Bill Would Back Makerspaces in Public Libraries

Electronics at HiCapacity

Hawaii lawmakers are considering a bill that would allocate half a million dollars to host makerspaces in public libraries. As longstanding hubs of knowledge for communities, it makes sense for libraries to expand their offerings — from books to internet access, and now tools for tinkering and creating.

Last month, Sen. Glenn Wakai told a group of local makers that he was thinking of proposing such a bill, floating the idea of a $100,000 pilot program. But SB1278 — introduced by Wakai and his colleague Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland — asks for $500,000.

“State public libraries provide the ideal community space in which to support and create the next generation of writers, inventors, and mechanics,” the proposed bill reads. “Accordingly, the purpose of this Act is to appropriate funds to the board of education to establish and maintain makerspaces and the equipment, materials, and personnel necessary for the operation of makerspaces in public libraries statewide.”

The bill allocates the funds to the Board of Education, which administers the Hawaii State Public Library System, and asks for funding for both fiscal year 2015-2016 as well as 2016-2017. And while bills that include a request for funds have a much higher mortality rate, I’m hoping this one finds enough support to make it through the session.

I’m excited to see this bill introduced, having followed the local maker movement for years. There are now makerspaces and groups across the state: HiCapacity and Oahu Makerspace in Honolulu, Maui Makers on the Valley Isle, and Kauai Makers on the Garden Isle. We had our first official Honolulu Mini Maker Faire last year, with the second annual event set for May 9. And while it’s a creative and passionate community that is growing, advancing important skills and principles, the facilities and tools are not widely accessible.

Fortunately, library makerspaces are sprouting up across the country, with the American Library Association backing a national movement to add maker tools and training to a library’s community resources. ALA President Barbara Stripling said last summer, “Makerspaces are enabling libraries to transform their relationship with communities and to empower community members of all ages to be creators of information, not just consumers.”

And local librarians have been eager to see their libraries embrace the maker movement. The Hawaii Library Association has featured and discussed makerspaces at every one of its regular meetings over the past couple of years, including a presentation just last month (PDF) as well as last spring’s conference, in which I participated.

The founders of two community spaces in Hawaii are backing the bill. Don Kosak, founder of the Hawaii Tech Exchange in Hilo, shared with me the testimony he submitted today:

Libraries were hubs of the community, providing valuable research materials for students, workers, and small business owners. With these materials available now at the swipe of a finger from any cell phone or computer, many libraries are struggling to find purpose. Makerspaces can provide that purpose, once again creating a hub for the community… These public makerspaces will make modern, high-tech job related skills accessible for students, entrepreneurs, and job seekers. This is directly in line with the Hawaii State Public Library System’s mission of nurturing lifelong learning through its programs and physical spaces.

He added that many of the members of the Hawaii Tech Exchange include engineers and researchers who would be willing to donate time to teach classes and share knowledge in a public library makerspace.

Jerry Isdale, founder of Maui Makers, also submitted testimony in support of the bill:

This visionary measure will provide the best investment possible for the future of Hawaii’s innovation, economy and citizens. The whole spectrum of our people (kids of all ages) can learn, develop and share valuable and relevant skills and understanding. They can learn collaboration across our state and around the world, as designs can be shared and developed globally, adapted and built locally. The measure would put Hawaii well out in the forefront of this emerging educational movement, and make it an example for others.

Indeed, Isdale has been active with maker projects well beyond Hawaii’s shores, most recently as the instigator of a national coalition of library, museum and independent makerspaces that are creating a National Forum on Makerspace Education. He notes that the maker movement has drawn a diverse range of participants — from machinists and engineers to crafters and artists — who often go on to start businesses and support their communities.

Of course, any time the government moves into an area already served by private businesses, there’s cause for concern. State-funded, library-hosted makerspaces could be seen as competing with independent, private makerspaces. And in Hawaii, these are very small businesses indeed. But Kosak and Isdale aren’t worried.

“The short answer to competition between library and independent makerspaces is [to] collaborate, that’s what makers do,” Isdale wrote in a local maker group on Facebook. “Existing spaces have the knowledge and more sophisticated tools. They can help the library by mentoring and teaching classes. As people get more sophisticated in there maker tech, they should move to the independent space to work.”

“I think if this Library Makerspace bill passes, it will be a big boon to private makerspaces — there will be an influx of new people and as Jerry said, once they get past the basics, many of them will be looking for the next step up,” Kosak added. “Since a lot of what makes private makerspaces great are the contributions from individual makers, more makers in the pipeline means more contributions. It’s a clear win-win.”

SB1278 has its first public hearing before the Senate Committee on Education on Monday at 1:15 p.m. in Room 221 at the Hawaii State Capitol. It is still possible to submit late testimony online, or attend the hearing in person.

Some bonus links from Isdale:


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