Making Makers at the Colorado Association of Libraries 2014 Conference

Since the 1970s, when it became cheaper to buy a new color TV than it was to fix the old one, we’ve lived in a throwaway culture. That’s what Mark Frauenfelder, Boing Boing creator, Editor and Chief of Make Magazine and Boulder native told an audience at the Colorado Association of Libraries 2014 conference yesterday. I was on a panel at the conference and was lucky enough to sneak over to Mark’s talk.

Mark said that 100 years ago, 80 percent of Americans were natural makers – we lived on farms and had to create the things we needed. Then there was the Great Making Lull (GML) of the 1970s through early 2000s, when the perfect storm of desire, access to inexpensive research and development tools, prototyping materials, funding sources like Kickstarter, access to manufacturing like 3D printers, laser cutters etc. and DIY sales channels came together to lower the barrier to entry to innovation and making.

Suddenly, after the 30-year GML, making was back on the cultural radar.

Now it’s time to take it a step further. I want to help inspire kids to not only become makers, but to become innovators.  Our parents were expected to learn to be experts in their fields, to know all there is to know about what they wanted to do.  But today being an expert means more than knowledge: facts are only a Google search away. What tomorrow’s innovators need to know is how to act on knowledge.  They need to know how to empathize with people and problems; they need to learn how to work with others to create solutions; and they need to learn how to fail, over and over again as part of the process.

I was on a “Meet the Makers” panel with Jill Case of the Denver Sewing Collective and Steve Elliot of Longmont’s fabulous Tinker Mill.  Me? I’m not a Maker of things, but I like to think that I’m learning how to be a maker of makers. One of the questions was about our experience with Maker Spaces.  We talked about tools and tech gear, 3D printers, laser cutters, movie making equipment and coding software. I talked about Modular Robotics and Sketch it Make it and Sphero.  But what I really wanted to talk about was inspiration and engagement.

Yes, I think it’s amazing to fill a room with electronics and drill presses and see what comes of it – but even in a space built for making, the possibilities depend on the imagination and skills of the person in the space; it still comes down to the skill of the maker.  In addition to cool tools, I think that the best maker spaces are built from community excitement and engagement.  I worry that without inspiration and the creation of community, those amazing spaces will end up empty.

If you simply build it, they may not come.

Instead, we’ve seen how important it is to inspire the makers in your space. Hold classes and workshops; encourage makers to gather to share their ideas. Create challenges.  If you have a new 3-D printer, challenge your patrons to design and print a new logo for your Maker Space, with the winner’s logo hung for all to see. Organize robot races with your new robotics kits; have a short film festival that features films your users have made on your technology; have a wearable electronics fashion show or costume parade; host an invent-off where your patrons/ students use the maker space to prototype their inventions.  The options are endless and don’t have to be expensive or time consuming.

If you want to inspire makers to be innovators, don’t get blinkered into thinking that the space is the end goal. The end goal is inspiration and community and creativity and passion. What makes a Maker Space is passionate people coming together to make things and share their inspiration with others.

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