Johnson County Library Makerspace

Johnson County Library Makerspace

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8310-3.ch009
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The Johnson County Library Makerspace occupies 1700 ft2 (158 m2) of space in the Central Resource Library in Johnson County, Kansas. Originally intended as a modernization of the small business services resource area within the library, the vision for the space quickly pivoted towards a community-based educational experience centered on making. In its original form, the space had one 3D printer and an idea to create a series of summer, mobile maker experiences dispersed amongst the 13 branch libraries. The widely popular mobile makerspace program paved the way to a permanent space for library patrons young and old. The space adheres to the central mission of the library to provide educational experiences for the public. Accordingly, the library has democratized creativity and innovation by providing free access to the equipment and information to the public. The space has reached out to incarcerated youth to inspire them to take up making and use it as a way to build job skills. In addition, the space provides patrons with a pathway to connect and form learning communities around making skills and interest. This chapter explores the Johnson County Library Makerspace.
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People always come in and they're like, “Why would you even have this; what is this used for?” They don't have any idea and then you start to tell them what's possible and they go away, they think about it for a while, and suddenly things change and they come back and they don't stop having ideas. That's when it sort of starts. The first time they see something, they're just sort of, “Who knew you could do this?” — Meredith Nelson


Organization Background

Meredith Nelson, the founder of the Johnson County Library Makerspace, recalls how on her first day of work in 2012 as a business librarian she was thrust into the world of making when her supervisor asked if she had heard of a 3D printer. She commented:

My first day of work my boss sat me down and said, “Have you ever heard of a 3D printer?” Of course, it was my first day, so I said, “Yes, of course I have! What a great idea!” Then I ran back to my desk and started googling stuff and the first 3D printers hit, one of the, I forget which library it was, but someone was talking about 3D printing in libraries. Then very slowly over the next year, we started developing a plan. At the same time, everybody else was sort of developing plans as well. Towards the end of that year we started construction on a very small space that was at the time being unused.

Nelson was originally hired to make changes to the way the library supported business in the community. She shared a vision that would permit the library to support entrepreneurs and business people by providing co-working spaces and providing access to different kinds of software. From modest beginnings in 2013, the first iteration of the makerspace was very small: the size of the current sound booth in the space with a 3D printer and a few Macintosh computers. With no IT support Nelson cobbled together equipment like cameras and microphones, usually purchased online. Once the first space was open, the library immediately set out to great a larger space which opened in March of 2014. According to Nelson they began offering programs just before the opening of the new space and then with the opening in March, the popularity of the new space skyrocketed. Nelson was quickly overwhelmed with visitors to the space, who in turn appreciated the ability to print in 3D and not have to pay for the materials.

As she explained, as a librarian she spent half her time on the reference desk and was only spending 20 hours a week at the makerspace during this period of meteoric rise in popularity. Within the first six months of opening additional staff were added to the space and Nelson began working on outreach programs. She commenced the mobile makerspace program, visiting the other libraries in the Johnson County system and setting up all-day drop-in programs for youth. The mobility involved taking supplies from the main branch and using them to deliver programs in the various other branches. The space did not have a physical vehicle nor trailer that they used to deliver the program, as is common in mobile makerspaces. Nelson recalled:

My first event was okay, it was fine. The second event, over 300 kids showed up and parents were complaining. I was on my own and the parents were complaining mightily that it wasn't at the right time and their kids couldn't come. It's one of our sort of high maintenance branches, but it went over really well. The kids loved the projects, the branches loved having somebody come in and do this extra stuff to what they were doing. That first year we took little vibrating motors and put them onto coin cell batteries. We were supposed to do brush bots but I did run out of tooth brushes, so kids were using all kinds of stuff or they would just decorate them and have little bugs and stuff. Then we did little bits and we had the stomp rockets, with PVC pipes and two-liter bottles. That year, projects kind of moved throughout the summer because I would run out of supplies. I had no idea. I was expecting 30 or 40 kids and when 200 show up you just run out of stuff.

In addition, during the mobile maker program, the 3D printers were used. At first, the program was held outdoors but as Nelson soon discovered the summer humidity played havoc on the 3D printer extruders and filament. It was interesting to hear Nelson discuss how she kept 200 youth occupied with one 3D printer. She noted:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Maker Education: Using the concepts of making as an educational practice.

STEM: Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Prosthetic: An artificial body part.

Kansas City, Kansas: Metropolitan area on the eastern side of Kansas spanning into Missouri.

Central Resource Library: Main Library in the Johnson County Library system that houses the makerspace.

Arduino: A small microcontroller used for rapid prototyping.

CAD: Computer-aided drafting for project design.

Iterating: To do again, to repeat.

Agency: The capacity and propensity to take purposeful initiative of one’s own learning.

Johnson County Library Makerspace: Library-based makerspace located in the Central Resource Library in Kansas City, Kansas.

Glowforge: A 3D laser printer and engraving machine.

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