What does digital inclusion mean for libraries? It's the idea that all libraries, even budget-constrained ones, can provide access to current information and communication technologies for their patrons. This could include computers, apps, and current software, plus more exotic things like 3D printers, robotics, toys, programming, and trainings.
Nice idea, but how might small, rural, and other libraries without big budgets get innovative technology and training? Meet the New Mexico Makerstate Initiative.
What Is the Makerstate Initiative?
The goal of the New Mexico Makerstate Initiative is to excite New Mexico communities about STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). The Makerstate Initiative encourages participants to reclaim New Mexico's rich heritage of making, and introduces exciting new technologies in a fun and accessible way. The project is led by the nonprofit Parachute Factory, a nonprofit makerspace in rural Las Vegas, New Mexico, which works in cooperation with New Mexico Highlands University.
Makerspaces are communities where everyone can share their do-it-yourself projects, search for inspiration, and connect with fellow makers. The New Mexico Makerstate Initiative sponsors what it calls "pop-up makerspace programs" like its recent Summer Makerspace Tour in which smart, young AmeriCorps volunteers, like Allie Burnquist, go out on the road and hold hands-on workshops for kids all over the state, mainly in rural libraries.
How the Project Started
I had a chance to ask Mimi Roberts, director for media projects at the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, about the Makerstate Initiative's origin. She explains:
"The New Mexico Makerstate Initiative got started in 2012 when I got a phone call from Dave Hurley, who was at that time the bureau chief for library development at the New Mexico State Library (NMSL). Dave had just bought some 3D printers for NMSL with the idea of lending them out to public libraries as a way to promote digital literacy and STEM learning.
"On our end, our Center for Technology (CCT) was just starting our own maker programs with two makerspaces, Parachute Factory in Las Vegas, New Mexico, home of New Mexico Highlands University, and StartUp Studio in Albuquerque, at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. What began as a phone conversation with Dave developed into a collaborative program now entering its third year to bring maker programs to rural public and tribal libraries throughout the state."
This new and cost-effective library digital inclusion program is getting some good attention. Nearly 100 people signed up for a recent ALA Annual Conference workshop on the initiative that was presented by Mariano Ulibarri, founder and director of the Parachute Factory. Also, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) did a significant write-up on the project. Mariano Ulibarri's basic approach as quoted in the piece is: "The world is so complicated, especially the world of technology. People feel they have no control of the devices that control their lives. Making is a way to start becoming producers and informed users rather than just consumers. It's a way in, for people who aren't scientists and engineers, to work with high-tech tools and to create."
How Pop-Up Workshops Work
AmeriCorps Cultural Technology Program volunteer, Allie Burnquist, explains how the Makerspace Initiative goes on the road:
"Our workshops are split into two tours. The Teen Tech Week tour takes place over one week in March and the NMSL Summer Makerspace tour takes place throughout the summer. We travel to cities all over the state and have even done workshops on the bookmobile in order to reach very rural areas.
"Over the last two years, we have done a total of 49 workshops at 36 libraries in 34 cities around the state. During this time, we were able to reach 1,879 participants. Most of them were children.
"Our work has been greatly received by librarians and patrons throughout the state of New Mexico, especially in our rural communities. By visiting the more rural areas, we are able to introduce exciting new technologies to children and community members who otherwise may not have the opportunity to discover. Patrons of all ages are always thrilled to see our 3D printers in action and learn how they work.
"Through the workshops we provide, children are able to experience learning in a hands-on environment. By inventing their own creations with the basic concepts we teach, children are able to take pride in the work they are inventing with their hands and hold a sense of ownership over their own learning experience. We hope that our work encourages everyone to utilize their local libraries as a place of discovery and collaboration.
"I like the smaller workshops because they give us an opportunity to give more individual attention. We have a chance to find out what kids want to learn and how they want to apply their new knowledge — what tools they would find useful in their lives."
What Is Next?
Director for New Mexico Media Projects Mimi Roberts told me that the Makerstate project objectives go well beyond digital inclusion.
"We emphasize cultural relevance and intergenerational interactions, and we aim to reclaim New Mexico's maker heritage, and to honor heritage technologies, while introducing new ones. Inventing and innovating are part of the heritage of New Mexico; they're how people have managed to survive here in conditions that can be very challenging, to say the least. With the success of the past two years, we hope that the New Mexico State Library will make the New Mexico Makerstate Initiative a permanent part of their digital literacy and STEM programming."
IMLS reports that in addition to conducting maker workshops on-site at libraries, Parachute Factory and New Mexico State Library also are offering librarians professional development training to create their own programs and sustain the momentum. Many libraries can now independently operate on these projects, as well as help mentor other libraries. New Mexico State Library is planning to roll out mini-grants directly to libraries looking to introduce maker programs.
Sharing Makerstate Resources
To make the successful workshops more available to libraries everywhere, Makerstate has posted workshop descriptions and curriculum links on a resources page. It lists things like Makey Makey, an invention kit for kids to turn everyday objects into working inventions. Makerstate pop-up workshops often provide basic circuitry training for kids so they can create their own inventions. The photos in this story are from the Makerstate Makey Makey and littleBits workshop in Belen, New Mexico.
We haven't heard of any other statewide initiatives like this to bring library digital inclusion via the maker movement to every library. Please tell us about what is happening in your state.