“Makerspaces are not new, the concept is just new to the Jacksonville Public Library (JPL). It’s a place for people to come, collaborate and make,” says Shawana Brooks, arts and culture developer for the Jax Makerspace. Jennifer Giltrop, JPL interim director, elaborates: “Making things, from movies to music, art to apps, robots to radios, novels to needlepoint. Whether you are a novice or expert, a student, hobbyist, inventor, entrepreneur, or artist, it’s a place for anyone interested in hands-on opportunities to explore, collaborate, and create.”
The staff researched makerspaces around the country and gathered ideas from the public. “A few of the notable makerspaces that we studied include: Orange County Library’s (FL) Melrose Center, The Bubbler at the Madison Public Library (WI), The Labs at DC Public Library (Washington, DC), The Hive at the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library(FL), and the makerspace at the Cincinnati and Hamilton County (OH) Public Library,” says Giltrop.
The twenty-five-thousand-foot Jax Makerspace is housed on the first floor of the JPL Main Library. “People come by and take pictures, and love just seeing an artist working. It reminds people that this is the artists’ livelihood, this is their work, this is their passion. It’s who they are,” says Brooks. “We also want our artists not to just be part of the exhibition, but also do some programming along with it.” Jax Makerspace recently included a panel discussion for their Altered Objects exhibition featuring Mark Creegan, Crystal Floyd, Matthew Abercrombie, and Roosevelt Watson III. “They talked about their process and what connected them to the work they did and how their work interacts with Northeast Florida beach life,” Brooks says.
“When people are here I want them to feel that they have a safe space to make. I want to see children love art. I want to see parents loving art. I want to see grandparents loving art,” she continues. “I want art to not be this intangible thing, but to see people enjoy loving art and loving artists. The things that they’re giving us manifest and bring out an emotion you were never expecting. If you get a feeling, I think the artist has done their job.”
Jax Makerspace is the community’s space, and they have a hand in growing it. It’s people interacting in the space, using the equipment and the resources, playing the guitars and the ukuleles. “Where else do you get to go and pick your curriculum? That’s the library. You get to literally engage in whatever educational component that you’re interested in,” says Brooks.
Giltrop brought the idea of implementing a makerspace when she arrived in 2015 and recently completed a similar space at the District of Columbia Public Library. “We implemented a twenty-five-thousand-square-foot digital commons and co-working space at the Main Library in Washington, DC. Makerspaces have popped up all over the country in various formats. Public libraries, being a free and open space for all, are an ideal venue for people to experience these creative and collaborative spaces and reinvigorate the culture of making,” Giltrop explains.
So far Giltrop and the team, including Sara Radovic, librarian and Jax Makerspace coordinator, and Mia Clark, librarian and arts and culture creator, have surpassed every goal they have set.
“We measure everything, from the number of programs we host on average each month to average attendance per program to total programs and attendees, and even the number of programs external partners host in the Jax Makerspace,” says Giltrop. “We set goals for each of these measures based on our extensive experience in providing library programming, and considered the lessons we learned in our makerspace research. The enterprise is highly successful, and it is clear that there is more room to grow and develop the space according to customer preferences, and as resources allow.”
Beyond the exhibition, the Jax Makerspace Survive to Thrive: Life Beyond Sexual Violence theme continues through October 22, containing programs addressing sexual abuse and human trafficking. There is also a Living History exhibit planned for later in the year that will speak to immigration and the immigrant experience locally and beyond. “We are very excited to provide a wide breadth of programming throughout the year,” Giltrop says. “Some of our most popular programs are returning, including the Cardboard Challenge on September 30. We’re continuing to expand our music track, and you can now reserve a guitar or ukulele online at jpl.libcal.com/booking/makerspace. We’ll also be holding STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) field trips for homeschooled students and private school students to supplement the trips we offer for public school students, and so much more.”
As Brooks points out: “At the end of the day, you might see artwork lying on the table. You don’t know whose it is, you just get to see it. There’s some amazing color renderings, sometimes drawings or sketches. Everybody’s got talent.”
The Jax Makerspace staff is always looking for feedback and suggestions. “We want to hear what your readers want, expect or dream this makerspace could be,” says Giltrop.
Explore Jax Makerspace and keep up with the latest events at www.jaxpubliclibrary.org/jax-makerspace.
By Jim Alabiso