Five Things to Remember when Opening a Makerspace

My library just opened our new makerspace, called the Make-It Lab, on Monday. If your library has opened a makerspace, or is thinking about it, remember this – it’s a very different type of service to create, and you most definitely WILL be surprised by something.

Here are some things we have learned through the planning and opening of our makerspace (I’m sure there are more than these!):

1. You can’t train for everything. When you create a service involving stuff you simply haven’t done before, like digital music creation, 3D printing, or offering Mac computers … I guarantee you will be surprised at something. So make sure to train for flexibility, and know who to call when you get stumped.

2. You don’t have all the equipment your customers want. You won’t have everything your customers want. On our opening day, an older gentleman who was interested in seeing the space started asking questions. He liked our VHS-to-digital transfer tools, but wondered if we could also do cassette tapes, VHS-C tapes, and DVDs. We had to say no to some of that because we don’t have all the equipment needed, but told him that we’d keep track of the request and see what we could do as we adjust the room for our customers.

And that was just the first day.

3. You have more stuff than you realize. You didn’t just buy a camera, a 3D printer, and a microphone. You bought a camera (and a power cable, and a battery, and [hopefully] a battery charger, and an instruction manual), a 3D printer (and probably an extra spool or two of filament), and a microphone (and probably a microphone holder, maybe a mic stand adapter, a mic stand, and an XLR cable). You have to figure out where to put everything, how to label all this stuff so it makes sense for customers and staff, and how to check that nothing “accidentally” walks away.

4. There are a TON of details. I’ll admit – details are not my strong suit. Thankfully, I work in a library with some remarkable detail-oriented staff! We had to work through some processes like: how do you check out the room; do you check out the room or the computer; how many people can be in the room at the same time; how, exactly, do you pay for your 3D print; how do you go about getting equipment to customers, etc.

And each of those processes have multiple steps behind them.

5. 3D printers are persnickety. We first bought a Makerbot 5th Generation 3D printer (my earlier post about the Makerbot still holds true – no improvement). As of now, it has not worked well enough for us to feel comfortable putting it out for public use. Makerbot’s “SmartExtruder” is not so smart – it jams every couple of prints. So we did some more research, and purchased an Ultimaker 2. In the week or two that we’ve had it, it has worked great – no jams!

Bonus point – have fun! If you’re opening some type of makerspace/hackerspace/digital media lab, you have a good chance to attract people to your library that don’t usually use your services, or you might introduce a regular, more traditional customer to a fun, new experience.

What’s not to like about that?

Equipment for my Library’s Makerspace

M-Audio USB 25-key keyboard controllerMy library is putting the final touches on our fledgling makerspace/digital media lab. It opens December 8, assuming all the details fall into place! I thought it might be interesting to do a few posts on our plans – to share equipment ideas, policies and guidelines, and planning – in hopes that someone else will find it useful.

We are calling it the MakeIT Lab. Our goal is to allow customers to use computers and digital technology to make stuff, including:

  • edit and manipulate photos
  • create digital art
  • create and edit videos
  • record music, podcasts, and oral histories
  • transfer videos from old formats to newer ones
  • scan photos and documents
  • and make cool stuff with our 3D printer.

We’ll let customers do this inside the building in the lab, and outside the building by checking out a Media Bag. We’re placing the 3D printer in a very public area with signage about the MakeIT Lab in hopes that it promotes the rest of the makerspace just by … being cool (fingers crossed on that).

This is very much a pilot project for us. We have a starting list of equipment, procedures, trained staff (still working on that one), and a small room. If it goes well, we might need to expand services – more on that next year!

Here’s our starting list of equipment:

For the room:

  • Two Apple iMac computers
  • Alesis Elevate 3 studio monitors for the computers
  • flatbed scanner
  • Wacom digital drawing tablet
  • MakerBot 3D printer and filament
  • Canon Vixia camcorder
  • Elgato A/D converter
  • tripods and video lighting
  • M-Audio Oxygen 25 USB Keyboard controller
  • Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio interface
  • Microphones (Audio Technica AT 2020 and Shure SM57 mics)
  • Microphone stands and cables

For the Media Bags. These are bags of stuff that you can check out. We do lots of “bag” things, including Travel Bags, Health Bags, and Book Group in a Bag. Each of the Media Bags will have some basic equipment and a Dummies Guide book in the bag. Bags include:

  • Video bag: Canon Vixia camcorder
  • Photography bag: Canon PowerShot digital camera
  • Field Recording bag (for podcasting, oral histories, etc): Zoom H1 digital recorder
  • Songwriters Bag: Tascam DR-40 Portable digital recorder, Audio Technica AT 2020 microphones (2 of them), mic stand and cables.

Software:

  • iLife suite (GarageBand, iMovie)
  • Google Sketchup
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • And probably some other software that I’m forgetting at the moment.

Should be a fun project!

3D Printers and Libraries in the News

The Chicago Tribune recently interviewed me about 3D printers in libraries (they interviewed a bunch of other cool people too).

The newspaper seems to be making an issue of what you can/cannot/should not print in a library setting, and talked about printing guns, obscene objects, etc using a library’s 3D printer.

Here’s my take – let your customers print, and don’t worry (too much) about special 3D printing policies:

  • My guess – Your already existing customer behavior policy/guidelines probably covers everything you need. So I’m not sure you need an extra-special “3D printer policy.”
  • Printing bad/naughty/dangerous things – Your customers probably won’t be doing this. So stop worrying about those “what if” scenarios. When they do appear, see the above point about your customer behavior guidelines.
  • On the issue of printing 3D guns:
    • Your library probably already has books about making guns (under the subject heading of “gunsmithing”). What’s the difference?
    • A 3D printed gun is a multi-part project, requiring multiple 3D files. Unless the customer has named each file “nefarious gun part #1, 2 and 3″ … you’re not gonna know what they’re printing anyway.

What do you think? Please leave a comment!

Photo by Gastev

Makerbot Replicator 5th Generation – Not Ready for Primetime!

Makerbot Replicator 5th GenerationA little over a month or so ago, my library bought our first 3D printer, a Makerbot – the newest, 5th Generation Makerbot.

Our goal is to put it out for public use this fall (one of the options in our planned makerspace/digital media lab).

But guess what? We can’t get the thing to work consistently. It’s easy to use, the controls are great, the filament is easy to load, and their new Smart Extruder print head is easy to work with.

Well – it’s easy to work with until there’s a jam or clog. Guess what? The Smart Extruder isn’t so smart when it comes to clogs, because you can’t really take the thing apart to unclog it.

We’ve had to send the extruder back to Makerbot and get a replacement … about 4-5 times now. In a month and a half.

Not good, Makerbot! I’m guessing you guys can do better than that!

Fingers crossed this gets figured out, or we’ll have to send the whole thing back and find another option.

So – who has 3D printers out for public use? Which ones? I’d love to know – especially if I have to find another one!

Tour of Kansas City Makerspaces & Co-working Spaces

I recently went on a whirlwind tour of Kansas City area makerspaces and co-working spaces, as part of a group of local community leaders interested in creating a really cool co-working/maker/hacker/media space in the Topeka area.

My library’s definitely interested – we are creating a digital media lab this year. So touring these spaces was pretty useful!

Here’s where I visited – read the post, and follow along in the video!

  1. Johnson County Library’s Makerspace – this small makerspace has two iMac computers, a 3D printer, a sewing machine, and a scanner, among other things. The space is set up for a variety of creative pursuits.
  2. Homes for Hackers – Not much about this place in my video, but it’s a pretty cool idea. If you have a start-up business, you can move to Kansas City, stay at Homes for Hackers for three months for free, and focus full-time on your idea. And use Google Fiber, too.
  3. Think Big Partners – A co-working space that also offers 6-9 month mentoring programs for early-stage technology-focused startups. All of the co-working spaces offered some form of a desk and chair, a mailing address, wifi, coffee, event space, meeting rooms, and flexible, month-to-month payment plans.
  4. OfficePort KC – A co-working space about 2-3 blocks away from Think Big Partners. They also offer a nice-looking sound stage for video work.
  5. Innovation Cafe – Another co-working space. This space was the most affordable for people just needing a place to sit – $39 a month. And it’s across the street from Kansas City Public Library’s main building – can’t beat that!
  6. Union Station’s Maker Studio – a nice makerspace focused on kids and teens. It’s in Science City, a hands-on children’s science museum. They aren’t open yet – I think their plan is to open sometime in January (so really soon). They have 3D printers, Arduino kits, soldering irons, a HUGE CNC router, etc. Lots to learn and experience here.
  7. Hammerspace – A really cool makerspace with a lot to offer. Check out the video – when I was there, there were a LOT of grown dudes making things. Thinks involving Arduinos, 3D printers, soldering irons, coding, etc. There was also an artist working on some sort of screenprint thing. And lots of visiting and sharing, too!

There’s a LOT happening in Kansas City right now, which is pretty neat! Hopefully I can help stretch that an hour west to Topeka :-)

What are your plans for a makerspace in 2014? Have you started thinking about it? I’d love to hear more!