BEST PRACTICES FOR OPERATING A MAKERSPACE
We have the privilege of visiting hundreds of maker labs each year in schools and colleges, libraries, communities, and corporate run spaces. We have talked to students and lab managers of 1,000 to 50,000 square foot spaces in all stages of makerspace operations from planning to labs that host thousands of makers each year.
Here are some best practices we wanted to share:
Orientation and Training - While safety training is critical, we consistently hear that getting certified on each machine rapidly lowers the learning curve. Many labs do this by having a project that demonstrates the maker’s ability to produce a specific outcome. Online tutorials of basic concepts can be extremely helpful, and a sticker can be placed on an ID for those who passed. Some labs use RFID access to limit entry at the room or tool level. Visual cues are especially impactful. Color coding equipment by level of training can also be effective. Classes (such as “laser a keyring”) can be a great way to show the machine while giving makers a take home gift.
Space Planning - Since space is the most valuable resource on a campus and in community makerspace, having a clear plan can help, especially since interest in makerspaces is increasing at such a rapid pace, you may outgrow your space quickly. Putting machines along the perimeter, grouped by type will keep the flow of the space intuitive, while keeping the dust contained to an area. Make sure you have enough space for safety zones around each machine. Modular work spaces, such as movable tables or machines on wheels will increase the flexibility of your space. Gathering data on which equipment gets the most use will also help you optimize your space.
Materials - When makers bring their own materials, they may not know what to look for in terms of usability and safety on the machines. Labs have minimized this risk by putting accepted sources and/or specifications on their websites and in the labs, and by listing approved suppliers. Some labs who have the space decide to sell or give away materials themselves. The ability to perform financial transactions is necessary to sell materials in the labs. Punch cards can be used for those whose students have budgets for the semester. Labs have told us they recommend that students buy more material than they need to use so that they can do a trial run. Many labs will also offer to test materials for students in advance. We encourage makers to prototype their design in a less expensive material such as chipboard or MDF first.
Marketing - Attracting makers to the space is critical to justifying the cost of tools and machines. A good way to do that is by giving tours, and for colleges, to ensure that the makerspace is on the admissions tour path. Virtual tours can also be very effective. Often, the makerspace is cited as a reason why prospective students chose a particular school. School and local clubs (such as robotics clubs) are often funded and a good source of users. One proven method is to use less busy hours to handle projects for other departments, outside users and alumni. Giving the space a unique identity with color, a logo, or decor can help make the space more attractive, and an engraved logo on wood or acrylic can be a great giveaway.