Welcome to the first of hopefully many Technology & Culture posts, a new regular feature on Information Space!
This July, I had the opportunity and privilege to interact with some of the other MLIS students who are completing their Master’s degrees online. All of us came from different regional areas, library types, and walks of life. We had wonderful conversations and brainstorming sessions about library programming and the future of libraries. One of these discussions, facilitated by Jill Hurst-Wahl, was about maker spaces.
What is a Maker Space?
A maker space is defined as a community center that provides its members tools (whether lessons and/or physical materials) to create. If you are in the Syracuse area, the SALT maker space recently opened. It’s a short ways away from North campus at Syracuse University. It’s pretty cool, and the people there are all very nice. Check it out!
What Do Maker Spaces Have To Do With Libraries?
Well, libraries are community centers that already work towards providing community members access to information and resources. It isn’t a big stretch that this should encompass hands-on skills and training as well. There are many libraries that already have maker spaces to serve their community. Some are larger than others; some have things like 3D printers. Others have smaller programs, like my local library’s Lego Club.
Legos and littleBits
Lego sets are expensive, and once you build one set, you generally want to move on to a different challenge. By having a Lego Club, the Jones Library allows children to play with more Lego sets than they would ever be likely to have access to, while creating a community space for children to interact and build together.
Lego Club brings me to this week’s Tech and Culture highlight. There is an amazing innovator named Ayah Bdeir. Fast Company featured her in its 100 Most Creative People in Business of 2013 for her business littleBits. LittleBits have been described as “digital Legos” or “Legos for the iPad Generation.”
Ayah Bdeir is an engineer and artist who grew up between Lebanon, Canada, and the US—receiving her Master’s degree from MIT’s Media Lab. I found out about her and littleBits through her work as a mentor for Made with Code, Google’s current program/initiative to get more girls and young women interested in technology and learning code.
Creative Commons gave Ayah a fellowship, and she was at the forefront of creating an Open Hardware definition. This later led to her being one of 25 innovators to receive a fellowship from TED in 2012. Her TEDTalk, “Building Blocks that Blink, Beep and Teach,“ describes her passion and business littleBits. This video explains what these digital building blocks are all about:
If littleBits are incorporated in library maker spaces or programming they could provide children access to an educational tool that they otherwise might never have.
Lego kits can run (when not on sale) from about $30, to $316 at their most intricate. LittleBits collections are $99 for a base kit of 10 bits, though there are much larger kits available for large institutions. In comparison to Legos, pieces in littleBits are reusable in different products and so there’s a greater return on investment.
If a small library could even afford to rent out one or two base kits for use in the library, a child would be able to explore engineering and create one of the open source designs on the littleBits website or invent something entirely their own.
There are a lot of ways for libraries to serve their members, and libraries should design their programming to fit the needs of their community. Wouldn’t it be neat though, to provide this tool to children and adults alike? I would love to see this resource available to communities, small and large alike, across the United States in the upcoming years. I am also very excited to see what Ayah Bdeir will be up to next.
What do you think of littleBits? Is this a resource that should be used in libraries? Leave your comments here!