We Need Libraries As Much As Maker Spaces

A few weeks ago, I was at a conference when a conversation broke out about rethinking spaces in school. 

“What if we transformed libraries into maker spaces?” a teacher asked. 
“Exactly. What if we had tons of items and kids could pick and choose materials the way they used to pick and choose books?” 
The conversation continued with bold ideas about transforming the library space. However, after awhile, I couldn’t help but think that the conversation had shifted entirely to what it would look like to replace libraries rather than redesign them. 
I’m all about redesigning the library. Let’s create standing areas. Let’s create collaborative spaces for research. Let’s get rid of the plastic chairs and replace them with comfortable couches. Let’s change the lighting from fluorescent to natural. Let’s add some plants. 
However, I’m not sure I want the library to be a place where people are making physical products. Don’t get me wrong. I love maker spaces. I love the idea of having maker labs on campus where it’s loud and chaotic and there’s tons of freedom to make things. Everything they described was something I wanted at my school. I just don’t see the need for a maker space to replace the library.
I still want libraries. Real libraries. With real books. I want to see a group of eighth graders act like there’s nothing special about library time only to get excited about a new series and forget to put on the “I’m too cool for that” persona. I remember teaching 8th grade self-contained and watching kids act like they were in a candy store as they picked out books. I remember them fighting over who would get to check out The Hunger Games.
My fear is that when we turn libraries into maker spaces we send the message that reading isn’t relevant; that it’s boring, that it’s a chore. We quit treating it like a candy store and start acting like it’s the salad line when soft serve ice cream is just around the corner. 

Libraries exist to inspire the love of reading.

It may informational texts or novels or graphic novels. But it should be that place where kids go to fall in love with reading. When I walk into a library, I want to see kids working with librarians, picking apart information and arguing over bias and loaded language as they geek out about research. I want to see libraries as spaces where kids aren’t necessarily making things so much as taking it all in. I want to see libraries as spaces where “augmented reality” means getting lost in a fantastical world.

That’s why I want to fight to keep libraries. It’s why I want to fight to keep librarians. It’s why I don’t use the term “media specialist.” Libraries and librarians don’t need to be replaced. 

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

14 responses

  1. I really enjoyed this article and your views on libraries and maker spaces. I think that maker spaces are really great places for students to and get creative, but do not think they should replace libraries. Most students love going to the library and exploring all the different books they get to check-out and take home to read.

  2. Thanks for this perspective; I, too, love both concepts but don't think one should become the other….thanks for verbalizing what I haven't been able to! (sue, a MS librarian)

  3. I love the idea of makerspaces too. But as I investigated school libraries as makerspace, it hit me. Remember home economics and shop? Weren't those makerspaces? Look what happened to them. Hmmm.

    1. Oh my goodness. Now you've got me scared!

    2. I honestly worry that this might be a fad and to re-work too much the physical arrangement of the library could make it dated or put it in jeopardy.

  4. I don't think that Maker Spaces and Libraries are mutually exclusive. I think it's possible to have the best of all possible worlds: libraries that offer a wide range of resources staffed with librarians who understand that "texts" come in many different forms. My school library has Maker resources- many that build upon print and digital texts. Students learn about subjects like electrical circuits not only from traditional texts, but also through hands-on primary research with Squishy Circuits and littleBits, coin cell batteries and LEDs; they learn about states of matter with water tables and balloons and dry ice. They explore the work of artists and illustrators with water colors and collage and paper cutting and photo editing tools. And they are often eager to communicate what they know by making how-to tutorials for others: planning, creating, editing and revising their products in the process. The library is, as it has so often been, a place where access to tools for knowledge acquisition and communication are available to all. And to do all of this surrounded by great books-fiction and nonfiction-supported by staff eager to share just the right resource with receptive patrons = priceless opportunity.

    1. I love where you're coming from John, but I'm hoping Shannon is also correct. We're thinking about incorporating a maker space within our library, which exists to support teacher preparation students. Shannon – would you mind telling me where your school library is, and whether there's more information about this combined library/maker space available anywhere?

  5. +1 for Shannon. Maker spaces don't replace 'traditional' libraries. Anyone who argues they should be chooses the wrong approach. The strenght is in the combination of both, which is NOT about machines or books but about shared values and community building.

  6. Agreed!

  7. Our Learning Commons (library) inspires learning. The space has been renovated to incorporate modern learning needs, but more importantly the culture of the environment has been completely transformed. Makerspaces is one of many tools/strategies our teacher-librarian would promote and support, but to have her (or her space) in this role exclusively would be a very narrow approach in enhancing student learning.

  8. Great blog post, John!
    I have a Makerspace in my library (Google: Daring Makerspace Starter Kit) but it's flexible, movable, and adaptable. We've been doing hands on production since we opened our school in 1997 – animation, TV production, robotics, etc. I'm not going to remove books, move walls, take away our TV studio, or do anything drastic – just add to the AWESOME! Baby-steppin and beta testing!

    We still need BOOK, reading, literacy, and research to happen in our Library Learning Commons ……and bean bags. Kids love the bean bags. A plant wouldn't hurt, either! (we already have Darth Vader & a Storm Trooper!) Visit Classroom Cribs (or look for my blog post) for more ways to transform brain-based learning spaces and libraries without breaking the bank!
    @GwynethJones – The Daring Librarian

  9. As an English teacher and writer, I couldn't agree more that we need to preserve libraries and the book-reading experience in it's truest form. Not to say that advancement and 21st century modifications are not necessary, they are…but need to be incorporated with the mainstays. Few things endure like the thrill and endless possibilities to be found in oneself with a visit to the library. Thanks for the support!

  10. John-Your post does make us stop and think about what we want our libraries to be. However, I agree with Shannon – Libraries are living, breathing entities – so they should be changing constantly with the needs of students. We want our students to be readers, thinkers, creators and innovators. All those things can happen in school libraries – because we provide the resources and the ability to take risks – sometimes without academic penalties so that they can independently be life-long learners. I know we worry that it's a "fad" but the sheer speed in which Makerspaces has taken off in so many schools has to be anecdotal evidence that we are filling a gap for students. We have always sold librarianship as the professional that connects with every curricular area. Will it change in 5 years? I hope so! We should continue to grow and morph to meet the needs of all students.

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