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Makers on the Move in Libraries and Museums

December 20, 2012

By Susan Hildreth Director, IMLS Maker spaces are part of a growing movement of hands-on, mentor-led environments that encourage entrepreneurship and unleash the inner inventor in all of us, particularly children. And I am happy to report that there is an explosion of interest among museums and libraries in “Making” environments. Just last week, the IMLS staff met with AnnMarie Thomas, executive director of the Maker Education Initiative and Kumar Garg, senior advisor to the deputy director at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, to hear more about what  is happening in a rapidly growing number of Maker spaces in cities and towns across the U.S.  They described the experimentation, invention, and creation that support arts and STEM learning in Maker spaces. The Maker movement aligns with President Obama’s Educate to Innovate initiative and his call to “think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering (and)… encourage young people to create and build and invent – to be makers of things, not just consumers of things.”

A boy using tools at Maker Faire

AnnMarie and Kumar are excited about the work they are seeing as more and more libraries and museums provide the tools, spaces, and mentors to inspire young Makers to create. What I’ve seen is inspiring! IMLS grantees and others are experimenting with Makers spaces and in the process re-envisioning the potential for libraries and museums to foster 21st century skills and a whole lot of fun. Museums and libraries that are embracing the Maker initiative include the Exploratorium (CA), the Henry Ford (MI), the Carnegie Library (PA), the Westport Public Library (CT), the Fayetteville Free Library (NY), the Newark Museum (NJ), and the Detroit Public Library (MI) to name just a few. IMLS grant programs have supported Maker-type activities including digital studios, teen-focused technology toolkits, and mobile digital media labs for youth. Two of the IMLS-MacArthur Learning Lab grants have supported Maker spaces. A third is working to house Maker corps members in the summer of 2013. We are announcing a new grant today to the Chicago Public Library Foundation and the Chicago Public Library to partner with the Museum of Science and Industry and the STEM & Entrepreneurship Exchange for a Maker space within the library’s main branch. The lab will be available to the general public as a space for mentor-led learning and will introduce adults, families, teens, and children to new technologies and equipment that are enabling new forms of personal manufacturing and business opportunities. We anticipate that Maker activities will be a focus for the agency in fiscal year 2014, and we are looking forward to working with public and private partners to expand opportunities. If you’d like to learn more visit the Maker Education Initiative, and if you’re going to ALA Mid-Winter consider taking part in the Maker Monday events on January 28 in Seattle. Is your library or museum involved in the maker movement? Let us know more about it!