Maker Librarian is very excited to welcome our first regular contributor to the site, Bill Derry from Westport Library MakerSpace, CT! Read the interview to find out more about Bill, how he became interested in maker culture and his library’s amazing space. If you want to hear more, catch the free webinar from ALA later today. We look forward to hearing more from Bill over the coming weeks.
1. So, tell us a little about yourself
I’m Bill Derry the assistant director for innovation and user experience at the Westport Library in CT. I worked in education for over 30 years before coming to the library — as an elementary classroom teacher, drama-in-education teacher, library media specialist, supervisor of library media K-12 and information and technology literacy coordinator K-12. Although I collaborated with public libraries all my adult life, I have only worked in the Westport Library since June of 2011. I am very fortunate to be at such an amazing library with Maxine Bleiweis as the director. She is a true visionary!
I have learned that the major difference between a school system (and the libraries in it) and a public library system is that the former is a closed system and the latter is an open system. In this new era of open systems, public libraries as learning institutions are well positioned to support schools, so I feel like I am in the right place at the right time.
2. How did you get interested in maker culture and maker/hackerspaces?
I have always been interested in how things work — from repairing wind-up record players and early computers to making electrical projects in the classroom with kids, and repairing things around the house. But my true interest in maker culture, especially as it relates to libraries, was heightened when I heard John Seely Brown speak at the Internet Librarians Conference in 2011 and again when I heard Fiacre O’Duinn ( yes, the creator of this site!) speak at the Computers in Libraries conference earlier this year.
John Seely Brown co-wrote a book with Douglas Thomas called A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change. It provides new learning strategies for all organizations dealing with helping people. In it, he outlined why playing, making and tinkering are important modes of human behavior that can be used to learn and assimilate new technologies and ideas. He talked about Make Magazine and Maker Faires as important for libraries since they offer a great opportunity to provide new participatory learning environments. When I brought these ideas back to the Westport Library, our director, Maxine Bleiweis, was extremely receptive as was the staff.
Later, when a community leader, Mark Mathias, came to us with an idea of creating a Maker Faire in Westport, we partnered with him and his organization and together we created a Mini-Maker Faire which took place on April 28, 2012, on the Green outside our library and in the library. We expected an audience of about 800 people, but to our delight we had over 2,200 people! The overwhelming response highlighted the intense interest that our community has for making things.
Due to the success of the Maker Faire, our library director, Maxine Bleiweis, decided that creating a Maker Space with a Maker-in-Residence would keep the momentum from the Maker Faire going. One of the Maker Faire presenters, Joseph Schott, asked me if he could do a large project in the Library. He is an architect and engineer, and previously he had built a model airplane with 4 and 5 year olds; he now proposed to build two much larger models of two airplanes with our patrons. He also proposed to design and build our MakerSpace, and within 5 weeks the MakerSpace was built and in operation.
3. Why do you think librarians should care about makerspaces?
Libraries have always supported the sharing of ideas, and one way to do that has been to lend a variety of media! Books work as one media to convey ideas from one person to another and will continue to work in whatever form into which they morph (digital, for example), but as we know, there are many other forms of media which offer as good or better ways to share ideas. We have spent significant amounts of time providing content and not much time providing new contexts in which to experience content. Creating different contexts can create different behaviors. MakerSpaces, as context, create the behaviors of tinkering, imagining, playing and making. This creates opportunities for new connections between people, materials and ideas. The Maker Mindset can help to create new learning and potentially new business ventures. A MakerSpace is a stepping stone to creating a new mindset for the redefinition of libraries.
Librarians can’t care about Makerspaces until they understand the power of making, and one of the best ways is to visit a MakerSpace and/or a Maker Faire. If it is not possible to find one nearby, there are many online videos that document people’s visits to Maker Spaces and Maker Faires. Maker Faires deal with invention, creativity, communication and sharing ideas. They also create an environment, a CONTEXT, in which sharing ideas, especially new ideas, is encouraged and promoted. In fact, this is their purpose – they are a giant open source idea sharing celebration of ingenuity and inventiveness!
4. Tell us about the space in your library.
Currently our space is 20′ X 16′ and located in the center of our Great Hall.
Westport Library – Great Hall before the MakerSpace
Westport Library – Great Hall after the MakerSpace was built
The MakerSpace was designed by our Maker-in-Residence, Joseph Schott, to resemble the Wright Brothers’ shed. It is in the center of our Great Hall so that everyone entering the library has the opportunity to participate in some way. There are counters and cabinets to hold tools and workshop materials in our MakerSpace. Currently our Maker-in-Residence has brought all of his tools to the MakerSpace, including sanders, routers, saws, drills and other devices. We also have one 3D printer, a MakerBot Replicator. We allow patrons to use thepPrinter after meeting with one of our technology staff, and we have a minimum of 6 hours of 3D printer demonstration time in the library each week. Many workshops have taken place or are planned for the MakerSpace or other rooms in the Library, including: Brushbot creation, Nintendo Rehab, Sewing with LED lights, Taking your Invention from Idea to Reality, using Scratch, Arduino Boards, Soldering Electric Circuits and more.
5. If there is one thing you could achieve with your makerspace, what would it be?
In the library, I would welcome the shift from fewer transactional experiences (checking things out and answering questions) to many more transformational experiences (where changes occur in perception, thought and/or actions)!