project curve, part one: maker breaks.

love your library buttonIn my last post I set the stage for a series: to explore my learning curve at a new job at the Claremont Colleges Library through a few initial projects and collaborations. This is part one.

Several stereotypical (yet accurate) generalizations: librarians are nerds, librarians like crafts, and librarians tend to have lots of interesting maps, books, magazines, covers, and other ephemera lying around, some of it waiting to be weeded, discarded, and/or recycled.

I have long loved makerism and diy marketing, and have been itching to try an idea I first observed at the downtown San Francisco Public Library. At SFPL, they make buttons and magnets out of what I assume are their graphics-heavy discards (dictionaries, magazines, etc.) and sell them for a few bucks apiece in their small library store. Many libraries order promotional pins from retailers, which is great, but actually procuring the press itself can be a much more powerful/versatile investment.

use 1: maker breaks

Week one at Claremont I asked my director, John McDonald, if I could buy a button machine for projects of this nature. True to form, his response was “totally.” In all, this purchase consisted of a button press, a circle cutter (very necessary), and 1000 pin components. The buttons/machine can be used for any number of things, from one-time outreach to ongoing library marketing. Approximate total cost, $400, and I bought the 1” maker from American Button Machines (fast service, hardy materials).

craft discards cartI put a call-out to my coworkers to comb their offices and donate craft fodder in the form of any and all printed discards, maps, mags, etc. they could find lying around on a booktruck outside of my office (now stacked with all sorts of oddness.) I’ve also been digging through the recycling, copying images from art books, etc., and scouting garage sales for crappy dictionaries, 1970s chemistry textbooks, etc. that are in dire need of repurposing.

Each semester during finals crunch and our 24-hour staffing period, Honnold/Mudd Library puts on an event called Study Breaks, where, for five or six nights, we feed the throngs of students camped out in the library pizza, sandwiches, fruit, and caffeine to fuel their desperate rush to semester’s end. It is a much-appreciated service, and definitely diverting to staff (haggard toilers can become increasingly punchy during periods of “rest.”)

I thought, why not try and provide a cognitive break in addition to a sustenance break? I found a local craft store where I bought a couple of inexpensive stamps (heart, arrow, etc.), ink, and fancy paper, whipped out and printed a quick few custom button designs using Illustrator (“love your library” and “good luck” with a horseshoe) the night of the event, rolled it all downstairs, and set up the press, discards, and templates on a table in the Study Breaks room with a minimalist (i.e., totally ugly: time crunch) sign.

maker tableInitially, there was a bit of confusion about what the table was there for. I stood around pressing the love your library buttons (see a how-to video made with the help of my colleague Alex Chappell, which is also embedded near of this post, for a demo). Some students would take a pre-made pin and thank me, many wandered off eating with a promise to  come back in a few. If and when they did return, I’d show them how to use the machine, punch, and point out all the imaging materials they could choose from. Once they got the point that they could make something personal out of any graphic they wanted, they generally started to freak out a little and go after it wholeheartedly.

maker break tableBefore long, each night the table was 6-10 people deep, comparing ideas, asking for advice, elbowing each other out of the way, and making awesome pins out of interesting bits of pictures from their own perspectives. It was an excellent way to get to know my new student community, teach a crafty skill, and afford them a small amount of cerebral release before they returned to the grindstone. As one student confided, “thanks, this was what I needed – it was like an actual break.” It also, I hope, gave them a different perspective on the types of things that librarians can do, and provided me with an important opportunity to introduce myself as an individual (not just in front of a classroom or behind a desk).

I’m planning a series of Maker Breaks, hopefully branching into silkscreening, laminating, stampmaking, fabric arts, etc. Toward this end I’ve been polling my colleagues to get a bead on their diy skillset and hope to involve them in similar forays into maker productivity. [Update: see this post for downloadable ‘love your library’ (and other) button and sticker templates].

texas buttonNext up is a staff-focused button Maker Break at our off-campus Records Center. Thanks to my colleagues Bonnie Tijerina and Jason Price, we will also be pressing waffles.

use 2: out-of-the-blue, customized moxie

One of my best initial moments at Claremont was the first evening I used the button press at Maker Breaks. I was testing the equipment on a map discard (maps make the best pins, in my opinion) and noticed a student outside my office that looked extremely mentally/physically dug in to a pile of physics books. On a whim I made him a map-based pin that looked like it might be his style (and matched his shirt) and handed it over randomly. He was extremely stoked and surprised: it was like dispensing drive-by moxie. I did this a few of times with the more desperate looking students (sometimes just with a good luck pin) and it always went over well.

use 3: circulate the press

So much student interest was shown in the button press that I’m figuring out how best table setupto put the system on short-term reserve (e.g., drill it onto a board, slap a bar code on it, and suss out how to handle dispensing the four components that make up the finished pin). Once available, it will be excellent to market to student organizations, small on-campus businesses, and assorted activists. Case in point, I hope to take the press to the Queer Resource Center to have a pin-designing/pressing Maker Break with them in Fall semester… many possibilities on this front.

use 4: elbow grease marketing

After handing out love your library pins to my colleagues, faculty, and students, it’s seriously gratifying to notice them floating around on shirts and bags in the course of a day, and I think the fact that they are obviously handmade (e.g., a little busted, each one different) adds a nice touch. They were one of the items included in another last-minute project that went over very well, new faculty swag bags, which I’ll write about in another installment.

The best part about engaging people collectively (students, coworkers, whomever) with the press in a Maker Break exchange is that you can essentially a) trick them into creating library marketing materials while b) teaching them a new skill and c) giving a second life to items that would otherwise be on the scrap head. Win-win-win.

use 5: library as maker lab

I think that in general libraries are perfectly suited to this type of productive laboratory approach (a point also observed by Seth Godin in a recent, somewhat inexplicably controversial post). I have larger hopes (shared by another colleague, Sheree Fu) of making Honnold/Mudd more of a maker space in and of itself, whether by creating a dedicated lab with diy tools/craft fodder that students can use for projects and inspiration, setting up stations with different maker/doer possibilities around the building, or perhaps tool libraries, bike repair stations, etc. that could help users figure out how to do functional and interesting things. I have heard tell of similar experimentation out in libraryland, and would love to know more about successful approaches to this kind of thing. Other Maker Break suggestions?

Stay tuned for project curve, part two: assignment design rubric.

26 thoughts on “project curve, part one: maker breaks.

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  1. Such a cool idea! We *tried* something similar last fall during our library’s finals crunch time event (Shark Survival Week — a play on the university’s mascot, a shark). The free food and extra study space were a huge success. Our plan to create a stress relief photo booth — complete with crazy backdrops, cut-outs for your face, and supplies to jazz up the photo, failed. Not a single student snapped a picture. I have laundry list of reasons why I think it didn’t catch on, but after reading your post I think I am better equipped to try it again. This time with more moxie! Thanks.

    1. carrie, hi. i love the photo booth idea, and am surprised that students didn’t seem to cotton to it. interested to hear if your revisions are successful – check back in if so?

  2. Char….you beat us to the punch! We ordered a button maker here too and have similar plans. I’ve already come up with a bunch of designs for use and working on getting other librarians for buy in. I love what you are doing in regards to the library as maker space and the way you’re interacting with the students- you rock!!

    1. lisa! we can punch each other, it’s cool. i hope the button making escapade is as fun there as it is here: maybe we could swap designs if they aren’t too site-specific (happy to share the good luck and love your lib ones… maybe i’ll just post mine here in pdf). hope all is well.

  3. Thanks for the awesome idea. We gave out donuts during finals for the first time this semester, and I was honestly worried we wouldn’t get enough takers. Instead we generated a huge amount of goodwill, and it was totally gratifying for me to not be the enemy telling you the copy machine is broken and the library is closing in fifteen minutes. I think these sorts of events are as important for the staff as they are for the students, like you say. It was so great to hear people say, “I love the library!” Beleaguered by budget cuts and hiring freezes and the general uncertainty of life in libraries these days, that made for a terrific break.

    1. i love the goodwill too, and agree that it’s a total staff energizer in an otherwise bleak time for many of us. more cheap-o fun, less moping. ps are you back from iceland already?

  4. Here’s what I especially love about this: no uptight administrators trying to intervene and make sure the marketing materials everyone creates conform to the library’s visual branding. Very inspiring.

  5. Such an awesome idea. We do free food/coffee during our 24 hour exam times. Last year we borrowed our consortium’s Wii and had drop-in video games in our instruction lab.
    We’re about to do a huge weeding project in preparation for a move. This might be something to try next semester.

    1. i hope you do try it: please let me know how it goes if so. i think next year i’m going to try and get a twister game going as well.

  6. This brings back tons of memories for me. I’ve been a library / AV nerd since elementary school. Have been following your blog for a while now too.

    In elementary school, the library / resource center had neat little kits for electronic projects and so forth. Think advanced Lego like things.

    In middle school, the library incorporated audio visual / graphic arts. Lamination machine, letter stencil cutters and old film cameras were available for use. I know the film cameras were only available because the AV Librarian donated personally or otherwise secured donations of 35mm and 2 1/4″ cameras.

    In high school, the library offered not only still cameras but now also offered video cameras and tripod kits for use. These too were hand-me-downs from people or local TV/radio stations.

    Outside of school, the local public library offered 8mm projectors and old film reels along with LPs for loan. In some cases, you had to borrow both because the sound track of the film was on the LP. I can distinctly recall discovering Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin movies among the films.

    Too often, people associate the “Library” with only books and magazines, perhaps DVD rentals these days. Libraries are the penultimate resource center!

    I consider myself lucky library-wise in many many ways. Having had excellent libraries and resource centers growing up. And culminating in the wonderful opportunity to work with the Librarians and staff at Purdue University during college.

    1. love this list of all of the rad things your lifelong libraries have provided. thanks very much.

    1. how could we? re: 3d printing, that is an idea that has been thrown out there by my colleague sheree fu, if we’re able to pull a lab together someday. personally, my angle is to locate lo-fi makes that are as cheap/durable as possible… next up: FUN WITH LAMINATORS.

  7. Finding this nearly three years later, flashing back on what worked and what didn’t during our own 24-hour study breaks, and thinking this button thing might fly as a low barrier intro to maker activities on campus. At a minimum, I’m sure the button maker would be checked out by student groups. Everything old is new again at some point! Thanks!

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