Interview with Melissa Robinson

Melissa S. Robinson is the Senior Branch Librarian at the Peabody Institute Library’s West Branch in Peabody, Massachusetts. She is teaching a class for Library Juice Academy in April, titled Library Makerspaces: From Dream to Reality. Melissa agreed to do an interview here to tell us about her course on this hot topic.

Melissa, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. I’d like to start by asking you to say a little bit about yourself and what your experience with makerspaces is.

Thanks, Rory! I’ve been fascinated by digital media spaces and makerspaces since I first came across the Chicago Public Library’s YouMedia program for teens. At the time, I was a teen librarian and loved the possibilities spaces like these have for teens. I spent over two years researching media labs and makerspaces and writing grants and planning a makerspace at the Peabody Institute Library in Peabody, Massachusetts. The more I learned, the more I became convinced that makerspaces have enormous potential for libraries and communities and they can offer benefits to people of all ages, not just teens. The makerspace that came out of my research and grant writing is the Creativity Lab at the Peabody Institute Library, which opened in February of 2014. It’s a 1,500 square foot space that provides tools and learning opportunities for children, teens and adults in making digital and physical projects such as 3D printing, computer programming, woodworking, sewing, sound recording, electronics and more.

That sounds cool. So now you are going to share what you’ve learned. Can you outline the course for us? It’s a four-week class. What will you cover and what activities will you do?

I love talking about makerspaces with other librarians, so this is a great opportunity for me to do that.

The course will lead students through the process of creating a “plan” for a makerspace or maker activities for their library. This plan will include a mission statement for the makerspace/program, a justification for why maker activities are needed in the community, a list of partners, funding sources, space requirements, tools, programs and workshops and a budget. This plan can be used to convince administrators, community partners and funders of the need for a makerspace in the library.

Students will participate in course discussions, research existing makerspaces in libraries and other organizations, brainstorm programs, learn about the most popular makerspace tools and use this information to tailor their makerspace plan to their community.

Sounds like a good way to do it. So what are some of the more interesting things that have come from your library’s makerspace? Any surprises? How has it worked out?

People have made some really great stuff! Beautiful baby quilts and really fun original music, but some of my favorites are the items people have created on the 3D printers. They’ve done everything from birdhouses to planters to cell phone covers. One of my favorites was done by a teenage boy who “printed” a pink rose with a green stem for his mom for Mother’s Day. I’m always impressed, but not surprised, by our community members’ creativity. We’re getting great feedback from people who are excited and impressed at this new type of library service that’s fun, different and really valuable. So I think it’s worked out great! It was totally worth all the work it took to get it started!

And your bosses and funders are pleased?

Absolutely. Our library director has been a big fan of the project all along and she has loved seeing it come to life. Our funders are impressed with our program statistics and the feedback we’re getting from our makers. We received an Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners to fund part of the Creativity Lab, and they are excited about the potential it has to serve as a model for other libraries. I think one of the exciting potential benefits of library makerspaces is that it can show a different side of libraries that can attract new partners and open new funding opportunities up to use.

Well that’s really cool. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience with us. I hope it turns out to be very useful for the people who participate in the class and that it helps a lot of makerspace projects get started. Anything else you’d like to say to people?

And thanks for taking the time to interview me, Rory! Makerspaces can be a daunting project to take on, but when you see the results and the excitement it can create in your community, you’ll be glad you did it! I hope that the lessons I’ve learned through the process of starting the Creativity Lab can help other librarians discover all the possibilities makerspaces have.

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