Making and learning go hand in hand

This was originally published in Ohio Libraries Quarterly. Volume 6, Issue 2, 2017.

Making and learning go hand in hand: you must learn to make and you learn while making. Making brings out our natural curiosity to question how things work or why things are the way they are. Making inspires us to continually research and learn new techniques as well as learn about the history and evolution of whatever we are making. I like to make furniture. Not just any furniture—furniture made from natural looking rough-edge wood that is sustainably sourced and in the same style of George Nakashima. Nakashima was a father of the American Craft movement and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture. Nakashima, like many Americans with Japanese ancestry, was forced to live in an internment camp during World War II. Not one to have idle hands, he built furniture while there and that is what started the furniture business that is still being run by his daughter. Nakashima thought that every piece of wood was destined for something, and the wood would tell the maker what it was to become. Nakashima’s property which includes his house and workshops is located in New Hope, PA and is designated as a National Historic Landmark. Did I know all about Japanese joinery and George Nakashima before I picked up a tool and started making a table? No way. I learned all of that and more by being curious about things as I was making. How did I find out information? I went to the library! I searched the internet and found out the names of the craftsmen who made furniture in the style I liked. Then I used the library’s OPAC to find some books on the subject such as George Nakashima’s The soul of a tree and Nira Nakashima’s Nature, form, and spirit: the life and legacy of George Nakashima. After looking through these books and not wanting to give them back I decided to purchase copies for myself and they rest on my bookshelf today. I grew up in a family of makers and had access to tools and places to work. If my dad didn’t have something, an uncle surely would. I was able to take shop in high school and make some cool things. Unfortunately there are few opportunities for people to make things today. Shop classes and home economics classes are being cut from public schools. There are many single parent families and parents working multiple jobs that leave little time for working with their children. People do not have disposable income to purchase tools and equipment. This is why libraries need to create maker spaces—so people can make, and in turn, learn from doing. These maker spaces can be large or small, and provide a varied selection of items to make. A full woodshop isn’t likely to be placed in any library anytime soon, but we can provide printers, software, robotics, crafts, sewing, and so much more. When the maker thinks about why they are doing something in a particular way and becomes curious, they are in the right place. We have books and digital resources to feed their curiosity, and the staff that can help them.

Roger Donaldson