Students Explore in Lawrence University Makerspace

Posted: January 8, 2019

Lawrence University – Makerspaces in Libraries          

“Led by a faculty of 167 professors* (92 percent of whom have a Ph.D. or other terminal degree), Lawrence is devoted to Engaged Learning as the most effective way to prepare students for lives of personal fulfillment and professional accomplishment,” stated Lawrence University’s website, a liberal arts college and conservatory of music. “It is a demanding approach to education for students who demand much of themselves…”        

Lawrence University located in Appleton, Wisconsin, has a student enrollment of almost 1,500 students and offers many engaging learning opportunities especially in its makerspace.     

Lawrence’s Makerspace was established in 2015 and is located in the school’s library. With the help of a Faculty Career Enhancement Grant through Associated Colleges of the Midwest, Lawrence was able to supply their makerspace with three 3D printers, two 3D scanners, and computers. The library’s makerspace also has a vinyl cutter and sewing machine.     

Lawrence University staff and faculty were able to transform a small office and work room into the school’s makerspace at the Seeley G. Mudd Library.     

“We chose the library as the central location for the makerspace because it is at the heart of campus,” said Angela Vanden Elzen, Reference and Web Services Librarian, Assistant Professor, and Makerspace Coordinator at Lawrence University. “Students of all academic disciplines come here to study and work together, that’s why the library was chosen.”           

Faculty and staff thought the library seemed to be the most logical place to have the Media Center & Makerspace due to its ability to support a variety of learning references and supplies.      

“Makerspaces are beneficial to libraries because libraries are considered central spaces that welcome everybody in the community,” Vanden Elzen stated. “Libraries have a long history of providing access to things people may not be able to afford on their own. Both academic and public libraries are providing access to all types of tools like 3D printers, instruments, DVDs, and books to help people, and as an academic library - we are here to support the curriculum, students, and staff.”     

In addition, the library was chosen to house the school’s makerspace so that all students could easily access it. Prior to the makerspace, there was one 3D printer on campus.       

“Because the 3D printer was located in the Chemistry Department, some students didn’t feel comfortable going into the department to use it,” Vanden Elzen stated. “We also wanted other equipment to be available to students as well and incorporate hands-on maker pedagogies so students could have access to cool, new, technology and different ways of thinking.”     
Makerspaces in libraries not only serve as an additional workspace for students, but they can also help students develop critical thinking and problem solving skills that they can use in their future careers outside of college.       

“As far as makerspaces in higher education libraries, I think they are more important now more than ever,” Vanden Elzen said. “You hear so much about preparing students for the workplace, and it wasn’t something that was talked about all that much in regard to higher education, but now today, it seems that we have to prove we are preparing students, even though we always have been. I think a makerspace gives students the confidence to be able to articulate that they have been prepared.”      

With equipment like the 3D printers and vinyl cutter that Lawrence has, students are now able to construct and build creations, express their thoughts and ideas more, and inspire them, and become experienced at using equipment that can be used in a variety of jobs.      

“People are shifting from consumers to creators and changing their mindset about how materials can be used,” Vanden Elzen said. “As a trained Librarian (not a trained engineer), I really like being able to tell students that anyone can learn this technology and to not be afraid, but to be excited about it. I think this can really help students get more familiar with the equipment. I think when students see their peers using the new equipment, it boosts their confidence and helps them think that they can use it too.”       

Slowly but surely, makerspaces are changing how libraries have been used and how they will be used in the future. The library is no longer a place where only books are to be read and homework is to be completed silently.

“I think libraries will continue to be spaces that respond to the needs of the community that they serve, and provide resources for students in their preferred format,” Vanden Elzen said. “In addition, as makerspaces and 3D printers become more common, more tools to help people create will be invented and I hope makerspaces will continue to provide access to those tools and become more well-known as educational spaces.”

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