A research project by Hartnett, M, Butler, P, Mentis, M, Carvalho, L, & Kearney A (2020), published by Massey University looked at public libraries in New Zealand as spaces for digital inclusion. They found that most library staff were motivated to support the digital needs of library users, recognising the importance of digital technologies and assisting library users with foundational digital tasks as a regular part of the library staff role.
“Libraries are an important institution that serves the learning needs of its community. STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) is an important lifelong endeavour and libraries are uniquely positioned to support the lifelong learning of STEM for members of their community. Thinking of libraries as a third place for learning STEM is one approach to resolving librarians’ perceptions of STEM learning at both an individual and community level.” Bayek J Y (2013; p13-14).
Burgh S (2021) comments that “Makerspaces have the potential to help libraries redefine themselves by providing new forms of exchange and engagement with and amongst the communities they serve”. Burgh further points out that factors such as adequate financial and human resources, and the ability to design and manage a makerspace to meet both internal capacity and the expectations and needs of communities, may be difficult without proper training, guidance and support.
Krista Yuen and Chern Li Liew (2022) found that scholarly investigations into the extent and nature of schools and public libraries working together in the maker space in Aotearoa New Zealand were sparse. Their research sets out to address this knowledge gap. Their study showed that through collaborating with schools, public libraries can make meaningful contributions to social and digital inclusion in their communities. Their findings suggest that contextual flexibility should be considered in such collaborations, with partnering organisations finding a suitable model for working together.
Auaha Makerspace at Hamilton City Libraries Te Ohomauri o Kirikiriroa is a very popular space for community learning, “We get 100’s of people through every day,” says Van Kilburn Auaha Makerspace manager.
Set up in 2019, Auaha Makerspace is a space for the Hamilton community to learn creative technologies through self-directed learning and provided teaching activities. It provides a workspace for collaborating, making, learning, exploring and sharing, based around STEAM learning. Visitors have access to a range of great technology, including 3D printing, Virtual Reality, electronics, robotics, and a small but well-equipped recording studio.
Van says, “As we move into an increasingly digital world, being digitally literate is important for the community, and digital literacy is itself reliant on traditional literacy skills. Auaha Makerspace’s digital technology represents the fruit of the library’s push for developing and supporting community literacy and digital literacy, empowering people to access the exciting world of digital resources through a range of library programmes. For many people in the community, they have had little or no exposure to these resources, and libraries provide a place where they can learn and use them.”
“Our Auaha Makerspace has been very popular, with many school and group visits, and overall, more than 3000 visitors this quarter (January-March 2023). We helped customers make over 200 projects and more than 150 people use the recording studio. We are gaining regular customers who spend lots of time really engaging with the learning and with each other, making a close kit, friendly and diverse maker community.”
Staffing has been a challenge, especially with the popularity of the space driving the number of people visiting. Visitors are encouraged to work through self-paced tutorials, and drop-in sessions provide encouragement for people to learn how to start using the equipment, but staff advice is usually in high demand.
“With demand for staffing and a broad set of technologies to support it is important to provide sufficient oversight of the space to ensure a safe learning environment, which requires carefully managing customer expectations around personalised tuition and support.”
Van says he is incredibly lucky to have skilled and passionate staff, as it can be difficult to attract the type of skilled, multi-talented staff needed. Staff are expected to know about and support a wide range of digital tools and processes, as well as be proficient at marketing, teaching, reporting, networking, traditional librarian skills and community engagement.
Auaha Makerspace has a focus on providing opportunities for self-learning using tutorials and learning material in a variety of formats. “We used to do class sessions during the day but found these had low interest from the community, so we changed to drop-in sessions rather than classes with some of these recorded live on Instagram.”
Auaha Makerspace pivots on what the community wants, and one request has been for more access to these technologies around the community. In response Auaha Makerspace are about to open a new makerspace in their newest library, Te Kete Aronui in Rototuna.
“I would love to see this space in all communities so that we don’t have to travel in to use it. But this is so cool to have as a base with the expert.” Participant feedback
“We have lots of people coming in with products and ideas who are looking to kickstart businesses, and we are able to help provide a starting point for them.” In addition, Auaha Makerspace staff refer them to other services and support systems to help them establish their business, thereby helping to grow the local business community.
There’s a real variety of things that people learn and make in Auaha Makerspace including repairing vacuum cleaners, 3D printing crockpot knobs, phone cases, clips for dryers, designing and making game pieces and dice. Visitors have invented board games, brain teaser puzzles, prototyped harvesting tools for fruit pickers, created action figures, made stickers, printed cable tidies, made buttons, game controllers, create transfers for tee-shirts for the Australian 7’s sports team supporters, performed clothing repair, circuitry repair, created bike racks, designed using virtual reality, and costumes for the Cosplay group.
Looking to the future, Van says he and Auaha Makerspace staff will continue providing access to digital technologies and learning experiences for the Kirikiriroa community, including seeking out new and exciting opportunities to support learning in different formats and places.
From the moment Blueprint Makerspace was set up in 2019, staff have been very clear that it is a maker space – not a classroom, programme or structured activity setting. It is a space where anyone can learn how to create and share whatever their imagination conjures up using the latest in fabrication technology, design software and creative tools.
Participants are encouraged to bring in their ideas and give it a go. With 2.5 staff Zak Millar, Harley Bell and Trisha Cardinelli-Wayne are available to introduce, give advice and help bring project ideas to life.
“We tell participants that we’re not here to make them something,” says Harley Bell.
“We never want to say no you can’t do that to people. But managing expectations is a big part of what we do. We try and get them to try the simple things first.”
They’ve found that people want to work on their own projects. But staff are there to provide advice and are always monitoring what the participant is doing. There’s also cross-pollination happening. Someone might be working in the workshop and will chat with someone in the sewing area about what they are doing.
Much of the equipment has been purchased from Makerspace New Zealand. Resources include sewing equipment, filament printers, 3D printers, laser cutters, a CNC router, vinyl cutters, a heat press, a wood and an electronics workshop and more. Vinyl tee shirt printing is one of the most popular activities. Participants pay a cost-recovery amount for materials they use and some materials are donated so cost nothing.
As a library space, Blueprint is about education and entertainment, says Harley. “We sit underneath the lifelong learning programme like books, DVDs and activities such as children’s storytime, we are an extension of that.” Makerspaces contribute to lifelong learning by providing the space and tools the maker community needs.
The variety is important – there might be eight different things going on in one area. A core of regulars uses the space, some started from knowing nothing and now help other people to begin on machinery like the laser cutter.
It’s a largely self-moderating environment. Because participants want to be there to make things, they help to create a cooperative and safe environment to work in. “They know if they are silly about the equipment and space they might not be let in again,” says Harley.
Staff have a very positive view of the support they have received from library management who have given them the leeway to create the space and operate it, going to bat for them to get the resources they need. Blueprint comes under Palmerston North City Libraries policies and customer service guidelines. Health and safety guidelines operate with clear instructions and equipment have safety mechanisms.
Linda Moore, Palmerston North City Libraries Manager, says the library put makerspaces into their 2015 ten-year plan so they could start thinking about it. “We wanted to come at this from a pure makerspace philosophy. A space where makers could bring in intergenerational skills, where old-time skills meet new technology meet the super humans we have working down here.”
It started off with a mobile kit with equipment that Harley could put into a van and take around to different places until they got the Blueprint space set up just in time for COVID!
“Our kaupapa here is Te Ara Whānui o Te Ao: Inspiring people to explore the pathways to the world. My job is to remove as many barriers as possible for these guys so they can do what they do because I can’t do what they do. And the maker community has fed into it as much as these guys have,” says Linda.
It’s an intense environment to work within as staff bounce between all the different projects and people, problem-solving, supporting and advising on operating the equipment.
“These guys are really good at working with people,” Linda comments. They have to understand what people want to do, problem-solve and help manage people’s expectations, and know how to use the tools while also helping people get from A to B.
“A lot of people don’t realise how much this is a people role. Like working in libraries, it’s a customer-service role interacting and working with people,”.
And Zak has the final comment, “You can have a really good makerspace with a few sewing machines, 3D printers, soldering iron and a few other tools and you can have really rotten space with all the equipment you would want in the world. The thing that makes it work is the people that look after it and the people who visit.”
In contrast to these two examples of makerspaces, Auckland Libraries have a variety of ways they provide makerspaces. This includes a community-driven maker space in Te Ata Tu’s TAP lab, run by volunteers on a different funding model.
Makerspaces are available in seven of their libraries. Library users can book and use the technology for free but there is no staffing to assist people to use the technology. It is well-used by people who know about the facilities.
Jo Cocker, Digital Literacy Specialist at Auckland Libraries, likes the NPL studio makerspace model Studio NPL | Nashville Public Library. “I like the way it’s structured. They have thought about all the different aspects of digital equity and digital literacy and the way it connects to all areas of the arts. They galvanize local business and philanthropy to drive the studio and then have access to the right tech. They have a purpose and structure of delivery around what they do – not just ad hoc programmes in the makerspace.”
Jo reflects on what we are doing as a profession in the information and knowledge sector to make sure New Zealanders are prepared for the digital onslaught that’s coming. The world is moving fast, Chat GPT has just landed, and people don’t really understand it. But the deeper ramification for our society is massive and we aren’t ready, she says.
“Places like makerspaces help pique curiosity about digital technology in a fun way and get people engaging in conversations about technological change. But it feels like libraries need a more structured approach so makerspaces to have more sustainable impact.”
Makerspaces also exist at The Hive, Waitohi’s Makerspace in Johnsonville, Wellington and Christchurch City Libraries Ngā Kete Wānanga o Ōtautahi; while other libraries, including Kāpiti District Libraries and Manawatu District Libraries, are actively exploring the inclusion of makerspaces. AUT Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau offers two makerspaces specifically catering to students studying creative technologies.
Makerspaces have an important place in encouraging communities to explore digital technology. Yet there is very little research on makerspaces in libraries in Aotearoa New Zealand, despite the growth in services and the commitment by the sector to digital equity. Makerspaces in Aotearoa share similar experiences and challenges. These include finding qualified staff, managing expectations from participants, understanding the health and safety requirements needed, access to technology, having a clear philosophy and strategy, and gaining the resourcing needed for these services to function effectively.
Bayek, J. Y. (2013). Public Libraries as Places for STEM Learning: An Exploratory Interview Study with Eight Librarians. National Center for Interactive Learning Education/Research Report. Retrieved June 10, 2023, from https://www.lpi.usra.edu/education/stemlibraryconference/events/Baek_Public_Libraries_STEM_Learning.pdf
Burgh, S. (November 19, 2021). The Changing Roles of Makerspaces and Libraries: Making of a National Library Maker Collective. https://scoprebu.medium.com/the-changing-roles-of-makerspaces-and-libraries-making-of-a-national-library-maker-collective-f37305765dba
Hartnett, E.J. (November 26, 2016). Why Make? An Exploration of User-Perceived Benefits of Makerspaces. https://publiclibrariesonline.org/2016/11/why-make-an-exploration-of-user-perceived-benefits-of-makerspaces/
Hartnett, M., Butler, P., Mentis, M., Carvalho, L., & Kearney, A. (2020). Public Libraries and Digital Inclusion Research Report, Massey University Institute of Education. https://doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.2.20489.98402
McLachlan, K. (2021). An Investigation and Evaluation of how Wellington City Libraries incorporate STEAM Education into Children and Youth services and programmes. https://ir.wgtn.ac.nz/handle/123456789/11183
Rendina, D. (2015). Defining Makerspaces: What the Research Says. http://www.renovatedlearning.com/2015/04/02/defining-makerspaces-part-1/
Yuen, K. & Liew, C.L. (2022). Examining Public Library Collaborative Partnerships with School Makerspaces and “Making Programmes”. Journal of Library Administration, 62 (6), 793-809. https://doi.org/10.1080/01930826.2022.2102381