Reconceptualising the School Library as Collaborative Makerspace

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By Peter M

According to leading educational thinker, Sir Ken Robinson, in order to meet the challenges of living and working in the 21st century, we need to deliberately and systematically create spaces and processes in our schools that foster creativity and innovation. We shouldn’t be anaesthetising our children, he argues, we should be waking them up:

  • Creating educational environments that nurture (rather than undermine) creativity
  • Creating conditions where kid’s natural talents can flourish
  • Cultivating creativity across multiple types of intelligence

In re-visioning the school wide learning environment through the lens of creativity and innovation, there is an opportunity for school libraries to rethink both the library space and role. 

Since 2009, a growing wave of library ‘makerspaces’ have emerged in public libraries, museums and community facilities in the United States to foster collaboration and creativity.  Focussing particularly on engaging and inspiring teens and pre-teens, it is only very recently however that the ‘makerspace’ model has been considered as a good fit for school libraries.

A ‘makerspace’ is a collaborative learning environment where young people can come together to explore their own interests, learn to use tools and materials, and develop creative projects.  They are dynamic workshop spaces for creative multimedia learning and doing.  Not so much defined by the space or the specific activities but by a mindset of collaboration and creativity.

The YOUmedia Network is a group of libraries, museums and community-based organizations that have embraced the makerspace model inviting young people to create, learn and build skills with traditional and 21st century digital tools. 

The Youmedia idea was to create spaces where teens and pre-teens could come and learn about digital media from practitioner/mentors via a process that involves “hanging out”, “messing around”, and “geeking out”.  They can create music, do photography or make videos, explore design concepts and innovations using 3d printing technology, and then show their work to each other.  It’s a place to be creative and take advantage of new technologies as they’re evolving alongside skilled and enthusiastic guides and mentors.

In New Zealand, considerable thought is going in to the development and evolution of ‘open learning spaces’ and integrated learning hub classroom environments.  Such learning environments echo many of the same principles of the makerspace movement.  Flexibility. Collaboration.  Stimulation.  Innovation.

However, as Chris Bradbeer notes in his Open Learning Spaces blog, most schools are not in a position to rebuild or remodel their entire school environment but are more likely to be embarking on the conversion or reconfiguration of a subset of existing buildings.  Within this context the development of open learning commons that integrate the roles of library and media centre supporting both individual, reflective learning and noisy, collaborative project based activities offer real scope for schools to embrace aspects of the open learning pedagogy to complement and add value to a more traditional school environment.

It is essential that school leaders apply the same spirit of innovation and future focus to the re-imagination of their school library environments as they do to other aspects of both their built and virtual school environment.  Library as creative collaborative makerspace is an exciting, transformative idea that warrants exploration. 

Moving into the unknown requires a pioneering spirit. In embracing a mindset of possibilities and exploration, of creativity and innovation, school librarians are challenged to mirror the very attributes we are seeking to foster in our students.  Are you up for the challenge?

Additional resources:

Ted talk: Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity

Does our current education system support innovation?                                 YOUmedia Expansions Offer Teens Student-Centered Learning Opportunities with Digital Media

Makerspaces, participatory learning and libraries

Spaces and places National Library Services to Schools

Bringing Maker-Style Garage Tinkering Into the Local Library

Open learning spaces: linking pedagogy and classroom design by Chris Bradbeer