Contact: Andrea Sáenz, firstname.lastname@example.org
Chicago Public Library’s Maker Lab provides an access point for any Chicagoan to learn about and use cutting edge tools in design and fabrication in a collaborative and welcoming setting. As Chicago’s only free makerspace, the Lab serves as a gateway to exploring the growing hacker/maker movement and community. The Maker Lab team coordinates workshops that focus on everything from origami to Arduino-powered robotic knitting as it helps participatory learning communities and new technology. The space allows the Library to introduce adults to digital design and fabrication, explore STEAM themes and concepts; offers mentor-led structured programming; hosts daily open shop hours where participants work alone or collaboratively; and interactive workshops where users work together to design and solve problems. The Lab serves as a bridge into making for 2,400 visitors each week, including students, entrepreneurs, retirees, inventors, designers, hobbyists and those who are simply curious.
CPL complements services offered by local fee-based makerspaces, universities, museums and others by leveraging community members’ expertise as instructors and building relationships among Maker Lab participants that reach beyond the walls of the library. Maker Lab programming includes visits to explore other spaces in Chicago’s maker ecosystem and “pop up” Maker Labs in neighborhood libraries, parks and schools. Many Maker Lab participants are deciding to join these or pursue new career and educational opportunities as a result of the networks and insights gained at CPL’s Maker Lab: www.chipublib.org/maker-lab.
Chicago Public Library has provided services that appeal to an extremely diverse adult audience across gender, ages, cultures, education levels and varied personal interests. For example, two-thirds of participants the Maker Lab’s Digital Toolbox classes have been women. Generally, the Maker Lab has created a strong and inclusive participatory learning community in the Library and around Chicago. Through regular surveys, Maker Lab participants have reported:
- Improved ability to use digital design software, such as Inkscape and Sketchup
- Improved ability to use digital fabrication technology, such as 3D printers and vinyl cutters
- They made something while in the Lab, thereby boosting their creative confidence
- They worked collaboratively in the Lab, thereby creating a greater sense of belonging
- Increased understanding of the maker movement, the technologies they employ and improved connection to the Chicagoland hacker/maker community and spaces
- Plans to pursue the creative and career interests fostered by the Maker Lab through enrollment in classes, membership in makerspaces or self-directed study.