Library Makerspaces: Outreach & Programming for the Whole Campus

This is a video Dani Johnson, and I created for the International Symposium of Academic Makerspaces (ISAM) 2018 conference at Stanford University, in August 2018. Below is a transcript of the video.

The University of Victoria Libraries opened our Digital Scholarship Commons, or Makespace, in April of 2017 and it is a “Community + Machine space.”

We occupy 2700 sq feet of flexible space for workshops or individual making. We have 2 full-time staff members, and 4 part-time graduate student “experts”, and 4 part-time undergraduate student staff.

We don’t charge for any of our workshops or instruction, so the funding for staffing comes from a mix of reallocated base library funding, soft money, and for our graduate students, one-time provost funding for 2 years that we hope to renew.

We purchase equipment for our space with base library budget money, as well as from our annual allotment from the campus-wide Vice-President of Academic equipment fund.

We loan a wide range of tools and equipment, focusing on “cleaner & quiet” tools because of our library setting.

We offer a number of introductory workshops that students can sign up for individually, and instructors can also arrange to bring their classes to our workshops organized specifically for them.

At the ISAM 2017 at Case Western Reserve I reported in my conference paper that in the first months that we offered workshops, 55% of the registrants were women. However because our library based makerspace was new, there were lots of library staff attending which might have skewed the results.

I’m happy to report that between September 2017 and April 2018 the percentage of women participating in workshops has remained at approximately 55% which was unexpected, but wonderful! This number is in line with our University registration statistics.

There are three reasons why we think that the makeup of our workshops mirrors our university population:
1. Our makerspace is housed in the library which is traditionally common ground, without any formal attachment to male-dominated faculties or departments on campus.
2. Related to that, our space is not only open to students from all over campus, but welcomes the whole campus community, including faculty, staff, & students.
3. The workshop format is a low stakes way to be introduced to the makerspace, especially for those who are interested but don’t have a project in mind.

To explore each of these three points, I interviewed a student who used our Makerspace workshops and tools to help her create a prototype of a biodegradable glow stick.

Paige Whitehead is a 3rd-year Microbiology and Environmental studies student who loves music festivals but doesn’t like all the garbage they create, especially the toxic chemicals in almost all glow sticks. I interviewed Paige to talk to her about how our Library Makespace helped her with her biodegradable glow stick project.

And actually rather than a full on a lesson that was more structured, it’s just great especially for someone who doesn’t know much about the topic kind of a person, it was awesome introductory lesson especially where you learn the software and then you learn on the actual 3D printing machine.

It was so nice not to have to take a whole course, but just come for an afternoon and leave with a new skill that you can actually use and keep building on your own and then come back if you want to upgrade or refresh but you don’t actually have to enroll in a program or declare a major or minor to actually learn the material.

But if you have no background in electrical engineering or in software design or using a 3D modeling program it’s really helpful to have an instructor there to give you the basic foundations, and that’s really what this Digital Scholarship Commons [makerspace] is all about. So that’s really what I’ve done is taken these courses here, feel like I then have the foundations or at least know the language enough so that I can ask the right questions to continue building up my experience using these tools.

The library is, especially at the university, is kind of a neutral zone. There is sometimes engineers who rag on the philosophy students and back and forth, but the library is really the common ground where there is everything you need for any subject somewhere in the library, and then people are always walking through and studying here, so I think that having it in this space where it’s kind of neutral, everyone is welcome zone, absolutely. I know quite a few people who feel intimidated or don’t feel welcome in some buildings on campus because of their gender, or maybe because of what they’re studying, or a whole suite of reasons. I feel the library is probably one of the least intimidating places in that sense. Every student is welcome.

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