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AERA 2019

"Making a way out of no way”: Women’s making practices in a public library makerspace


Teasdale, R. M. (2019, April). “Making a way out of no way”: Women’s making practices in a public library makerspace. In M. E. Cardella (Chair), Evidence-based narratives from emerging scholars: Connecting STEM learning across spaces and agents to promote equity. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Toronto, Canada.


Makerspaces are shared workspaces for creating tangible objects, exploring ideas, and developing skills (Sheridan et al., 2014). Although makerspaces are touted as forces for democratizing digital fabrication (Blikstein, 2013), women remain marginalized in the maker movement (Bean, Farmer, & Kerr, 2015; Intel, 2014). Public library makerspaces may be well-positioned to engage women: the majority of U.S. women of all races and ethnicities visit public libraries (Horrigan, 2016), library makerspaces aim to foster broad community access (Halverson, Lakind, & Willett, 2017), and community members perceive libraries as resources for technology learning (Horrigan, 2016). This poster seeks to inform the design of makerspaces that attend to gender equity by exploring the experiences of women in a public library makerspace in a majority African American, Rust Belt city.


Drawing on Calabrese Barton, Tan, and Greenberg (2017)’s conceptualization of equitably consequential making, this poster asks (1) In what ways do women leverage the makerspace to engage in personally meaningful and consequential making? and (2) How do the makerspace’s sociomaterial resources support and/or constrain women’s learning and engagement? Findings illuminate respondents’ integration of digital technologies into existing creative practices, pushing boundaries of what counts as making and STEM and challenging gendered distinctions between crafting and technology practices (Buchholz, Shively, Peppler, & Wohlwend, 2014; Calabrese Barton et al., 2017). In a context of limited employment opportunities, respondents leveraged making to support economic survival and thriving through entrepreneurship and cost-saving practices.


The public library provided respondents’ only access to digital design and fabrication. To explore these technologies, respondents orchestrated learning pathways shaped by personal preferences and makerspace affordances and constraints (Azevedo, 2011). One unique affordance was the extensive just-in-time instruction provided by staff, an alternative to the “extreme autodidacticism” of hacker-inspired makerspaces and the workshop-style instruction of many makerspaces in informal learning institutions (Blikstein & Worsley, 2016). The makerspace’s intentional inclusivity gave rise to a key tension, as it required respondents to navigate conflicting preferences and values within the space.


These findings contribute to our understanding of African American and White women’s making-related practices and learning pathways and have implications for the design of makerspaces that foster equitable and consequential learning and engagement.




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