Campus Community / People of SU

Making the Makerspace

Written by Deborah Black

July 12, 2022

Interior image of a section of the Billodue Makerspace at Seattle University. View of sewing machines, spools of thread, a flat screen TV and a 3D printer.

Image credit: Nodoka Kondo

Lemieux Library expands its reach by providing spaces, equipment, tools and support for collaborative making. 

Managing a physical makerspace is uniquely challenging, in part because it is a different type of organization than an academic library and a different type of space to operate. Preparing required something librarians are particularly good at: research.

Lemieux Library leadership conducted scans of academic spaces at other Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) institutions and at institutional peers in partnership with Seattle University Facilities staff and other campus colleagues. A day-long hack-a-thon was organized for library and information professionals and higher education “maker” professionals, including representatives from Seattle University, Stanford and the University of Washington. Focused on one goal—charting a course for a successful Lemieux Library managed makerspace—participants considered how to best set up for success the Billodue Makerspace housed in the Sinegal Center.

A manager would be needed with experience operating a makerspace within a university system and familiarity with service and cost models and funding mechanisms for its operation. Enter Nick Ames.

Ames comes to SU from the University of Washington, where he worked in direct curricular support, running a large set of labs for students and faculty. Familiar with SU’s makerspace having participated in the 2019 hack-a-thon, Ames had his own thoughts as to why it makes sense for a university library to manage an academic makerspace. 

“So often academic makerspaces are housed within university engineering schools and therefore, they’re thought to be the realm of engineers. Even if the makerspaces are intended to be open to everyone, they still privilege engineering,” Ames explains. “Academic libraries like Lemieux do not exist to serve one college or school at a higher level than another—and there’s something beautiful about being discipline-agnostic. These libraries are community resources where students across disciplines can do research and learn using shared resources.” 

Officially named the Billodue Makerspace in honor of the generous estate gift that supported its inclusion in the Sinegal Center, this new campus community resource had a soft opening in February 2022 to allow curious students to come in, look around, try out different tools and enroll in free workshops to learn how to do 3D printing, sew, machine embroider and other creative endeavors. The library hired an on-site specialist and trained student staff to run the space and teach and assist students, faculty and staff to use the equipment. A more formal credentialing system will be put in place by the fall, through which students can participate in online and in-person (hybrid) training sessions and earn virtual badges that let staff know they’ve been trained on different pieces of equipment. 

“Many of the tools found in makerspaces, like 3D printers, laser cutters, 4-needle embroidery machines and power tools are expensive—not the kind of thing students have in their dorms or apartments,” says Ames. “But they can come to the makerspace and use these tools to create and learn—they belong to the community. For me, that’s a big part of the way that makerspaces tie-in with libraries.” 

Once all systems are a “go,” Ames’ focus will transition to working with faculty who want to incorporate making into their curricula. 

“Just because you’re an English major doesn’t mean you should never make a thing. Nursing, for example, is a program that I feel can do some of the most innovative work in the makerspace. I’m very inspired by all of this. I want all students to gain agency through the creation of physical and digital artifacts. The action of creating empowers students to discover new skills within themselves and connect their passions to what they’re learning in class.” 

This article is an excerpt from this story appearing in the June edition of Seattle University's FORWARD newsletter.