards that are smudged and misspelled. Make something, and make things happen.

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