Recipient: New Mexico State Library
Program: Grants to States
Pictured: Children prototype electronic circuits during a workshop at El Valle de Anton Chico Library. Click image for larger view.
Contact: Ryanne Cooper,
“Successful maker programs are less about equipment and more about educational philosophies.
Providing training in teaching and learning philosophies is the most valuable thing we can do.”
—Mariano Ulibarri, founder and director of Parachute Factory
Activating the New Mexico Maker Community
“I was curious about and interested in doing more participatory programs,” said Britta Herweg-Samuels, Children’s Services Librarian at Socorro Public Library in New Mexico. Herweg-Samuels had heard that the New Mexico State Library had launched the Makerstate Initiative to help local public libraries promote meaningful engagement with technology through maker curricula, tools, and events.
The New Mexico Makerstate Initiative is funded in part by IMLS’s Grants to States Program and led by Parachute Factory, a community makerspace in rural Las Vegas, NM, in partnership with the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, the New Mexico State Library, New Mexico Highlands University, AmeriCorps, and local libraries and museums across the state.
Last summer, as part of the Makerstate Tour, Parachute Factory brought maker education on the road to 25 community libraries throughout New Mexico. Through the partnership, Parachute Factory staff was aided by AmeriCorps interns interested in media arts and the field of makerspace technology. The tour included several workshops at Socorro Public Library to introduce patrons to maker activities including electronic embroidery (sewing with conductive thread) and using engineering kits to turn everyday objects like bananas into computer touchpads.
Mariano Ulibarri, founder and director of Parachute Factory, says that the reception for these types of projects is inspiring to educators. “You really see a spark in kids’ eyes. They look at maker projects like they’re magic. It’s so gratifying to see excitement for learning, science and technology,” he said. Ulibarri says he witnesses these types of “aha moments” much more frequently now compared to his days as classroom teacher.
Tueredia McBride was thrilled with their visit to Lovington Public Library, where she is the director. “The presenters from Parachute Factory were awesome and the attendees were elated—both young and old,” she said. “Questions were coming from everyone, and the information and interaction was priceless.”
The makerspace framework aims to inspire creativity and cultivate motivated problem solvers who have a stake in their own learning. According to Herweg-Samuels, libraries are perfect spaces for maker education. “We have intergenerational audiences and we provide open access,” she says. “There’s no pressure of getting graded, and there’s room for spontaneity.”
Mimi Roberts, Program Director of Media Projects for the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, sees broader implications for the maker movement. “This program pushes things to the next level in terms of tech accessibility. It strengthens the library environment to promote leadership in economic development and improve education and quality of life,” she says. “Many libraries are already playing this role, but needed this additional programming and support.”
Empowering Libraries—and Patrons
The goal of the Makerstate Initiative is to excite New Mexico communities about STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) and to support libraries throughout the state in introducing maker technologies in a fun and accessible way. According to Ryanne Cooper, New Mexico State Library Bureau Chief, the program also caters to New Mexico’s rich heritage of making.
Cooper says, “We have a creative population here that is industrious and resourceful. The concept of making, as well as repurposing available materials, really struck a chord.” Makerstate includes “Fix-It” programs in libraries that encourage people to bring in broken electronics and gadgets; participants exchange items and help one another to repair or salvage useful materials. Community members have also teamed up to fix neighbors’ nonworking wheelchairs.
For Ulibarri, who started Parachute Factory in 2012 for his field thesis as a graduate student at New Mexico Highlands University, the key to maker education is empowerment. “The world is so complicated, especially the world of technology. People feel they have no control of the devices that control their lives,” he says. “Making is a way to start becoming producers and informed users rather than just consumers. It’s a way in, for people who aren’t scientists and engineers, to work with high-tech tools and to create.”
Roberts says that the maker activities also promote a new, positive social identity for youth in the community. Against a backdrop of high statewide rates of poverty, economic development challenges, teen suicide, and illiteracy, she finds it very promising to see young people getting excited about being makers or “hacker scouts”—those working to gain skills in cutting edge technologies like 3D printing, electronic textiles, programming, and other new media arts.
The project also works to strengthen rural outposts in the state, empowering them to help their own communities. Several bookmobiles that serve very rural areas in New Mexico that don’t have libraries now offer Makerstates curricula in addition to reading materials.
Sustaining and Expanding Creative Spaces
Following its participation in Makerstates, the Parachute Factory was designated as one of Harvard University’s pilot sites for Agency by Design, a research project on maker education. Ulibarri and his team contribute to a network of maker education thought leaders, participating in trainings and best practices sessions, and also contributing Parachute Factory’s findings from library events so methods can be reproduced elsewhere.
Librarians offering Makerstate programs are happy to see new patrons coming into library who wouldn’t have visited otherwise but are now getting involved, attending additional programs and signing up for library cards.
In addition to conducting maker workshops onsite at libraries, Parachute Factory and New Mexico State Library also offers librarians professional development training to create their own programs and sustain the momentum. Many libraries can now independently operate on these projects, as well as help mentor other libraries. Next year, the New Mexico State Library is planning to roll out mini-grants directly to libraries looking to introduce maker programs.
Herweg-Samuels plans to grow Socorro Public Library’s maker offerings, incorporating tools from the training she received. She secured a grant from a local business to buy materials, and once a month offers two afternoons of pop-up makerspace activities. The library sees a steady turnout and increasing demand.
Herweg-Samuels is exploring potential partnerships with a local university and other regional partners. She has also connected with other maker-minded librarians in the state through the trainings, and she sees collaborative programs and inter-library workshops using Skype in the near future, among many other possibilities. Through the program she feels inspired and empowered to continue exploring and creating, perhaps taking a page from the maker playbook.