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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > December 2019

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Vol. 39 No. 10 — December 2019
FEATURE

Beyond Makerspaces: How to Create a Solverspace
by Brian Pichman


Many of us have spent a great deal of time within makerspaces helping people explore new ideas and invent new things. The makerspace initiative has introduced new skills and concepts that help people further their educations or achieve their career objectives and other aspirations. My favorite success story involving the power of makerspaces is of the student who was undecided on his college major until he was kicking around the library makerspace and discovered littleBits, a kit that teaches you about circuits. When he built a robot with the HummingBird kit, he had his eureka moment. He would go to school to learn robotics.

School and public libraries are at the epicenter of risk-free education. They have a lot of freely available resources for anyone to use, such as makerspaces, online databases, and computer labs.  I have a friend—let’s call him Joey—who really wanted to learn more about coding, but didn’t want to risk taking classes he might fail. Joey had opportunities to learn coding in a library setting and now is one of the most successful and impactful developers I know.  

We’ve done a lot with makerspaces and other library initiatives, but we are at a point at which makerspaces need to take the next evolutionary step to become solverspaces, which is the subject of this article.  

Why? Well, if you’re looking for motivation, how about helping save the world—or at least your local piece of it? Seriously—and I am deadly serious—we have come to a pivotal point in human affairs when we are faced with tough global problems that must be fixed. This is my call to action to turn your makerspaces into solverspaces to take on global issues, many of which are close to home.  

The blueprint for tomorrow’s solverspaces can be found in the United Nations’ (UN) 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which center on building an inclusive and sustainable environment so that by 2030, the people of this planet will find themselves in a better place. I think that once you review the list of goals, the implications for libraries will become clear. It should be easy to see that many—if not all—of the goals focus on topics librarians can relate to and that library programs should be centered around.  

The website for the SDGs (un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals) describes them and discusses how to achieve them. As a resource center, the site includes materials that are easy to print and share; they help teach others what these goals are and the various ways everyone can help.  

How to Transform Your Makerspace Into a Solverspace With Solve Sessions

With or without the UN’ SDGs as the context, how can a library transform its makerspace into a solverspace and work toward resolving community-based issues? Even if you don’t currently have a makerspace or lack the technology and funds to create one, you can still have a solverspace.  

While 3D printers, CNC machines, and educational technology to teach people programming or robotics are great haves, they aren’t must-haves for a solverspace. A solverspace needs only a community of do-gooders, space to work, and a little bit of music to set the mood. And every library has the infrastructure to do this.

I had the pleasure of working with SolveOS, which formulated the methodology I will outline next. I’ve been fortunate enough to be both an attendee and a facilitator at a solve session, which yielded the most uplifting and gratifying experience of my entire life. Being able to work with people in a localized fashion to discuss, tackle, and solve real-world problems is a surreal experience—one I wish everyone could have. And, yes, you can do so. Just follow the six steps that SolveOS taught me, and  your library will soon become known as a community problem-solver.

STEP 1— The first action of any well-developed solverspace is to involve your community in setting the agenda. Survey your community members about the issues they believe need solving. Ask students or the general public what areas in your community need to be fixed. Let them tell you what’s important to them.

STEP 2— The next step in setting up your solverspace is to pull in community members who are willing to contribute. You will need a mix of people from all backgrounds (including  entrepreneurs, accountants, engineers, programmers, and individuals who want to stay indoors and play Nintendo—or whatever new gaming system is out now). To get this mix, survey your patrons (for students in a classroom environment, send a survey home) to determine skills and levels of interest—and use this information to start crafting who you may want as part of your solve sessions.  

STEP 3— Now that you determined what you want to solve and who to help solve it, you can begin crafting your solverspace. Over the course of several days, invite people in groups to read curated information about the problem you’re trying to solve. For instance, if you want to build a smart library, make sure people know what that means. Find articles or resource materials about safety, smart cities, the Internet of Things, and so forth, and send them to the groups. Let the groups read the background materials and share mini reports with the entire group of solvers. This is a great way to get people on the same page and to have more meaningful conversations.  

STEP 4— Once everyone has the same level of understanding, the next step is to invite the community experts to talk about how they see the future, what things they want to fix or solve, and how their background could play a role in developing a solution. Continuing the earlier example of a solver session around the topic of smart cities, have technologists and business leaders discuss technology and strategy—and then go on to develop a plan, create software, build hardware, and share higher-level skill sets with the group.  

STEP 5— Throughout this whole process, it’s important to catalog and record the conversations, materials, and reports. This can be done as easily as taking photos of people’s notes or having someone transcribe everything into a blog or website. The idea is that the solverspace should be accessible to everyone, anywhere. Inviting more conversations on the things you’re hoping to solve can spark new ideas and solutions and even more partnerships from people who discover the work you’re doing.  

A solverspace needs to remain fluid. It must be allowed to continually evolve and adapt through conversations among users. It may start off addressing how the school library needs more recycling bins and transition into a discussion about how to give students a safe and secure way to report any bullying that is going on. Capture all the ideas, share them, and let the project evolve.

STEP 6— The last step is to create a model or prototype of the idea that has emerged from your solverspace. It might be a video, infographic, or popsicle-stick and pipe-cleaner model—or even a complex 3D animation of how the solution you have come up with would work. If you have the space to do it, allow for a public display to expose your idea. This will cause more communication and collaboration and promote the solution.

It may be a great challenge, but let’s do this together. Let’s start building our solverspaces today—or there may not be a very good tomorrow.

The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals and Your Community

Here are my notes on the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), along with suggestions for what every library can do to advance these goals locally.

1. The first goal is about ending poverty in all its forms everywhere.   Just helping people understand that more than 836 million people  around the world live in poverty is a good start. Helping to raise awareness of what homelessness means and sponsoring a solverspace event to discuss creative solutions for resolving  poverty in your area is one of many steps you could take.

2. The second goal is ending hunger.   Did you know that one-third  of all food is actually wasted? How can you help your community eliminate waste and, at the same time, hunger in your community? Just bringing people together to think creatively about how excess, unwanted, or wasted food could be better used would  be a great start.

3. The third goal is to ensure healthy lives and promote   well-being.   Libraries have been running programs promoting physical exercise, better diets, and healthier lifestyles for years. Keep up all that good work. And when a local health issue  emerges, bring people together to talk through ways to solve it.

4. The fourth goal is one that libraries are all familiar with: providing quality education.   Libraries are hotspots for literacy instruction of all kinds, including storytimes for children and  book clubs for adults. Plus, they provide access to learning resources for the young and old alike. How might you better reach underserved groups? Bring people together to solve the problem.  

5. The fifth goal is achieving gender equality and empowering   women and girls in fields such as engineering or business.   There are hundreds of organizations that are open to partner  with libraries, such as Girls Who Code. Just sponsoring an  event can help.

6. The sixth goal is ensuring access to clean water.   Did you know that water scarcity affects more than 40% of the world’s population—and is still a problem in even some parts of the  U.S.? Some libraries have been involved in printing out 3D parts  for water wells for people in regions in which the handles to  water pumps are hoarded and access is extorted. But if water quality is or becomes an issue in your district, bring people together to help solve it.

7. The seventh goal is to ensure affordable and clean energy.   Libraries can advance this goal by holding discussions about electricity conservation or solar power options, as just two examples. Through the activities within makerspaces, we have harnessed a lot of great ideas, and now we need to put those solutions into play. Build a community discussion around these topics, and you’ll have turned your makerspace into a solverspace.

8. The eighth goal is centered on creating decent, quality jobs and   promoting economic growth overall.   Libraries are no strangers to providing employment resources to patrons and resources to support entrepreneurs. With services such as helping patrons learn the skills they need to apply for better jobs and helping them create resumes and apply for jobs online, many libraries are already active in this area. Might they also get involved in helping their community discuss ways to attract better jobs?

9. The ninth goal is about   industry, innovation, and infrastructure-building.   This goal covers topics such as developing reliable transportation, repurposing materials, and having internet connectivity worldwide. Even in the U.S., libraries are the one place some people can go to access the internet because libraries have deployed the technology. What can you do to help involve your community in solving its infrastructure issues?

10. The 10th goal is about reducing inequality within and among countries.   This may seem like a large task for a local library to take on, until one recalls that many libraries already have the mission of leveling the knowledge playing field by providing information access to all. How about partnering with an organization such as SolveOS to promote global citizenship?  

11. The 11th goal is focused around sustainable cities and communities.   This not only relates to how we are using natural resources or eliminating waste, but how cities can become smart and connected, offering better safety in a sustainable way. Some libraries are showing by example how smart city technology can work by installing it in their facilities. Why not invite the public in to discuss how it could be rolled out?  

12. The twelfth goal is about responsible consumption and production.   Sponsoring conversations around how we can do better at recycling and reducing emissions are good starting points. Some school libraries have used their makerspaces to build recycling bins and place them around their communities. Thus, the makerspaces become solverspaces.  

13-15. The 13th, 14th, and 15th goals are about climate action, life below water, and life on land, respectively.   While each is a unique goal in its own right, these three collectively are about ensuring that the Earth we live on remains viable. These are some of the most urgent goals, as the impact of our inaction is already being felt through deforestation, water contamination  by plastics, and climate change. Libraries and librarians, similar  to every other institution and human being, have a responsibility to do something about this, but librarians are in a unique position to bring in people to discuss it and come up with creative solutions.

16. The 16th goal—and one that I see many libraries embracing—is promoting peace and justice.   This is often done by raising awareness, sharing facts with others, and taking a strong stance on including everyone. This goal requires people to interact with local leaders, and it’s a great opportunity for young people to become more involved in their community. One of my favorite school memories was a field trip to the village hall, where we were able to participate in a meeting and help drive decisions that impacted the community.  

17. The 17th goal is to raise awareness about the sustainability goals themselves and how everyone can play a part in accomplishing them by 2030. I’ve done my little part just by publishing this article. Feel free to pass it on. But there’s always more that we can do, and that’s why I’m advancing the idea that library makerspaces are ripe for evolution into solverspaces for taking all of these goals head on.

Libraries can be the thought-leadership centers and solution hubs for their communities. Together as a team, we can deliver this message and raise awareness of these goals through our own actions—solving by doing.

Thanks to Peter Raymond, CEO of SolveOS, for allowing me to share his steps for building a solverspace. Peter is a serial innovator, social entrepreneur, strategist, and creative technologist. He merges art, science, and business acumen to develop disruptive technology, models, and companies. Peter has developed global education programs for healthcare professionals, kids, and educators and is now developing SolveOS to help people thrive within our rapidly changing world. He knows kids are powerful problem-solvers when given the opportunity and is developing SolveOS to empower them. Peter is looking to bravely accelerate nontraditional educational programs to empower global citizens.


Brian Pichman Brian Pichman  (bpichman@evolveproject.org) is the director of strategic innovation at the Evolve Project. He has spent the last 5 years building a network of educational technology companies, startups, and libraries—bringing them together to collaborate and share ideas—all while leveraging their unique skills and characteristics to foster innovation in order to propel libraries into the future. His passion with changing the way people see libraries began when he took his first job, working in a library as a page, and evolved as he became the director of IT. Eventually, Pichman pivoted to consulting with libraries to help them be trendsetters and community anchors.