I understand why makerspaces are all the rage in library-land lately. They present an opportunity to educate members of our community in a range of useful hands-on and productive skills.
So why am I wary of them?
Too often, I see library makerspaces that are really nothing more than glorified carpentry or mechanic shops.
Too often, I see patrons using 3D printers and other technology to make nothing more than trinkets and tchotchkes. I have to question the long-term value of this.
In all such cases, though, these makerspaces let the library teach useful skills to people. And that’s the point, isn’t it?
So what’s the problem?
It seems to me that the skills we teach in makerspaces should be taught in vocational training schools and programs. I don’t see these skills as being fully within the purview of libraries. I don’t see this form of education as libraries’ responsibility.
The United States used to boast one of the most robust systems of post-primary vocational training schools in the world. That system used to have built-in options to make these schools and programs affordable to just about everyone. Over the past decades, the vocational training system in this country has been obliterated. Vocational education has been tremendously devalued in the American educational milieu. And the costs for those programs which remain have risen to prohibitively exorbitant levels.
Library makerspaces are intended to make up for the lack of proper vocational education in our communities. But I don’t believe that makerspaces can ever be more than a stop-gap measure to address this lack – a band-aid solution to a far deeper problem. Deeper solutions are needed.
Makerspaces in libraries are better than nothing, certainly. They serve a useful purpose here-and-now and, for now, I’m a big fan. They provide access to equipment and workspace, and teach truly useful skills to people at the most affordable price.
But ultimately I’d like to see them rendered unnecessary. We need to bring back our post-primary vocational schools and make them accessible again. That’s the best solution to the problem.