Quotable: Carl Wilkens

Decorative graphic that reads, "When we make something with our hans, it changes the way we feel, which changes the way we think, which changes the way we act." Quote attributed to Carl Wilkens in Terry Tempest Williams's book The Hour of Land

Source: Williams, Terry Tempest. 2016. The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks. New York: Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

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Teacher Librarian Maker Article: Design Thinking

Thanks to the publisher, I’m able to share my latest “Makerspaces” column on design thinking from Teacher Librarian..

Full citation: Fontichiaro, Kristin. 2016. “Inventing products with design thinking: Balancing structure with open-ended thinking.” Teacher Librarian 44:2, December, 53-55.

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In the new administration, what’s the role of the maker movement?

[cross-posted from MakerBridge blog]

I’m going to be honest: after Election Day, I was pretty convinced that there would be little interest in the maker movement from the incoming Executive Branch. So I was surprised to see that the conservative Brookings Institution has just published “Five ways the Maker Movement can help catalyze a manufacturing renaissance” by Brookings senior fellow Mark Muro and Maker City co-author Peter Hirshberg. They write, in part:

Amid the hoopla of celebrating a deal to save 800 jobs at a Carrier Corp. factory in Indiana last month, President-elect Donald Trump promised to usher in a “new industrial revolution” —one that sounded as much like a social awakening as a manufacturing one.

How will the nation achieve that renaissance, though? If past is prologue, the Trump administration will lean on high-profile tweets and one-off job-retention deals combined with moves to renegotiate some trade deals to give U.S. workers a leg up …

However, there is another way to think about touching off an industrial revival … That approach would embrace the Maker Movement as a deeply American source of decentralized creativity for rebuilding America’s thinning manufacturing ecosystem …

The makers’ locally-grown enterprises are expanding beyond their artisanal and hobbyist roots to create true business value. The movement has emerged as a significant source of experiential learning and skills-building, as well as creativity for the nation’s innovation-driven manufacturing sector.

More broadly, there is momentum on the ground, both in large cities and small ones, located in both red and blue America, and there is much success to share.

Two years ago, 100 mayors signed a  Mayors Maker Challenge to bolster making in their communities, and now, the just-published book “Maker City: A Practical Guide to Reinventing Our Cities” reports how these strategies are working across the nation. Long to short, the story here is that the Maker Movement isn’t just about reviving manufacturing in cities (though it is doing that). In addition, the movement is proving that anyone can be a maker and that genuine progress on the nation’s most pressing problems can be made from the bottom up by do-it-yourselfers, entrepreneurs, committed artisans, students, and civic leaders …

And so it’s time for the nation—and especially its local business leaders, mayors, hobbyists, organizers, universities, and community colleges—to embrace the do-it-yourself spirit of the makers and start hacking the new industrial revolution one town at a time … to help build a new industrial resurgence that links local ingenuity to genuine economic development.

They go on to outline five strategies:

  1. Start organically;
  2. Make space for makers;
  3. Engage community colleges, universities, and national laboratories;
  4. Pull in the private sector;
  5. Experiment with new forms of education and training.

Finally, they conclude:

In the end, the future of manufacturing in America is going to be high-value, high-tech, and more automated—dominated by new production technologies and fast-evolving supply chain practices.  President-elect Trump’s focus on manufacturing resonated with millions of blue-collar workers because his promises responded to rising anxiety in the country about where the jobs will be in a new automated world, and where automation will hit hardest. And yet, those unknowns only make the maker movement more relevant. In city after city, region after region, the movement offers a practical, inclusive, all-hands-on-deck approach to preparing for and shaping the future of manufacturing … Ultimately, the movement is one modest way to renew the economy with broad engagement and experimentation at a time of uncertainty and division …

Dale Dougherty responded to this essay here, stating in part:

The authors call for “modest competitive grants to support” makers and makerspaces. They also think that there is a need to connect makers with manufacturers. This may or may not be something that the federal government chooses to do. Either way, local and state governments should “take matters into their own hands” … there is much that can be done to assist, sustain and grow participation in the Maker Movement. Adding financial support and focused leadership to this bottom-up movement will allow more of us to innovate and solve problems. It will create new opportunities that can benefit individuals, communities and the economy. It may help the U.S. remain competitive.

China is certainly moving ahead with both funding at the national and local levels for the Maker Movement in Shenzhen, Chengdu … and Beijing. Leaders in the Chinese government recognize the need for China’s citizens to become more innovative. Even there, the future is not about expanding factory jobs but rather building smarter factories and developing smarter citizens who will design products that can be made in China.

I have to say that some of the maker narrative, the idea that we begin organically as individual makers and then coalesce upwards into a movement and into significant change, is really tough to envision in some of the rural areas I visit. It puts a tremendous burden on the individual to get started, and in under-resourced areas, that’s an awfully big responsibility with which to endow the solo actor. In one-industry towns where the factory closed decades ago, and my goodness, I sure seem to drive through a lot of them as I travel throughout my home state of Michigan, much of the expertise behind those factories has left as well. Along with those losses came reductions in home values, resulting in lower property taxes and, by extension, reduced school funding. Some of the very programs — particularly vocational programs, but also “electives” in business development– that would fuel this next generation have been cut back, as have programs in art, music, and libraries that would develop some of the creative thinking, collaboration, and research skills needed for successful entrepreneurs. Under those circumstances, engaging the next generation of innovators from communities comprised of those who took pride in executing others’ visions is an enormous challenge. The more work I do in rural communities, the more I wonder if the future of those communities lies in the artisanal skills of community members more than the high-tech manufacturing skills needed.

So I agree with the writers that municipal and governmental interventions are essential, and yes, they should do an environmental scan. The difference is that while the Brookings article says to search makerspaces first, that’s just not going to be a strategy that works in many communities, because those organizations just don’t exist. Better, try the local hardware store or, as the authors suggest in a later section, consider the power of community colleges to provide low-cost, highly-effective education at the local level. This is where critical, non-outsourceable hands-on skills can be developed that yield to decently-paying jobs. Community colleges are also well-prepared to work with non-traditional students, those who have not been served well by K-12’s drive for everyone-to-college. Additionally, I believe that rural areas will be better served by leveraging existing institutions: Chambers of Commerce, educational institutions, and libraries, particularly public libraries. These have existing spaces, infrastructure, personnel, and policies that can adapt rather than be supplanted. (This raises important questions about the role of public education as the U.S. Department of Education is likely to be led by someone who favors starting new charter schools in lieu of existing infrastructure — a system that works better in urban areas than in rural ones where there is barely enough population for one school system, much less a charter one.)

Where should public libraries, especially those in underserved areas, position themselves? That’s the question that haunts me. Is it through developing youth’s STEM skills? Soft skills? Business incubator skills for adults? Business plan development? Partnerships with Small Business Association projects? Yes. The thing I know is this: if we are serious about having libraries at the table as we move through the next decade of business growth in imperiled areas of our country — and there are so many of them, we have to find a way to connect the dots between today’s LEGO programs and tomorrow’s small business development. It’s a decade or more of commitment, not a one-time Amazon purchase. It likely means that we shed some of our traditional silos (“I’m in youth services — that kind of work is done by adult services staff”) and think more about the long-term trajectory of our patrons (and those who are yet to become patrons). (And that, in and of itself, is a sticky wicket: how do we encourage idiosynractic, passion-driven passions in a systemic way?) It’s a powerful and sometimes scary upward climb … but if we say, particularly in underresourced and underemployed regions, that we are committed to our communities, is there any higher calling?

What do you think?


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Washington Post charts and maps with manufacturing data

{Cross-posted from the Data Literacy for High School Librarians Project blog}

The Washington Post has a fascinating series of maps and graphs about the state of manufacturing in the United States.

Here’s a snippet of one of them:


I love newspaper stories like this because you get a wide variety of maps, graphs, and other visualizations that students can use as jumping-off points for discussion and future inquiry.

Click through to take a look at the story, then come back here and think about these questions:

  1. Based on the data shown above, where might a manufacturing worker want to live to have a better chance at job openings?
  2. We keep hearing that the Rust Belt states are in terrible economic shape. Does the data above support that claim? What about other data visualizations in the article?
  3. In the story, compare the various market segment graphs. If you were a high school career counselor and were meeting with a student interested in manufacturing, which market sectors would you encourage her to pursue? Avoid?
  4. Which states would mostly likely respond better to a political candidate who promises to bring back manufacturing jobs? How does that compare to the election results of 2016?
  5. What does the sparsity of dots in the manufacturing maps in the West tell us about manufacturing there? What should we be careful not to assume based on those dots?

What else would you discuss with students?


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A New Role for the Media? A New Way to Think About Fact-Checking?

There has been a lot of talk lately about fake news and news literacy and the role of social media and hyperbole versus statemanship and fact-checking and Pinocchios … it’s a lot of heady stuff for us librarian folks to be thinking about.

Along those lines, the Washington Post has released a Google Chrome Extension that, in their words,

slips a bit more context into Trump’s tweets. It’s still in the early stages, but our goal is to provide additional context where needed for Trump’s tweets moving forward (and a few golden oldies). For example, here’s what it shows in relation to that Trump tweet.

Now obviously, there’s a certain kind of person who a) uses Chrome; b) installs extensions; and c) installs extensions that are, more likely than not given the unique nature of this year’s election, going to be contradictory to PEOTUS’s statements. This could very likely just provide more support for the kinds of people who already have a fair amount of savvy navigating information. It likely won’t move the needle for a hard-core Trump supporter who shouts, “Fake news!” at CNN at rallies, for example.

But the idea that the media is actively devising ways to disrupt and interrupt social media? To correct a public figure, much less the future leader of the free world? This feels like a seismic shift.

How might tools like this shift how we talk about evaluation of sources? How might even the idea that a fact-checking tool could be invented and layered onto social media help our students envision the kinds of questions they would like an auto-vetting tool to ask (that would help them establish their own source evaluation criteria)? That could be really interesting.

What do you think?


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SLJ Story About Upcoming Workshops

I was delighted to be featured in this online School Library Journal story on SLJ’s upcoming online maker workshop series. News today: it will also run in January’s print issue!

Here’s an excerpt:

Kristin Fontichiaro adds that librarians should consider what’s best for their particular community. She’s a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information and the faculty lead for the Making in Michigan Libraries project, which supports primarily rural areas.

Good libraries have always been responsive to the needs of their community,” says Fontichiaro. “There’s a big need for folks to be learning with their hands as well as learning with their brains.” She says Making in Michigan Libraries doesn’t go in and tell librarians what to do or buy. Instead, they ask questions about what the community needs. “That helps us make purchases for things that get used as opposed to things that are showpieces,” says Fontichiaro.

She stresses that every Maker space will be different. For example, some might need to be a place for students to wind down after a long day, while others might need to get students energized. “The biggest mistake we can make is to assume what works in one school or public library will work in every school or public library,” says Fontichiaro.

I’m participating in the SLJ online Maker Workshop beginning January 31. Those who register by Friday receive a 20% advance discount.

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Toy Takeapart

{Cross-posted from MakerBridge blog}

Over the past few months, we’ve been piloting Toy Takeapart at our statewide MakerFest events and Michigan Makers after-school program. It’s pretty close to a sure-fire hit.

MM Toy Take Apart 11/22/2016

We visit our favorite end-of-the-line thrift store outlet, where we can buy electronic toys for less than a dollar and know that if we did not buy the toy, it would be dumpster-bound within the hour. (That saves us from the guilt of thinking we have grabbed a toy that a needy child otherwise could have used.)

MM Toy Take Apart 11/22/2016

We avoid any toys with a screen — I’m a little anxious about what chemicals could be released if the screen was cracked.

MM Toy Take Apart 11/22/2016

Why toys and not appliances? Toys tend to run on 6 volts or fewer of electricity. Anything that plugs in gets 120V, and that means there can be energy stored up inside that could be unsafe for kids.

MM@Mitchell 11/29/2016

If it’s a public event, we generally set out the toys with a handful of screwdrivers, googles, pliers, and this handout. Without a doubt, when we clean up at the end of the night, the take apart table looks like a tornado has hit. Even though we tell kids and families that they can keep We scoop up anything that is left over. Anything cool and electronic gets saved for future digital jewelry-making. Anything else gets added to the junk box, where it will get a second life inspiring a new invention or creation.

MM@Mitchell 11/29/2016

This year, we are working with third graders after school, and we notice that they have new discoveries and needs different from the 4th and 5th graders we’ve worked with previously. Here is some of what they are learning (and what we are learning about them!):

  1. Many third graders have never used hand tools before. They love the tiny precision screwdrivers and don’t intuitively recognize that they need to pick a right-sized screwdriver for the screw. Tinier isn’t always better — a standard No. 1 Philips screwdriver is often our go-to. (What made us realize this was that we had lost one or two of these over the summer and suddenly we were scrambling to share!)
  2. They’ve never heard “lefty loosy, righty tighty.”
  3. The simultaneous push-down-while-turning dual action of screwdrivers is tough for them to master, especially when they are tackling a new screw. We sometimes have to get them started for them. However, they tend to have high levels of perseverance for removing multiple screws. What facilitates this is that we try to put at least two kids on a toy at a time so they can take turns.
  4. They are less interested in the science of circuitry and more in the wonder of the stuff they find inside. They reacted with enormous wonder to polyfill inside stuff animated creatures.
  5. Speakers are magnetic and much more interesting to them than circuits, capacitors, or resistors.
  6. Cutting wires is more awesome than discovering what components are connected by the wires.

Taking parts home is part of the fun.

I’m tickled to see how many life skills these kids are acquiring as they go on. It’s empowering to master the art of driving (or, in this case, “undriving”) screws. And fascinating to realize we’ve now been in this making and tinkering business long enough to see the different ways kids react depending on their age and experience.

Have you hosted a takepart, wreck lab, or appliance autopsy event?


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Spotting Bad Science

I keep mentioning this resource to folks, so I figured I’d post it here for you.

Screenshot of website (see source)


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The Guardian: “The Secret Life of a Librarian”

I enjoyed this anonymous essay on public libraries in the Guardian (UK). The closure of libraries in the UK is a growing reality, whereas that has not been the case here (knock on wood) but there are several issues that resonate with what I see across the library landscape. Predominant among those is the question of looking outward versus inward (a la Harwood and other environmental scan projects) and whether libraries are truly meeting their missions of serving all or merely the middle class.

There’s a nice anecdote about odd things used as bookmarks, but you’ll have to click through to the full article to find that yourself.

Armed with my diploma and a burning social conscience, I set out to change the world of public libraries. Nearly 40 years on I have made the smallest of dents in its battleship armour. But on the way I have made met some amazing people.

My bosses have mostly been of the keep-your-head-down-and-don’t-rock-the-boat variety. Colleagues have ranged from shrinking violets to strident activists who share my passion for social change …

The only regret I have about my long career in public libraries is that I have not been able to convince more librarians that they should be less book-focused and more people-focused; that they should look outward to the community rather than inward to the library; that they should get rid of desks and counters and do more active roving inside the library and outside in the community; that they should put less emphasis on the excellence of the collection and more on providing books that people actually want to read; and, most important of all, that libraries should be community-led and based on the needs of the public they serve.

What I dislike most about the profession is its insistence on standards of excellence and a rule-bound culture which tends to exclude those for whom public libraries were founded in the first place – the deserving poor and, indeed, the undeserving poor as well. For it is a fact that libraries are used most by those who need them the least (the middle class) and used the least by those who need them the most (the working class).

The job has not changed fundamentally from when I started out. Libraries have been modernised through technology but their underlying strategies, structures, systems and culture remain the same. We have a plethora of rules and regulations, and the part of my job I dread the most is having to ban someone from the library, because usually they come from the section of society that needs libraries the most. But this is more than balanced out by the many pleasures of the job, which include helping borrowers to improve the quality of their lives and meet their needs – whether that is for books and information, or helping them to find a job or a roof over their head … While we cannot demonstrate a direct link, every librarian knows that we are an important ingredient of the glue that sticks communities together.




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ESC 20

Hello, ESC 20’s leadership group for school librarians! You can find today’s slide deck here.

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