“Tinkering” with the Law: Imagining Law Library Makerspaces

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It’s been a while since my last blog post! I’ve been focusing on getting through my LIS program (I’m halfway done) and learning as much as I can in my job as an academic law librarian.

I’m currently writing a paper for my Library Management class on planning law library facilities as makerspaces. A makerspace, for those unfamiliar, is “a collaborative work space inside a school, library or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools“.

The beautiful thing about makerspaces is that they exist to foster an entrepreneurial spirit. Users are encouraged to use their senses – whether it be touch, sight, hearing, etc. – to create something new or innovative in a low pressure or even playful environment.

Law libraries aren’t exactly playful, but I do believe there’s room for makerspaces. At law schools, many students have dreams of opening their own solo practice or starting a new non-profit. A makerspace could provide them with an incubator to begin creating their new business. Public law libraries could market self-help centers as makerspaces to empower pro se litigants and encourage them to learn hands-on how to approach legal issues.

I especially love the idea of a makerspace that encourages patrons to tinker with the status quo of legal systems and services. As the definition above notes, a makerspace doesn’t have to include high-tech tools. Possible equipment in law library makerspaces include bulk scanners for legal digitization projects, video equipment to film workshops or clinical student diaries, or other tools. Even a regular study room with a laptop, whiteboard, and dry erase markers can be transformed into a makerspace. There could also be fun ways to use traditional makerspace equipment that public libraries use; for instance, a law library makerspace could provide building blocks with customizable labels to represent different units of government or stakeholders in a legal issue. As long as the patrons are using that space collaboratively to create something, it counts! That “something” could be an idea for a new legal app, legal services clinic, or student pro bono effort.

A makerspace could provide a location for law library patrons to dissect the legal system, bit by bit, and rebuild it however they’d like. Powerful stuff! As a public-service-minded law student a few years ago, I often felt powerless in law school. I felt that little of the case law, statutes, and regulations I studied protected vulnerable or marginalized populations. My friends and I were often left to lament the inequality of the law on our own or in our respective student orgs. A makerspace could empower law students who felt as I did to take control of the law and shift their perspectives to one of adaptation and innovation, rather than frustration and helplessness. Non-lawyers at public law libraries may feel this way as well, but there could be a disconnect since they may not be taking courses to supplement and support the ideas being raised.

I’ll continue to think about this topic, and I’ll share my paper if it’s allowed!

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