Jellyfish are unusual and beautiful, but also potentially dangerous, creatures. And yet, jellyfish can be touched gently without causing harm to the jellyfish or the human being. Indeed, they are friendly and social creatures, just as humans are. It is all in the way that they are approached.
As the use of library spaces transforms from collection-heavy print warehouses, to technology-rich collaborative creation spaces, we invite our communities to unleash their beautiful and dangerous ideas. We are fascinated by what we see appearing before us, new ideas emerging from the depths of public creative artistic endeavours, and yet, we are often scared of what this represents.
Are we ready?
In transforming our libraries to participate in the makerspace movement, to create a public space where our communities are welcome to create, engage, develop, encourage, make, are we wilfully ignoring the ongoing reality that for many in our community, these makerspaces are not accessible, not welcoming, not inviting, not safe? Instead, without broader discussions about art, privacy, community, democracy, the library space continues to be an intimidating and unknown place to enter, just as it was for previous communities.
It is not enough to provide a neutral space where people can create their own makerspace reality. The boldest, bravest and noisiest community members may claim the space, and this potentially alienates and disengages the quiet, vulnerable and smaller voices in our communities. In contrast, the makerspace may become so neutral that no one feels they can engage with the space, even on a temporary rather than permanent basis. Providing the space alone is not enough. We must engage with our communities to develop, participate and own the space. We must do so by providing spaces that are flexible, participatory, open and safe.
We also should not open up these makerspaces, without also providing ways and places to explore, develop, question, understand the meaning and implications of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, copyright, privacy, intellectual freedom, creative commons and intellectual property. Library staff need to have the skills, knowledge and tools to respond to and engage with these concepts alongside their communities.
Are we truly ready?
While we strive to ensure that everyone is welcome in a community space, and that all ideas are permissible and welcome, how do we work with those activities and groups that make us uncomfortable? Making is an artistic endeavour, and yet, making is not the same for everyone.
For some, the act of creation is a solo, personal and private activity. These community members may want to access the makerspace on an individual level, instead of in a group way.
For some, the act of creation is a collaborative, collective and public activity. These community members may want to access the makerspace on a group level, instead of in an individual way.
Be clear about which creative endeavours your space is open to.
Can you find a way to walk the artistic tightrope of both public and private, individual and collective activities? If not, then drop the neutrality act, be clear and transparent about what is encouraged and permissible in the makerspace. We cannot be perfect at the outset, we must continually review and reflect on the makerspace with our communities. Use of the makerspace and community engagement should continue to evolve, and our organisational policies, programmes and staffing also need to adapt and be updated.
If you acknowledge that your makerspace is primarily focused on public artistic activities, find other ways for your community to privately and individually create, make and do. You could instead establish a collection of tools and resources for them to borrow, from musical instruments to paint brushes, from sewing machines to garden tools.
Are we really, truly ready?
Our role is to work alongside our communities to develop and transform our communities’ lives, yet for many of us, we haven’t openly defined our measures of success and measures of failure for makerspaces. Find ways to define measures that are meaningful for both organisational and communities’ needs.
Are we ready to engage and accept the reality of radical and challenging artistic ideas made accessible and visible in a public setting? By not encouraging discourse about art, privacy, piracy, copyright and democracy, are we actually hiding from these difficult questions for our communities?
Are we ready for the challenge of community activism, the radical sharing of art and ideas?
Maintaining a façade of a neutral space, we do our individual selves, our profession and our communities a disservice. Let’s not provide blank, faceless, bland space. Let’s cultivate an environment of honesty, engagement, creation and questioning.
Let’s learn to touch the jellyfish with our communities.
Let’s welcome in beauty amidst danger.
Yes. We are ready.