A Place for Human Ingenuity

Make It @ Your Library brings DIY to your local branch.

GUEST COLUMN | by Karen Howard

Carnegie Free Public LibraryIt would be fair to say that the last time many of us stepped inside a library would be during our college years. And I’m guessing, even then, you were looking for not only information, but also a quiet corner to read in. But libraries at their core, are not all about books. They are a public institution where knowledge, whether it’s books or conversation, is shared openly, and they are a central meeting place for a community. They are an open-ended source of inspiration, where anyone can come in and grow.

Working for the website Instructables.com, an online community for millions of users to explore, share, and make, I’ve seen a huge shift in recent years back to the analog. The Maker Movement has people excited to reclaim the production process of goods. While it might be easier to order a new bookshelf online with a click of a button, there’s a huge sense of reward and accomplishment in building one yourself. The manufacturing process is back in the hands of the individual, and this kind of ownership comes with it a wonderful sense of customization and humor.

It didn’t surprise me, then, to learn that libraries are making the move into this maker-space-mentality, and we wanted to help them. Instructables.com is all about sharing information and instructions, and at their core, libraries are too. It was then an easy collaboration between Instructables.com and the American Library Association, as both of our groups want to encourage people to digest more information, and to translate that into making things, hands-on learning, and sharing creativity.

And this is how Make It @ Your Library was born.

Make it @ Your Library is a custom site that taps into the Instructables.com technology and content to place tutorials on the site. This website is tailored to librarians interested in implementing makerspace projects in their libraries. Fully searchable, Make it @ Your library connects users to projects, based on library-specific search criteria: age, price, project time, etc. With over 110,000 projects and growing, Instructables.com has plenty of how-to content categorized in six main buckets: technology, workshop, living, food, play, and outside. But if you’re new to the maker space, as many libraries are, we wanted to make it easier for you to find just the right project, in case you don’t know what you’re looking for.

The content will continuously be curated from the Instructables.com site by librarians (because who better to curate than librarians?). In our partnership with the ALA and ILEAD (Innovative Librarians Explore, Apply and Discover) a team of librarians who apply annually to this grant-based program, the priority was not only to create a separate site, geared towards libraries’ needs, but to have that site be with a robust filter for different curriculum and adjustable levels-of-readiness.

I’m lucky enough to work in a shop, where I have access to all the tools I could possibly need for whatever project I want to build. For the rest of the country, however, drill presses and 3D printers are a little harder to come by, let alone in a setting where they’re available to use. Library makerspaces are opening across the Chicago area (and we hope elsewhere soon!).  Examples include the Maker Lab at the Chicago Public Library and the Idea Box at the Oak Park Public Library.  CPL’s Maker Lab includes 3D software, 3D printing, laser cutters, a milling machine and a vinyl cutter.  The lab offers free workshops, open lab hours and demonstrations.  A different kind of space, the Idea Box at OPPL promotes experimentation, tinkering and participatory learning by changing out interactive exhibits every month in the library.

From the Instructables.com end, we get to share our content and cause with a new and growing audience. We’re excited to interact with this new group, and see how well these filters work on the new site. We also have a group page on Instructables.com, so librarians can start to submit their own projects that have proven to work well in their space. It’s a two way street for us, showing off our existing content, and taking in new project tutorials. The projects in the Library group will be live on the Instructables.com site, as well as theirs, so they can reap the benefits of the greater community for feedback and inspiration.

Libraries are the holder of information for a community, and I am excited to see the projects that emerge from this collaboration. As libraries expand into digitally-supported rooms filled with eager conversation and soldering smoke, they’ll continue to attract new audiences and foster creativity and learning. Two heads are better than one, and I can only imagine what a community of heads collaborating together on projects will come up with.

Karen Howard is the PR and marketing manager for Instructables, a place that lets you explore, document and share your creations. For more about Make it @ Your Library, click on the website or read more about it.

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