A neglected garden in the courtyard of Old Bridge (NJ) Public Library will soon be transformed, part of a horticultural program that will teach gardening skills, garden renovation, and plant-to-plate techniques in a new makerspace slated to open this month.
Old Bridge is one of 15 libraries—including public, school, and academic institutions—benefiting from a grant initiative called “New Jersey Library Maker Spaces—The Leading Edge,” sponsored by the New Jersey State Library (NJSL) and LibraryLinkNJ, a membership-focused cooperative.
New Jersey State Librarian Mary Chute says that the integration of makerspaces into libraries is well-timed with the current emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.
The grants are a response to an initiative launched last July by LibraryLinkNJ that aims to transform local libraries into “community anchors.” Called the Strategic Plan for the Future of Libraries in New Jersey, the project has embraced makerspaces as a way for libraries to remain relevant and attract patrons, both new and current.
The program has awarded $115,700 to recipients, including the Atlantic City Public Library, the Caldwell Public Library, and the East Brunswick Public Library, to name a few, with grants ranging from $3,750 to $12,500. The Old Bridge Public Library received $10,000.
While Old Bridge’s director, Darren Miguez, plans to use his library’s courtyard space to demonstrate gardening skills, a 3-D printer will be applied to create tools, solar-powered panels, and furnishings for the garden such as planters and benches.
Chute and Cheryl O’Conner, executive director of LibraryLinkNJ, had been inspired by two exemplary makerspaces launched by the Piscataway Public Library and the Monroe Township Library. “Piscataway’s [makerspace] project incorporated a special focus on STEM learning which resulted in some project proposals with a STEM, STEAM, and STREAM [writing] learning focus,” said O’Conner.
The makerspace grants were “very competitive,” according to Chute. “Our 15 awards represent 35 percent of our applicants.” Grant selection honed in on library applicants’ technology and measurable and actionable results. “We looked closely at evidence of community input, potential community partnerships, and marketing strategy,” notes Chute.
After the grant’s announcement in September 2013, Miguez emailed surveys to the library’s surrounding schools and other libraries to gauge the community’s wants and needs, which included gardening, kitchen arts, technology, and home DIY arts.
Amy Edwards, the media specialist at Manasquan High School—the only school library to receive a grant ($5,000) in this initiative—says her makerspace program will be integrating 3-D printers. “I’m working with one of our science teachers to integrate the technology into our ninth-grade survey course ‘Integrated Science,’” says Edwards.
“We will design and print our own shoes before this school year ends!” said Manasquan seniors Gabby Chinchilla and Charlie Nesnay.
With regards to makerspaces meeting Common Core standards, O’Conner says, “All I know is that there will be tremendous learning opportunities across New Jersey later this spring as the makerspaces launch.”