Making Stuff: River Campus Libraries' TinkerSpace Program

Making Stuff: River Campus Libraries' TinkerSpace Program

January 11, 2018

Raspberry Pi is a cheap, single-board computer that was developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation with the intention of promoting the teaching of computer science in schools in developing countries. Unexpectedly, the simplicity and flexibility of the Raspberry Pi platform has made it popular beyond its original target audience, and it has attracted the interest of programmers, engineers, and students who became fascinated with its many potential applications.

Raspberry Pi was the center of a recent workshop organized by River Campus Libraries’ (RCL) TinkerSpace program. As the role of libraries increasingly encompasses content creation, RCL has put greater emphasis on programs and services that support the development of skills not traditionally supported by libraries. The TinkerSpace program finds its inspiration in other "maker spaces" that have become popular in schools, libraries, and community centers over the last decade, where individuals can work on creative projects by learning how to use different tools – from welding and sewing to coding and 3D printing.

"The library is uniquely positioned to provide TinkerSpace programming thanks to our interactive relationships with faculty, our cross-campus facilities, expertise, and our staff’s general interest in supporting this kind of program," says Jason Harvey, Outreach Librarian for Science and Engineering.

So far, TinkerSpace sessions have included two coding workshops – one led by Elliot Inman, Manager of Software Development for SAS, and another in collaboration with the University’s #CodeUnlimited; basic programming with Python; "Hacky Hours," where students were invited to learn about their everyday technologies by taking apart a variety of electronic devices; and a soldering session where students practiced making electronic circuits and connections.

According to Lindsey Rae, Science and Engineering Librarian, the TinkerSpace program introduces students to creative and different modes of learning. "Participating in a TinkerSpace session might help students approach projects in a more fully realized manner than what they may learn in the classroom," she says.

TinkerSpace sessions have taken place in the Physics-Optics-Astronomy Library (P-O-A), the Carlson Science and Engineering Library, and Ronald Rettner Hall. Using different locations makes TinkerSpace more accessible to students by bringing librarians’ knowledge and expertise to a variety of spaces.

Science and engineering faculty have been particularly supportive of TinkerSpace and the manner in which it offers students the kind of hands-on experience they do not usually get elsewhere on campus. Students in institutions like the University of Rochester rarely have a chance to solder or dissemble an entire computer, and TinkerSpace allows them to practice skills that may benefit them in the classroom.

Lauren Di Monte, Data and Research Impact Librarian, who, together with Harvey and Rae piloted the TinkerSpace program, notes that "the entire program is essentially designed to support curricula across the disciplines, and to build strong links between course work and personal and creative projects." Accordingly, future sessions will continue to help students and faculty from a variety of disciplines develop the skills that will serve them in their studies and research.


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