What if we redefined making in libraries?

In my last post about What Ifs, I asked “What If we adopted the maker movement as part of campus movement towards creativity and innovation?”

That question has come up in two different venues for me this week, one driven by an administrative opportunity and a second originating with a faculty member. In the administrative context, a member of our campus advancement team asked me how all of this “making stuff” fits into the vision of an academic library. And in the faculty context, I’m helping a teaching colleague figure out what equipment would best meet his needs and goals around innovative educational technology, specifically for 3D printing. And then the SUNY Council of Library Directors email list yielded a discussion of 3D printing and whether or not SUNY libraries charge non-affiliated folks for use of library printers…

And so here we are.

“What If we adopted the maker movement as part of campus movement towards creativity and innovation?”

I say this.

Libraries have always been about making things. Traditionally, in our information world that was based in print publications, paper indices, and reference librarians who were experts on local collections, libraries were where you “made” written academic work. You did research, and you gathered the information you needed, and you wrote a paper or a speech or  report. You typed it, you printed it, and you turned it in. And we don’t think of that as “making”; it’s just “doing academic work.” We are still doing that academic work, now, in our world of online information, searchable full text databases, and librarians who are experts on broad collections of information resources. Our students are still making things in this context, writing papers and turning them in.

At campuses like mine, though, which has a 199 year old School of Education as well as the 129 year old Crane School of Music, our students have also always made more than straight-up academic work. They make — have always made — lesson plans, classroom manipulatives, and visual teaching aids. They make music,  composing and performing. And in our School of Arts and Sciences, they make art — still, moving, dramatic, and 3D. They make scientific breakthroughs, and they make new creative written fiction and nonfiction works. They make computer programs, and they make business proposals. They make public health surveys, and they make archaeological discoveries.  The act of education, and the act of learning, are acts of creation. And we create — have always created — far more than just the written academic work that we default to in our thinking of what libraries facilitate.

Libraries, and the information access we facilitate, do more than help students write papers. We help them create those lesson plans, those musical works, that art, that science, that creative writing, that programming, those proposals, those surveys, and those discoveries. Information access underpins every tangible product to come from education, and libraries have a place of pride, centered in information access, in the heart of academia.

So why should we not also have a place of pride in more modes of making than just writing, typing, and printing? Why should we not also be facilitators and supporters of other types of making?

What if, instead of a building that contains a computer lab to facilitate online information access, research and technology support services, print information collections, and collaboration space, we were something more?

What if we were a building that contained a computer lab to facilitate online information access, research and technology support services, print information collections, collaboration space… and also a video, audio, and digital object creation lab, an arts-sciences-business-creativity fabrication lab, a GIS and data visualization lab, an IdeaPaint white box, interactive display galleries to showcase all the kinds of making going on in our communities, and … whatever else comes next?

What if?

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