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Friday, October 7 • 2:00pm - 3:00pm
Blazing the trail: Action Research and "Post-Emergent" Library Makerspaces

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When you’re starting a youth makerspace in a library, you will encounter a set of common problems. They might include: how do we find and hire mentors? What kind of 3D printer or laser cutter should we buy? How do we design with youth input? Where do we find start-up funding? The questions that arise are well-defined because the path to starting a youth makerspace has been pounded flat by libraries that have gone before you, identifying and building resources to help you understand the common problems, needs, and challenges of starting a makerspace.

But four or five years later, when a library makerspace enters the ”post-emergent” phase, it encounters an entirely different set of issues and problems that go beyond hiring staff and purchasing equipment. Typically these problems aren’t easy to solve, and are highly nuanced. They might include: how do we get teens to move from hanging out to geeking out? How do we get buy-in from staff who work in other departments? How do we approach evaluation? This path has yet to be made, or established in an open, public way.

Since December 2015, five “post-emergent library youth makerspaces,” all connected to each other through the YOUmedia Learning Labs Network, have been engaging in action research that looks both institutionally inward, and across our community of practitioners and network of institutions to create this path. The YOUmedia Learning Labs Network, housed at the National Writing Project, brought together this group who included representatives from the Billings Public Library, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Lynn Public Library, Anythink Libraries, and the Free Library of Philadelphia. The goal of this action research/post-emergent initiative funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services is to identify the common issues that a library youth makerspace is likely to face in years four, five and beyond, through engaging in a cycle of regular observation, reflection, interventions, and iterations.

Identifying the potential problems that will arise on the road to being “post-emergent” is an essential key to the sustainability of a youth library makerspace. A blazed trail, versus a tangled forest, allows you to anticipate problems, versus being surprised by them. It allows your makerspace to grow and learn collaboratively, and move faster in response to your own community’s needs. It also frees up time to reflect, share, and contribute back to the larger library field and to the landscape of makerspaces in libraries. The Blazing the Trail DML program will introduce participants to the methods and framework that we used to guide us through this process, collaborating with and learning from colleagues in a community of practice. Though this group focused on improving professional development in library youth makerspaces, the potential for using action research and a community of practice model as a tool for problem solving and reflection is incredibly powerful, and applicable beyond the bookstacks to museum and classroom education.


Cody Allen

Young Adult/TECH Lab Librarian, Billings Public Library

Mouahmong Yang

Studio Coordinator, Anythink Libraries

Friday October 7, 2016 2:00pm - 3:00pm PDT
Emerald Bay C