As libraries shift towards informal, collaborative learning spaces, makerspaces have become a growing part of library services and resources. In this article, Bowler not only explores how libraries are creating meaningful, tangible experiences that foster creativity, but also asks how educators can integrate the skills, knowledge, and aptitude required for implementing makerspaces into the professional training of librarians, without losing sight of the core mission and goals of the library itself.
Bowler investigated these questions though a maker experience pilot test—a Bots and Books Design Challenge—with Library and Information Science (LIS) students. The design challenge asked students to select a children’s story (e.g., The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Ballad of Mulan, a fairy tale) and interpret it using a robot. The goal was to create an interpretation that provides a deeper understanding of the story and provokes an emotional response; the interactive, expressive robot also needed to demonstrate the student’s capacity for careful craftsmanship, elegant design, and technical skills in engineering and computer programming. Both the technical platform and the visual programming language used in the pilot test have been successfully used with elementary school students, and the LIS students were given an introduction and demo before the design challenge.
The design challenge participants were interviewed, and their answers revealed several key insights. One was that many participants before the event were unfamiliar with the iterative nature of design; they had not expected to spend most of their time on prototyping, trial and error testing, problem-solving, running cost/benefit analyses, or choosing “good enough” solutions. Still, even the participants who had little to no experience in crafting, engineering, or programming reported that they found the process rewarding, and suggested that the activity would be worthwhile for other LIS students to gain confidence in problem-solving and addressing technical challenges in the future.
The design challenge itself utilized a learning-by-making, constructionist approach that may not be immediately familiar to LIS students, but can be valuable experience for future librarians—especially librarians in explicitly educational settings like school libraries. Where design thinking and maker experiences fit into formal LIS curriculum is still an open question, but involving LIS students in practical experiences like hands-on, design activities with children and young adults in school and public libraries could provide opportunities for future research.