Date of Award

August 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Information Studies

First Advisor

Joyce M Latham

Committee Members

Nadine Kozak, Tomas Lipinski, Xiaofeng Li


case study, convivial tools, ethnography, makerspaces, power, public libraries


In 2011, public libraries began to provide access to collaborative creative places, frequently called “makerspaces.” The professional literature portrays these as beneficial for communities and individuals through their support of creativity, innovation, learning, and access to high-tech tools such as 3D printers. As in longstanding “library faith” narratives, which pin the library’s existence to widely held values, makerspace rhetoric describes access to tools and skills as instrumental for a stronger economy or democracy, social justice, and/or individual happiness. The rhetoric generally frames these places as empowering. Yet the concept of power has been neither well-theorized within the library makerspace literature nor explored in previous studies. This study fills the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of power, as described by the stakeholders, including staff, trustees, and users of the library. Potentially, library creative places could be what Ivan Illich calls convivial tools: tools that manifest social relations involving equitable distributions of power and decision-making. A convivial tool ensures that users may decide to which end they would like to apply the tool, and thus are constitutive of human capabilities and social justice. However, the characterization of library makerspaces in the literature evokes a technologically deterministic entrepreneurialism that marginalizes many types of making, and reduces the power of individuals to choose the ends to which they put this tool. This multi-site ethnographic study seeks to unravel the currents of power within three public library creative places. Through participant observation, document analysis, and interviews, the study traces the mechanisms and processes by which power is distributed, as enacted by institutional practices—the spaces, policies, tools, and programs—or through individual practices. The study finds seven key tensions that coalesce around the concept of conviviality, and also reveals seven capabilities of convivial tools that the users and providers of these spaces identify as crucial to their successful and satisfying implementation. As a user-centered exploration of the interactions of power in a public institution, this study can benefit a range of organizations that aim to further inclusion, equity, and social justice.