February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Maker Librarians Bring It to SXSWEdu 2015

School librarians Colleen Graves and Leah Mann presented on makerspaces at SXSWEdu 2015.

SXSW is the physical manifestation of Twitter, observed Jeremiah Owyang, founder of CrowdCompanies.com—in a tweet, of course. “Rapid interactions, random experiences, leaving you slightly dizzy.”

Fair enough. Yet a couple of themes remained persistent ones throughout SXSWEdu: design thinking and making, as participants considered the learning potential around these hot topics. In official programming, in the hallways, and over barbecue, librarians were on hand to help advance that conversation.

Library as chicken farm

Chickens raised on campus at the Maple Richmond Heights District, St Louis, MO,

Chickens raised on campus at the Maple Richmond Heights District, St Louis, MO,

“When I think of makerspace, I think of controlled chaos—in a good way,” says Patrice Bryan. The service learning teacher at Maplewood Richmond Heights School District in St. Louis, MO, Bryan described the process of transforming the school’s library as part of a March 11 panel “Innovative Library Makerspaces” at SXSWEdu, the education and technology conference held annually in Austin, TX, just prior to the larger interactive show.

Charged with turning the library into a “community hub,” Bryan’s work was part of a turnaround for Maplewood, a high poverty system that earned a grand prize in the 2013 Follett Challenge. On a bustling campus that raises chickens—with a hydroponic garden and tilapia in the basement, to boot—the district, from preschool to high school, immerses students in maker experiences.  And “the library is where everything happens,” says Bryan. You can “think tank a problem” or test a physics principle there. Now staffed by a media specialist and two tech staff, the library gets more traffic that any time in its 25-year history, says Bryan. And circulation has gone up.

“Because our district’s undercurrent is project-based, those kids are already familiar with the concept of design thinking,” she adds.

“Find the right people”

Design thinking and libraries—it could be a match made in heaven. Despite missions that seemingly align toward serving learners and their communities, public libraries and school libraries have not always had the easiest time with collaboration. That was the basis of “Schools and Libraries Together: Rethinking Learning.” The March 10 SXSWEdu session considered new tools and ways of working to help better forge partnerships and was led by two staffers at Skokie Public Library.

Rather than bring a library program wholesale into the school,  take a step back and say, “let’s see where our goals overlap,” toward a more integrated approach, says Amy Koester youth & family program coordinator, who co-presented the design thinking program with Vanessa Rosenbaum, Skokie’s graphic designer. Getting the right people to the table is key and any assumptions may hurt collaboration. In one instance, Koester says, seemingly from experience, “It was not the principal.”

For more information on applying these principles, Rosenbaum tipped attendees on a new resource from IDEO: “Design Thinking for Libraries.”

STEAM-powered makers

In more librarian goodness out of South By, two school media specialists led a packed room in their March 11 session “Makerspaces & STEAM Labs,” which evolved into a dynamic share-a-thon with participants trading ideas around specific tools and other best practices. “One thing we all agreed on was that Maker Education needs to be integrated into the core curriculum,” wrote co-presenter Colleen Graves, a librarian with Lewisville Independent School District and 2014 finalist for School Librarian of the Year, in her follow up recap of the event. Leah Mann, co-presenter with Graves and also a Lewisville librarian, shared her experience leading a first year makerspace.

In a convergence typical of SXSW, Mann found herself in conversation with Koester and Rosenbaum at the ER & L + ProQuest + DLF #IdeaDrop House (video below). “After hearing about what they were doing in Skokie, Mann says she knows the conversations she needs to have with her public libraries. “Now I’m excited about doing some partnerships.”

SXSWEdu resources:

#SXSWedu Makerspace Core Conversation and Takeaways | Create, Collaborate, Innovate  Post by Colleen Graves

Tips & Tricks from a 1st Year Maker | Piktochart

The Show Me Librarian: Let’s Get Together, Better: Rethinking Collaboration at SXSWedu 2015  Amy Koester’s recap

IDEO: Design Thinking for Libraries 

ER&L + ProQuest + DLF #IdeaDrop House

Makerspace Resources and Programming ideas | Create, Collaborate, Innovate 


STEAM Powered Libraries from ER&L on Vimeo.

Students at Maplewood Richmond Heights Schools make applesauce as part of the district's Seed to Table project.

Students at Maplewood Richmond Heights Schools make applesauce as part of the district’s Seed to Table project.

Kathy Ishizuka About Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka (kishizuka@mediasourceinc.com@kishizuka on Twitter) is the Executive Editor of  School Library Journal.

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