This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about Maker Ed’s Open Portfolio Project work during the summer and fall 2014. These posts are also written in conjunction with the Research Briefs being released throughout the fall and winter of 2014.
by Anna Keune
The Millvale Community Library, close to Pittsburgh, PA, is one of 10 field sites the Open Portfolio Project core team visited to learn more about the ongoing portfolio and documentation practices of makerspaces. Led by Library Board President and volunteer Brian Wolovich, the community of Millvale helped restore a former shop front into a light-flooded library and a place for youth and adults to continue to imagine, create, and transform their community. The Makeshop where most of the library’s maker programming happens is located towards the back of the library, and is accessible through the front and back door. During our two-day visit, young makers and adult library visitors entered the library, browsed books and Internet, and joined ongoing maker activities.
The Makeshop includes large table spaces in the center of the room, filled with Play-Doh, hot-glue guns, hammers, and nails on Maker Thursdays, and veiled in fabric pieces and textile works in progress on Fiber Fridays. The shelves and closets along the walls are filled with books, circuitry blocks, games, fabric scraps, bicycle pumps, yarn, jars with consumables, and works in progress. A colorful glass mosaic of flowers leans against the fireplace, and the cement on the floor next to the fireplace creates one of many impromptu workspaces for projects in progress. Much of the work in the library is in progress and continues to be shaped in collaborative efforts with the youth makers.
The makes-in-progress and their provisional workspaces are a predominant part of the documentation at the Millvale Community Library Makeshop. A wooden sign with illustrations of tools, including pliers, a hammer, and scissors is leaning against a bookshelf. With small projects like this, Maker Corps Members, who are summer staff trained by the Maker Education Initiative and working on-site at Millvale, are hoping to disseminate some of their learning and teaching into the space to support the Makeshop even after their summer engagement.
During our visit, we learned about the unique process behind the design and development of the board game “Diamondopoly”. Initially a brainstorming exercise over the course of two weekends, library visitors were asked to come up with board game ideas and rules and write them on sticky notes, all added to a larger poster. The ideas and rules were compiled by a team of maker educators and youth, and an over-sized game board was created. After a few rounds of playing the game, one of the female makers, who recently turned 18, decided to translate the game into a boxed version and name the game after herself, Diamond. Since then, the game has traveled all the way to a gaming convention in Indianapolis and continues to be developed further.
Coincidentally, when we visited, the educators and youth were in the process of conceptualizing how to present Makeshop activities for an upcoming local street festival to parents of the young makers, and to the wider Maker Education network. In homes outside of the library access to Internet and computer technology is limited, and documentation of activities focused on balancing print-based media and digital practice. During our design workshop that stretched across the two days of our visit, we curated a large collection of photographs of summer activities through an emergent practice, in which one idea informed the next. Children, who had innovative suggestions and initial ideas, were supported and encouraged to continue developing those thoughts, through the offering of materials and further conversation. For example, as youth were browsing through the existing online collection of photographs, one 9-year-old narrated the images with imaginative and funny dialogues. We documented his comments and offered more computers so more youth could add captions to the pictures. The children also marked the pictures that were most representative of memorable make activities. We printed captions and selected pictures at a local print shop, then spread the prints on a large table and sorted the images in relation to the themes of the Makeshop schedule. Subthemes, such as mosaic making and rainmaker construction, were conceptualized as tags and hashtags for loosely connected online portfolios that would span across the existing Millvale library channels, including social media, blog, and photo repositories.
Much of the documentation was also intended to enhance the greater library space, showcasing the activities of the Makeshop through posters displayed in other parts of the library. The poster was constructed on an oversized cardboard, blending left-over materials — including fabric, wood, and mosaic pieces — with printed photographs and handwritten youth maker captions.
Through this collaborative practice of commenting, sorting, tagging, and simultaneously working across digital and print media, we noted key design ideas that portfolios would need to have in order to work in the Millvale library: (1) equal access to the photo repository to all collaborators; (2) the ability to sort pictures as a dialogical process of constructing categories in collaboration; (3) audio recording and drawing features for very young makers (who cannot yet read and write) to record and leave comments; (4) a common account through which everyone can contribute; (5) the ability to show processes and practice, through animated GIFs for example; and (6) the use of paper journals and sketchbooks as repository of ideas.
The field site visit to the Millvale Community Library informs our thinking of emergent portfolio and documentation practices and uniquely presents the role that work-in-progress and participatory engagement may have on shaping the makerspace. We generally think of libraries as drop-in spaces, and to some extent the Millvale Community Library Makeshop is, because it is open for extended amounts of time and visitors come and go, often several times per day. At the same time, the visitors at Millvale also return frequently and can therefore work on projects over a longer period of time. In this sense, this grassroots community space is unique and can broaden our understanding of what it means to support portfolios in drop-in makerspaces.