Help Tim Owens Build An Awesome Makerspace

Posted by on Thursday, July 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Tim Owens is an instructional technology specialist in the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at the University of Mary Washington. We caught wind of his project to develop a great makerspace at UMW and asked him to share his updates on our blog.

It’s hard to believe less than a year ago I had never played with a 3D printer, much less built one on my own. George Meadows, a professor in the Education department at the University of Mary Washington came to me in late 2011 asking if I had any interest in experimenting with them as he had managed to get his dean to purchase one for their department. I assembled a group to help put the Thing-O-Matic together and it truly was love at first print (*groan* I’ll be here all night!). Fast forward 6 months and we now have two TOMs, a Replicator, and recently built a Printrbot Plus. We also find ourselves playing with Arduino more, a Raspberry Pi just showed up in the office, and I’ve backed the Makey Makey board Kickstarter and look forward to playing with that. The next logical step to all this is that we want to build a Makerspace for students to start playing with all these things and dreaming up “the adjacent possible”. We’re lucky to have an amazing Library director, Rosemary Arneson, who is equally passionate about this goal and has a space already available to begin the work.

Clearly there is a lot of cleaning and moving to be done as a first step, but we met yesterday to start brainstorming ideas for the space, questions we might need answered, and any concerns other departments might have. As a liberal arts college with no engineering program this is all very new and exciting territory. When Makerbot asked me to begin writing a series of posts on the progress of our Makerspace I jumped at the chance and I look forward to the feedback and advice this great community of makers can provide for us. Recently I began working on a name and logo for the space to help define it (realistically I would have liked students to do this, but we want this space up and running by the fall when our students return).

A clear goal for us is identifying the community of hackers, makers, and tinkerers at UMW that likely already exists. George and I will be teaching a freshman seminar course in this space this coming fall called Makerbots and Mashups that should help inspire the idea in students. Some have recommended we reach out to the computer science folks who also do Arduino work with students, as well as possibly hosting a Hackathon. It’s quite possible all of that might culminate in a the creation of a student club that could meet in this space and work there. We also want to partner with a local group that is working to start a Children’s Museum in the area as well as the local libraries to hold community events in this space.

Creating a space like this in a public university library is both exciting as well as a bit unnerving for folks though, and issues of access and cost are challenges that we’ll have to overcome. How can simultaneously foster an environment where everyone feels welcome to come and play, while maintaining a level of security and safety for the students and faculty who are involved? What pieces of this puzzle have we likely forgotten? Are there pieces of equipment that are a “must have” for spaces like this? If you were dreaming up a space that intersected the ethos of DIY learning with a liberal arts education, what would it look like?


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6 Comments so far

  • Michael Holt
    July 26, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    Hi TIm,

    It’s been quite refreshing to discover other small liberal arts college libraries making the move towards establishing makerspaces. I’m a librarian down at Valdosta State University in South Georgia and we have recently begun the process of starting our own makerspace as well. We are still trying are best to find a way to get our hands on a 3D printer, but we are extremely strong in the networking and programming departments. We have our own server rack and a few computers. We also have a lot of spare computer parts on hand as well. The best part is that we were able to obtain all of this from our universities IT department for no added cost. So now we have our own sandbox network to program and configure as we see fit. I’m still not sure of the best way to get funding for our 3D printing needs.

    I’m happy that we seem to have no shortage of projects to work on once the lab finally opens up for business. Our university archivist is eager to have us build a scaled up version of the diy book scanner that was featured on instructables some time back. In addition, I’ve already located a very dedicated core of undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds who are chomping at the bit to get access to the space. Each of them are already quite active makers and I’m eager to see what they can do with the space we are working on in the library. LIke you, we still have a lot of cleaning and preparing to do (and a lot less space than you have to do it in) but I think we are well on our way to creating a pretty exciting space. I think you guys are definitely on the right track to making a great space as well.

    I have some thoughts about your questions you ask at the end, but I’m afraid that every institution’s answers will vary a bit. The best answer I can provide security wise is to forge a very close relationship with your campus IT department. There is a great open source Firewall platform called untangled that you should look into. It does a great job of keeping the campus network secure, while still giving students the freedom to come and play and be connected to the outside world as well. I think must have equipment would include some kind of server space, whether locally controlled or in the institution’s data center. I think a huge part of making includes programming and network skills too, so it’s important to have the tools to learn them on.

    I may have rambled far too much for one comment entry, but I’m happy to continue the conversation if people want to know more. I’m just glad to have others in the academic library world who are interested in makerspaces that I can share ideas with. Great post. I can’t wait to hear more!

  • Melanie
    July 27, 2012 at 7:46 am

    The potential collaborations with the group working on the children’s museum and the local libraries are truly exciting. What a way to expose the community to these tools and techniques. My ideal makerspace would be one that is used (enthusiastically) by students in the sciences and students in the arts. It’s been easy to get our science and math teachers interested in the idea of 3D printing. It’s a little harder sell for teachers in other disciplines.

    I’m really looking forward to hearing more from you and your colleagues about the UMW makerspace. The seminar on Makerbots and Mash-ups is also intriguing.

    Good work!

  • Cathy Finn-Derecki
    July 27, 2012 at 7:49 am

    Tim, you are a genius and I’m so happy to be around when this is going on at UMW. I want to bring the kids in some day to see it. It’s a privilege to work with you — truly.

  • ThinkLab featured on Makerbot Blog | ThinkLab
    July 27, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    […] Tim Owens is writing a set of posts to be featured on the Makerbot Blog. The first of these posts, Help Tim Owens Build An Awesome Makerspace, is live. Much of the work we do with 3D printing began with Makerbots and inspired us to take it a […]

  • Got My Head in the Cloud: Udell on Domain of One’s Own | bavatuesdays
    July 29, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    […] and made it transparent for every one. This is one guy? And moving into this semester—nevermind him blogging on the Makerbot blog about UMW’s Maker Space—he’s got the Domain of One’s Own project well in hand. We are working on […]

  • Shad Burroughs
    November 22, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    I would love to join/help whatever…..I have recently discovered the Arduino and with it my passion for electronics.


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