Libraries Week is fast approaching and we're continuing our exploration of the essential digital services our public libraries provide.
In this post, Matt Soare, Development Manager at Hull Libraries, talks to Lorensbergs about the setting up of their MakerSpace at Hull’s Central Library. We discuss what’s contributed to its success and hear about their plans for the future.
How did the MakerSpace begin?
It all began in 2017 during Hull’s City of Culture, when the library made the decision to convert their top floor into this dynamic exciting space in support of entrepreneurship in the city. Hull Libraries received funding from ACE, Libraries: Opportunities for Everyone (LOFE) innovation fund.
It took most of 2018 to convert the space and give it a more industrial feel. We then began by inviting selected people to come in and start exploring with the space to see how they were using everything and what worked. Then in January 2019 our first MakerSpace members started coming through the doors.
How did you decide what to put in the space?
We formed a steering group which ensured we got wide input of how best to go about it. The group includes representatives from local arts groups and galleries, various businesses from the local Centre for Digital Innovation, the City Council and the University. Everyone threw ideas in to see what was best to include and we ended up with an exciting technology and equipment shopping list.
It included 3D printers from a local manufacturer, computers, sewing machines, cutting equipment, power tools and kilns. The laser cutter is easily our most popular piece of equipment. It cuts lots of different materials to a really fine edge and is great for detailed work and engraving.
We decided that some pieces of equipment needed their own spaces to contain the noise and mess created, so we allocated a room for the CNC machine for computerised cutting, a woodworking room for the power tools, drills and saws, and a hot mess room for glass-fusing, pottery kilns and screen printing. It keeps the dust and mess away from the main space where people are doing electronics and sewing.
This aspect took time to get right through trial and error, to have the best place and location for each type of activity. But generally the space was designed to be adaptable to accommodate different activities, to see what works best and then add new capabilities and kit as we go.
How is the space resourced and funded?
We’ve recruited a small professional team with a wide skill set and all with ‘maker’ mindsets. They include a freelance artist, 3D printing specialist, mechanical engineering graduate and an expert in audio and video editing with experience of small scale art projects and electronics. The MakerSpace is currently open on three days a week and between them they support the various activities and equipment. There’s a lot of health and safety issues to consider, so two members of staff need to be present at any time.
The MakerSpace runs on a membership model – a bit like a ‘Gym for Geeks’ – with a monthly fee. It allows us to hire paid professional staff while allowing members to access equipment and software that would otherwise be difficult to afford. Some equipment requires an additional fee per hour to use and this enables us to cover its annual servicing.
Some family events are funded and free to participants. We’re always looking to source other funding opportunities to make this possible. Memberships are for 16+ year olds, but we also run children’s activities in the summer holidays, trying out things they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do at school. Where possible we try to enable everyone to make use of the facilities without financial barriers.
Above: Young makers exploring electronic circuits at a recent family maker day; a popular metalworking workshop
How do you encourage new members to join?
Hull Libraries is good at publicising what’s on offer. Initial reactions to the new facilities were very positive, and we’ve continued to use social media to market the space. Local media and radio have also provided coverage. We’re also very fortunate to have a content creator that very effectively markets the various services provided by the library and produces a new brochure every three months.
People are encouraged to just turn up and have a look around to see what’s on offer. We’re also about to start running taster days where people can drop in and try their hand at different things. There’ll be a number of activity stations for trying out different skills such as jewellery making, Illustrator and vector drawing, 3D printing and 3D modelling, someone to help with basic electronics, someone to show what the laser cutter can do.
The taster days help attendees to find out where their interests lie. We also have potential projects on show that new members could take on, for example, re-upholstering old furniture.
Some of our members are on the road to becoming ambassadors and volunteers for the MakerSpace. We’re looking at holding show and tell sessions and possibly TED talks.
There’s a lot of specialised equipment for use. How do you get your members up and running?
When people first turn up they tend to be amazed by the facilities but often don’t know where to start. We give them an induction, cover health and safety and then cover in more detail how the relevant kit and software works. We’re working towards a passport system of training and then use.
We talk to members about their ideas and help them work out how to make them real. Part of what we teach is analytical thinking and problem solving. This encourages self-led learning which speeds up what they can achieve and makes them more resourceful, for example, in using tutorials available on YouTube. It helps them as much towards building successful careers and businesses as the technical skills learnt.
Above: mugs with dye sublimated print produced in the space; 3D printing in progress
How does the MakerSpace fit in with other library services?
We’re working closely with our business and intellectual property centre, based in the reference library which is part of a national organisation run by the British Library. As members work with us we can signpost them to the support provided by the centre. When someone creates something new and realises there’s a demand for it, they can go to the business team for start-up advice. And likewise, when someone using the business centre needs to prototype their business idea, they get sent to us.
The business centre is going to introduce a hot desking area, so we can see members will be spending time in the MakerSpace on their projects, then get their paperwork done in the business lounge area. It’s going to work really well providing this one-stop shop.
What drives demand for the MakerSpace?
The MakerSpace supports a love of making. People are drawn to that and the idea of lifelong learning. They’re also recognising how important it is to reuse and repair things and come to the space to do these things.
Members get more out of it than just using the facilities. They get to discuss and explore their project ideas with the staff and there’s also lots of networking between members when they stop working for a cup of tea. You often see members simply asking each other about what they’re working on, or asking for their opinions on how to achieve something.
It appeals to a wide range of people so it serves many different parts of the community. We have a really broad mix, from computer science students making use of the software and computers, to retired people making door numbers for their houses or repairing showerheads. Local businesses use our facilities to build product prototypes or new equipment. For example, a member recently came in and built a PC server and cooling system.
There’s not the young people taking up apprenticeships that there used to be, yet many people in various trades are now retiring. The MakerSpace gives them the opportunity to share their knowledge and skills.Teens who might be lacking direction come in and are shown trust and a way to develop their problem-solving skills. You really see how important it is for them to spend this time in a productive and positive environment.
Anything’s possible here, there’s so much creativity. It’s an agile space so it supports lots of different types of activities. You see people begin with a cardboard template and end with a finished product. The MakerSpace certainly serves a lot of needs. You never know what you might be asked or what users end up creating!
What are some of the more imaginative projects you’ve seen?
We had one man come in to build puzzles as part of his own ‘escape room’ project. Then there was a father and son who were converting toy cars into working Scalextric cars. Another member was designing and creating items for his wedding, including a cake stand, place names and the table plan for the day. And we had a member who was going to a video game convention and needed a costume. She created one in the space starting from paper templates to finished article. There’s always lots of inspiration for new projects from social media. For example, interactive clothing made from e-readers has been one source of inspiration. It’s never dull here!
What other plans do you have for the future?
We want to do all we can to encourage the creation of new businesses in Hull, so we want to increase the space’s opening hours and make it easier for more people to get in and make use of the equipment. We would like to expand the team and start opening earlier each day to make it easier for parents to use the facilities before they’re due to pick up their children from school. The facilities could support them in product design and launching new web-based businesses.
In terms of new facilities, we want to start offering vacuum moulding for very quick model making after creating a prototype from a 3D printer. It would be great to upgrade our VR headsets and we would also like to provide a 3D printer that works with resin instead of plastic for more finished looking models and faster working. Circuit board making is something else we could offer.
An overall objective is to make it possible for everyone in Hull and beyond to try something new as part of the library’s support for lifelong learning and skill sharing, so that’s what we’re working towards.
With thanks to Matt Soare at Hull Libraries for sharing his experiences and insights on the set up and running of a successful library MakerSpace.