Tinker Table makerspace at Mansfield/Richland County Public Library, Ohio USA
The Maker Movement is awakening a sense of creativity, experimentation and curiosity in children and adults. Many libraries are tapping into this enthusiasm by creating Makerspaces and Hackerspaces with 3D printers and a variety of other technology. But what about small libraries that lack the funds and the space for a formal DIY area? An innovative team at the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library, Ohio US has come up with a simple but effective plan to bring the Maker mentality to their community.
During the summer of 2016 the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library hosted, Discover Tech: Engineers Make a World of Difference, an exhibit sponsored by The American Library Association and several national science organizations. This was a traveling installation of hands-on challenges and games to encourage investigation of science and engineering concepts. For three months the library was alive with activity as people from our community interacted with this thought provoking installation. During the majority of our open hours our lobby buzzed with students, teachers, families and other community members playing, experimenting and having fun.
After the exhibit was packed up and sent to the next location, the lobby seemed empty and quiet. The laughter, the exclamations of triumph and the challenges were gone. Those of us who had been working closely with this exhibit knew we wanted to restore the vitality, excitement and ingenuity that we had been observing.
Enter the Tinker Table; a small space in the lobby for a table, some chairs and a stand that displays a colorful sign and also holds activities and worksheets. It is simple in design and execution but speaks volumes about our desire for our customers to see our library as a destination for exploration and experiment.
To bring additional attention to this spot we have added “Tuesday Tinker Night” to our programming menu. Incorporating the tenets of the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) Movement, this is a weekly drop-in opportunity for customers of all ages to try their hand at simple science and art ventures.
A cooperative effort between the staff of the computer lab, the children’s department, the teen librarians and a few other enthusiastic employees, this program is not only fun for our customers but is a refreshing opportunity for staff to interact with the community in a low key, playful environment.
After two months of Tuesdays it appears that the program is a success. It has grown from 10 participants, who happened to be at the library during the first week, to 30 or more people who have come to the library specifically to “get their science on.” Each week we offer a different project, primarily recycling items and using supplies that we have on hand. We have explored chemical reactions, optical illusions and physics all in the guise of having fun. As we had hoped, customers are beginning to view this area as a place to be challenged, either directly with a program, or indirectly, through games, puzzles and worksheets that are always available. Word search puzzles are incredibly popular and there are a plethora of sites online where they can be created free of charge. We are also experimenting with leaving some jigsaw puzzles, paper and instructions for paper airplanes and small “make it/take it” type crafts out on the table.
We have recently expanded our Tinker Space by purchasing a four by three foot whiteboard to encourage spontaneous play. In discussing the interactions that we had witnessed during the Discover Tech exhibit, we agreed that a challenge to engineer a water purifying system using magnetic pipes on a large metal board was one of the most popular facets of the installation. Customers were almost constantly utilizing the parts and pieces to perform the stipulated activity or to fashion a racetrack that would extend far into the lobby. We are planning to provide magnetic objects, such as gears, racetracks and building blocks, which can be used for open ended and imaginative projects. This board can also be used to display artwork, pictures from Tinker Tuesdays and a thought provoking question or survey.
We don’t have the space, the staff or the funding for a traditional makerspace, but the Tinker Table is bridging the gap. Our small space is attracting families and others who are looking for a challenge or an inviting place to play a short game. The lobby is noisy and bustling again; just the way we like it.
Anne Curran Rhodes, Teen Librarian
Mansfield/Richland County Public Library, Ohio US