Guest Blogger: Emily Puckett Rodgers

Emily Puckett Rodgers is special projects librarian for the Operations, Research and Learning and Teaching units at the University of Michigan Library. She currently assists University of Michigan Library decision makers with major initiatives and projects, including assessment and evaluation of services and collections. Prior to this position, Emily served as the open education coordinator for the University of Michigan Medical School's Open Michigan initiative. 

A native of the Arkansas Ozarks, Emily worked at the Fayetteville Public Library in various capacities throughout high school and college. She received a BA in anthropology from the University of Arkansas and an MSI from the University of Michigan's School of Information in 2010. 

Emily has been involved in supporting locally-based creative activities for over ten years, serving as a founding board member of Art Amiss, an Arkansas-based nonprofit that  provides services for artists living in, working in, or from Arkansas.  In her spare time, Emily currently serves on the board of A2Geeks, a local nonprofit that dedicated to making Ann Arbor a great place for ceative and innovative people to live and work. In this role, she co-organized the fifth annual Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire and Ignite Ann Arbor events. She's the author of two reference books, published by Cherry Lake Publishing, aimed at young adults and school librarians, one on Creative Commons licenses and one on makerspaces.  

Makers Lending an Economic Hand

If you stopped by Washtenaw Community College on June 8, you would have been among thousands of other folks and families who came together to celebrate the Maker movement in Ann Arbor and southeast Michigan. It's a loud event, with marshmallow shooters, steam engines, and robot exhibitions.   It's an educational event with bicycle repair stations, 3-D and paper-based modeling, and lock picking introductions. Part trade show, part lecture series, part workshop, and part carnival, the mini Maker Faire exhibits some of the most unique, creative, and passionate ideas which have come to life in our area. Now moving into the sixth year of production, the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire has been a venue for dozens of Makers and thousands of participants in the area. These days, Makers range in age from elementary school students to retired professors and anyone in between.

The Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire is just one expression of the community of entrepreneurs, inventors, tinkerers, and artists who work year around to realize their visions. What sets this movement apart from other entrepreneurial activities is that Makers put their time, money, effort, and passion into deeply supporting their community. And year round, our area Makers share resources and tools, teach others skills, and collaborate to realize projects. Participation in this movement has quickly turned from a backyard hobby to a lifestyle for many folks and it is starting to teach a generation of young people that they can make just about anything they dream up.

Ann Arbor and the southeast Michigan area support a variety of programs, spaces, tools, and people who are all actively engaged in the burgeoning global Maker movement, and this helps us grow and evolve to fit in more people, more projects, more ideas, and more businesses. Maker Works is a local makerspace that often provides space for fledgling nonprofits and businesses alike, as well as machinery, classes, and community support for one-off projects. GO-Tech, Ignite Ann Arbor, and CNC Enthusiasts' Meetup all offer a space for people to come together to share their ideas, pitch their passions, and get constructive feedback. All Hands Active, a hackerspace in downtown Ann Arbor, partners with the Ann Arbor District Library to teach kids how to solder, program, or just plain play around with cool stuff. 

The Maker movement illustrates the entrepreneurial spirit – and resultant economic growth – across our community. Here are just a few examples of people who have come together in this spirit. All of these folks have some connection to the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire as Makers. 

boundedition, a first time exhibitor and speaker at this year's Faire, is one example of the economic creativity Ann Arbor fosters and sustains. They're a newly organized collective of artists, printmakers, and booksellers, and I think their story illustrates the supportive Maker community that is firmly established in our area. Passionate about their trade, Kerrytown's Hollander's was the homebase for these professionals to teach the community book arts for years. When Hollander's decided to close the School of Book and Paper Arts, Barbara Brown (book artist) Gene Alloway (co-owner of Motte and Bailey Booksellers), Laura Earle (graphic designer), Jim Horton (printmaker), and Tom Veling (product designer) decided to start up their own collective to fill this community need. boundedition organized quickly, finding space for their work in Maker Works, as many fledgling business have done before them, and also found a venue to spread the word about their work at this year's Maker Faire. They participated in both the speaker series and had a booth at this year's Mini Maker Faire which helped to jumpstart their membership and spread the word about their collective. 

Sight Machine is a business that creates computer vision systems, and they've recently written a book about SimpleCV, their open source system, and received $5 million in funding for their work. The company was originally housed and incubated in Maker Works and has just recently moved around the corner in the same building complex, just past the Ann Arbor airport. They exhibited SimpleCV at the 2011 Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire, making the rounds at other Faires in Detroit, New York City and the Bay area in 2012. Maker Works resources helped them get their start and they were also able to outsource some of their office needs (like carpentry for desks and construction work) to other members of the Maker community. 

Remember those elementary school kids I mentioned earlier? Dr. George Albercook, a science teacher with a lengthy CV at Summers Knoll elementary, has been instrumental in connecting kids with science (and letting them do the hands on experiments and projects) for over ten years. This year, he invited dozens of kids to showcase their work at the Ann Arbor Mini Maker Faire. His experiences illustrate the power of the community in providing support and inspiration to Makers when they need it most. Dr. George told me a story about a girl who has worked with him for a few years now and shows true passion as a Maker. Last summer she build an autonomous helicopter at the Rocks and Robots summer camp but stopped making after that. So, along with her classmates, Dr. George challenged her to come up with a project for this year's Mini Maker Faire. She designed a belt with different colored LEDs (she bought the kit for this at Maker Works). The LED lights change depending on how close someone is standing to her, requiring Arduino and a sonar distance sensor. When she started working on this, other girls asked her how she did it and she began teaching them how the circuits work and how to solder. 

For many Makers, it's all about getting help when they have a project or an idea at hand. When that first step is accomplished, the challenge of showcasing your work, teaching others, and figuring out how to do something bigger or better becomes tangible. For Sight Machine and boundedition, this has turned into an opportunity to invest in the community. For kids like those exhibited at this year's Mini Maker Faire, they are learning how to invent and teach others at the same time, gaining useful skills in today's economies. 

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