About the Author: Kate Jaggers is Supervising Librarian of the User Services Department at Piscataway Public Library in Piscataway, NJ, and Secretary of the New Jersey Makers Day Board. In addition to overall organization, Kate’s primary role on the NJMD Board is to encourage everyone’s big ideas while also keeping them grounded in reality. Find out more about NJ Makers Day at www.njmakersday.org or follow them on Twitter @njmakersday or using #njmakersday.
We already know that maker and hacker spaces have been around a long time. While the trend of makerspaces within schools, libraries, and other outlets is a relatively recent development, New Jersey is filled with a long history ripe with makers, inventors, and innovators. From Thomas Edison’s light bulb, Bell Laboratories, and the famous “Trenton Makes, the World Takes” bridge, the state’s culture is clearly built on makers and doers—so what better place to start a movement?
Start at the Beginning
At Piscataway Public Library, tucked in a north-central-eastern notch of NJ, we’re lucky to be surrounded by people that aren’t scared to try new things or to get the community involved with our crazy projects. When Doug Baldwin, Emerging Technologies Librarian, thought out loud in 2014 about developing a single-day event that would bring all makers together, a group of us figured we’d give it a shot, see if anyone was interested, and go from there. The overall vision of New Jersey Makers Day is to provide an opportunity for organizations to collaborate and host events for their own communities to celebrate, promote, and in some cases introduce maker culture, as well as the values associated with making, tinkering, and STEM and STEAM-based learning. We set the date for a Saturday in March annually, and in the second year expanded the event to include Friday and Saturday, in particular response to the needs of many formal educational institutions.
Participating organizations include schools, public libraries, after-care programs, colleges and universities, scout groups, museums, private maker and hacker spaces, and small businesses. Each individual location—from as small a scale as classrooms or clubs within a school, to organizations coordinating as part of town-wide, countywide, or yes even statewide efforts—is encouraged to provide some kind of activity, demonstration, contest or program on the same day to celebrate innovation, experimentation and maker culture. As one participant stated, the true beauty of the day is the freedom for sites to design any type of related activities that make sense for their community. The point is that we are all in it together, at the same time.
Bring People Together
New Jersey is a relatively small state in terms of geography, but one of the most densely-populated. Our physical size and demographics come in handy when it comes to networking opportunities. As maker culture gained speed and popularity, many independent locations around the country created and developed physical spaces within which to encourage a commitment to creating, development and innovative play. Through connecting with others in NJ who value STEM education and making, a very small planning committee to support statewide events was created here. We weren’t sure, at the start, if there would be much interest around the state, but we received an overwhelmingly positive response immediately—both in creating a planning committee, as well as attracting participants. We kept the planning team small in order to be more manageable, and working together, we were able to offer resources, opportunities for collaboration and professional development, as well as plans for sustainability. We created registration forms, training schedules, plans for promotion and sponsorship packets, and a list of those to reach out to as participants and partners.
Luckily, we were able to secure support early on from LibraryLinkNJ, the state library cooperative, the NJ State Library and the New Jersey Library Association to help with funding and promotion. Beyond libraries (admittedly our comfort zone), we actively sought a variety of partnerships and sponsorships and received tremendous community support, most notably from organizations like ManufactureNJ, as well as donations from companies like Soldering Sunday. Even U.S. Senator Cory Booker and well-known author and innovator Cory Doctorow got involved by creating customized recorded keynotes, introductory remarks that enhanced the inaugural 2015 event by providing a broader perspective beyond NJ. And in late 2016, New Jersey Makers Day officially became incorporated as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, allowing us flexibility in seeking sustainable funding.
Joining Forces across Education
As librarians and educators, we were excited to do what we do best—bring members of our community together. NJ Makers Day attracts participants as diverse as the state, and the event is supported by museums, colleges and universities, private hackerspaces, businesses, local town organizations, legislators, school classrooms and clubs and public libraries.
In addition to our library relationships, we had early connections to organizations like ManufactureNJ, the Newark Museum and Rutgers University, and the Girl Scouts. ManufactureNJ, in particular, was a great collaborator as we worked to expand beyond just the benefits of STEM and education for youth to include the benefit of making and creating as real-world skills for the workplace. Ultimately, we were able to collaborate with many of these groups as official partners to spread the word about this statewide celebration with many who have diverse, but similar, goals and interests.
NJ librarians and teachers rely on the enthusiasm, knowledge, and support of one another to generate strong and positive futures for our communities. The small group of us at Piscataway Library who first got excited about the idea of a statewide maker event couldn’t have made it alone.
Professional & Community Development
NJ Makers Day supports the improvement of each other as educators, and as a result professional and community development were always a priority. The concept of NJ Makers Day generated as an event that brought together lots of different kinds of people statewide to gather together, support each other, learn from each other, and celebrate themselves, each other and maker culture as a whole.
We are able to provide numerous professional development opportunities, including hands-on skills workshops and online networking sessions, so not only does the event improve our communities’ awareness of making and learning, but it also provides great benefit to all of us in enhancing our skill set as educators for all ages. Many of the workshop ideas and plans came from our various partnerships, using the particular skills and areas of expertise of local organizations to provide training that would support librarians, teachers, and others with little or no expertise of their own with making! Additional support and confidence also came from the scheduled networking events, where all event planners had the opportunity to swap ideas, share concerns, and seek collaboration or help.
Tools are also created for reaching out in our own communities in order to gain local partnerships. Again, this can be done on as small a scale as increasing collaboration among teachers, librarians, administrators, staff and students within a single school or district, all the way to networking with like-minded organizations throughout your entire region or state. In NJ, we develop shared listings of various local small businesses and entrepreneurs, crafters, and makers of all kinds to make it easy for New Jersey Makers Day participants to expand their reach in individual communities.
Each year, when the final numbers roll in and we realize that thousands of individuals across the state attended events throughout their various communities, we are overwhelmed. The wealth of participants, partners, and sponsors creates a priceless collaborative network that supports not only New Jersey Makers Day, but also a future of positive community and statewide relationships.
Want tips on how to plan your own Makers Day or maker-related event? Check out our Maker Educator Meetup Playbook.