Wednesday 12 September 2018

Tour of Oxfordshire County Library – 6 July, 2018

Karen Butcher
Reading List Assistant, Royal Holloway, University of London / Weekend Library Network Assistant, Surrey Libraries 

As a former Graduate Library Trainee in Oxford, I used to visit Oxfordshire County Library (formerly Oxford Central Library) regularly as a customer. Ten years later, a sneak peek during a previous CILIP TV event revealed some exciting changes and I was curious to find out more.

The Makerspace
On entering the Library, our group made our way to the Makerspace on the First Floor where we were greeted by friendly staff from Oxfordshire Libraries. Oxfordshire County Library opened this dedicated Makerspace facility in September 2017 and the room is light, spacious and airy. An intriguing array of gadgets and gizmos in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes soon caught our attention on the tables. This was going to be

Mark Sutcliffe, Digital Information and Learning Librarian at Oxfordshire Libraries, presented an overview of the Makerspace. One of the first things we learnt is that a Makerspace is an inclusive space for everyone, fun for adults and children of all backgrounds and genders, and accessible to all, including non-readers. Inclusivity is very important, and provides the opportunity to right some past wrongs around making, such as socially-constructed gender constraints.

So what is a Makerspace? We learnt that while every Makerspace is different, all provide a space for making to happen in some form. Tools and equipment are provided, and there is access to advice and guidance. Technology is usually involved but doesn’t have to be. In addition to the more traditional creative writing, craft and knitting clubs, Oxfordshire County Library’s Makerspace hosts a range of activities, from digital crafts and programming to electronics and 3D printing. Digital making sessions have included learning how to use the 3D printer, custom-making cards using a digital cutter, making monsters with robots and paper circuits, open sessions, and Raspberry Jams using Raspberry Pi computers. As a result, library staff have the opportunity to utilise and develop their digital skills and contribute to the creation of a community who are committed to learning, sharing and developing digital skills.
The Makerspace
The Makerspace

What are the benefits of having a Makerspace? The Library’s Makerspace also plays a role in developing children’s interest in STEM and STEAM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), which the UK government is currently promoting in order to help meet economic demand, and volunteers share a particular enthusiasm for helping the next generation to develop their skills. Volunteers include students from universities and colleges in Oxford, employees from local technology companies and a retired engineer. Participants are encouraged to learn by working things out for themselves and reflecting on their experience. Web development sessions are run specifically for women, to help overcome their underrepresentation in the technology industry. People with a wide range of expertise are brought together by Makerspace activities, from artists to Raspberry Pi enthusiasts. Photos on the Makerspace walls show people of all ages absorbed in making, collaborating and working together in teams.

As such, the Makerspace forms a good fit with the existing library service and Libraries Connected’s Universal Digital and Learning Offers. For this reason, Libraries Connected (formerly Society for Chief Librarians) is helping libraries develop Makerspaces through their Code Green initiative and organised meet-ups. Makerspace activities, such as very successful recycling workshops for children, also support environmentally sustainable practices.

Any drawbacks? The availability of the Makerspace depends on staffing and volunteers, as it currently needs some form of supervision (resources cannot be left out for people to use independently).

Oxfordshire County Library reopened in December 2017 following an extensive refurbishment. Even before this, the library was the third busiest in England, and statistics showed 3,000 new borrowers had joined the service within 3 months of reopening. Opening hours were extended and the Library is now staffed until 8pm most nights. As library staff, we are always learning new skills, and here staff have adapted to a lot of change. If a refurbishment and new Makerspace weren’t enough to cope with, the library has also adopted a new LMS, having moved from OpenGalaxy to Spark.
The library piano
The library piano

The Oxford Music Library is housed in the County Library and offers a lending service for vocal scores, orchestral sets, DVDs, CDs, music books and single-copy scores. There is even a digital piano available for customers to use in the library. The Music Library participates in an interlibrary loan scheme with other music libraries as this helps them to fulfil requests for particularly large ensembles, who may need as many as 150 copies of a score. The service is very busy with demand coming from outside the county, partly as a result of some music libraries either closing or withdrawing their interlibrary loans service.

The refurbished library space uses furniture from the ‘Opening the Book’ collection. Much was tailor-made for the library, and gives the impression of a clean, calm space. The tops of bays are free of any clutter and section signage is clear and visible from all areas of the library. I was struck by how many settees there were; this is a very inviting, cosy space to spend time reading, while a range of PC and study areas ensure these needs are also met. The colour of the furniture, streamlined units and large windows create a light space which appears larger than before.

Self-service machine and return bins on rollers
Self-service machine and return bins on rollers
Book tables (also known as ‘Seagull’ display units) have proved a popular means of displaying carefully selected stock for fast browsing. An academic librarian among us noted that this is a very different way of arranging stock from that of an academic library, where library users expect to find a book in a precise location as indicated by the catalogue. In the public library, many customers select books by browsing (I know I do this!), and staff are also on hand to help locate items for customers. The return shelves in the self-service area are designed to hold a large number of books of varying sizes, and many customers select their next reads from here. The return bins are cleverly designed to pull back through openings in the wall straight into the library office – a great time-saver for staff.

The Library benefits from a Lending Store, a large, closed-access area with rolling stacks that house overflow stock. This includes fragile items, duplicates, hardbacks (where paperbacks are available on the open shelves), and items not issued in one year. Customers can request items from the Lending Store.

The children’s area has been completely refurbished and is bright and colourful with lots of visuals, including inclusive cartoon characters on the walls. We could see the soft, tunnel-like reading dens were proving very popular! All shelves in this area are fully accessible to children, enabling them to browse easily.

We ended our tour and returned to the Makerspace, where we watched the 3D printer in action, took a closer look at a Raspberry Pi and played with the range of robots on offer: Mbot robots, Cam Jam Edukits, Ozo bots and the Sprk+ which rolled around the floor at our command. We left having learnt a lot more about Makerspaces, the library, and having had a bit of fun along the way.
Hand-made display and recycling bins in children's area
Hand-made display and recycling bins in children's area

Recommended Reads
Burke, J.J. and Kroski, E. (2018) Makerspaces: A Practical Guide for Librarians. 2nd edn. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield

Hirschberg, P; Dougherty, D. and Kadanoff, M. (2016) Maker city playbook: a practical guide to reinvention in American cities. Sebastopol, CA: Maker Media

Resnick, M. (2017) Lifelong kindergarten: cultivating creativity through projects, passion, peers, and play. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press

Links to further information on Libraries Connected and UK government initiatives
1. (GOV.UK (2018) News story: Engineering in the spotlight for 2018 as government launches campaign to inspire the next generation)

2. (Libraries Connected (2018) Universal Offers: Digital)

3. (Libraries Connected (2018) Universal Offers: Learning)

4. (Society of Chief Librarians (2016) Code Green)