Everyone can be a maker.
But it's more difficult to get participation from some groups. Why?
Many "makers" are only interested in work that solves a pressing problem or fills a community need.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is recognizing that makers work from a need to a solution and has issued a series of challenges: http://www.innovation.va.gov/challenge/
One of the upcoming challenges is to create a medication pill box that allows the flexibility to hold medications that need to be taken up to 8 times a day with a reminder system for each time medication needs to be taken.
Of course starting with community problems isn't the only method that works. The type of project and materials used can help too.
Kids seemed to love the touchable, bendable and build-able things that were available.
I heard cardboard-based projects recommended more than once. And in booths like KitRex and PinBox3000 it was obvious that cardboard and paper-based projects have a natural draw.
In one of the talks cosplay figured prominently as a sure winner to draw in many age groups. In inquiring at the booths I also heard that family-friendly projects like natural egg dye workshops and native crafts could be hits - and of course providing food always helps.
Music can be a big draw as well. In my visit to the MLK Library I saw that they were banking on music and video as big draws.
They're in the process of setting up a Fab Lab and video/audio editing labs to be opened later this month. The video and audio labs adjoin to the teen center but will be available by reservation to anyone over 13. An orientation is required and there is a waiver as well. More details are on their site: http://dclibrary.org/labs/studio
Their Fab Lab was a fairly small space and all the equipment is similarly used by reservation and requires short orientation classes: http://dclibrary.org/labs/fablab
The Universal laser cutter was interesting because they also purchased an "air cleaner cart" since they do not have external ventilation. I also thought it was an interesting idea to have a "tools" area available - also by reservation - with some of the basics.
The space itself is key to drawing a wide audience, from what I understand. "Ambient bias" is a problem that was mentioned in the talks. If the posters only show men, if the stories of role models only involve men, then the makerspace may also only attract men.
I didn't get a chance to tour TechShop because they had an employee out sick, but I was able to get a sense of the space.
This Tech Shop is in Crystal City, a largely underground complex of pretty amazing engineering. It is near the airport and the surrounding shops do have some of that airport shop feel. The employee who greeted me described Tech Shop as a "gym for makers" - which makes sense. The spacious for-profit is doing something right. Their brochure boasts of a number of impressive member success stories, including Square. When we heard the talk on Tech Shop at Geekend, it sounded like the possibility for collaboration at Tech Shop locations was a big key to their success.
The strength of partnerships was a repeating topic. Pulling in schools and community role models is huge for makerspaces, and some organizations at the Maker Faire were all about building those partnerships - like Remake Learning in Pittsburgh. Their work is regionally-focused, but they have released a "playbook" with tips that we may find useful as we form our own maker efforts.
I also got a wide variety of individual project ideas and further details on a number of avenues we're pursuing. There were neat ideas from current makerspaces and children's museums, like the upcoming "make a flashlight" workshop at the Children's Museum Pittsburgh. I thought their circuit blocks were a neat idea.
They've written a blog post on how these very visual learning pieces are constructed.
I keep seeing wind tubes at these events, and they are a fairly consistent draw. The idea is that the kids can use a variety of materials to construct anything and see if it will fly.
I learned that Exploratorium has posted instructions on this project, so it would be possible to easily recreate their effort.
Trading card-sized bits of brightly-colored facts and history were popular with the governmental offices. I have a stack of "League of SI Superheroes" cards from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and inventor cards from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It's a neat handout idea for a set of data and something I could see us using for something like a library services card set, a branch location deck, things like that.
I have a number of projects and potential maker tools to sort through and discuss with you, but as I said in the meeting, I think the main thing is to determine what we want the makerspace to be - or to be able to be - and work backwards from that. There are resources to support any direction or directions we choose. And spaces can be changeable. MLK cannot legally combine all age groups so they're planning on blocks of time for various ages in their fab lab. We can always do similar things so that all customers are welcome - cater to family groups for some programs and adults only at other points, for example. And we can use all the strategies I've mentioned to draw in diversity at every level of age and expertise.