by Teresa Lipus
Makerspaces bring people together to collaborate, create, design, and share resources and knowledge. With increasing frequency these makerspaces are being started in libraries. By providing materials, instruction in the use of new technology, and an environment that supports the creative process, libraries are powerful equalizers that level the playing field for their users who may not otherwise have access to these hubs of community engagement.
Makerspaces were launched in five public libraries across Idaho through “Make It at the Library,” a pilot project implemented in 2012‒2013 by the Idaho Commission for Libraries (ICfL). These pilot libraries represent diverse geographic regions as well as rural and urban communities: Ada Community Library, Community Library Network, Gooding Public Library, Meridian Library District, and Snake River School/Community Library. The project initially focuses on engaging teens through maker activities to draw them into these innovative spaces. The makerspaces will eventually be available to the entire community as the project evolves.
The “Make It at the Library” project provides the necessary materials and training for pilot library staff to implement creative, STEAM-based (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) programming for tweens and teens. The project also includes training on leveraging partnerships, involving community, and evaluating outcomes.
ICfL project coordinators Erica Compton and Sue Walker looked at desired outcomes, available funding, ideas for tools, and various proven methods for achieving their goals. They built in face-to-face trainings and virtual check-ins to keep communication flowing; established timelines for programming requirements; and researched fun, open-ended materials and tools that could provide sufficient guidance for library staff and exploration opportunities for kids. They also developed evaluation methods and outlined staff requirements.
ICfL provided the pilot libraries with STEAM manipulative kits and materials; customized curriculum; intensive training focused on makerspaces, programming, and design process; technical support; and evaluation tools. ICfL staff also created a webpage that outlines project details and a Facebook page to document progress, share lessons learned, and highlight successes. Additionally, ICfL staff members and participating staff from the pilot libraries have presented locally, nationally, and internationally to share what the Commission and libraries are learning.
Expectations for pilot libraries
By the end of the pilot project each participating library will:
- Attend six days of face-to-face trainings and three to five virtual trainings and check-ins.
- Dedicate the staff and space necessary to create a temporary or permanent makerspace.
- Use evaluation tools and anecdotal information to gather data on the number of teens participating in project events, interest in and efficacy of STEAM programming in the library, increase in knowledge of program topic areas, and best practices for improving and/or expanding programming for teens in the makerspace.
- Create, implement, and submit eight teen projects/events using the STEAM materials/curriculum and at least six “stealth” (informal) programs to be implemented in the makerspace.
- Complete all memorandum of understanding (MOU) requirements.
The three libraries with branches have additional requirements to demonstrate how to scale the project up within a library system, and were required to send multiple staff members to each face-to-face training session.
Pilot libraries were selected in December2012. Three webinars and three face-to-face trainings were scheduled from January through November 2013. Other webinars will be held to provide additional training as needed.
Materials and tools
ICfL wanted to provide a variety of STEAM materials and tools so libraries could explore many different programming ideas. Tools were selected that support project objectives, align with Common Core Standards, allow for complex projects, introduce motorized designs, include curriculum and project ideas, and include trainers or local support when possible. Choices include materials from PCS Edventures!, Reuseum, Maker Media/MakerShed, and RepRap MendleMax 3D Printers.
It was essential to enlist an experienced trainer to work with the team, and PCS Edventures provided Kellie Dean to lead the workshops. Dean is an expert on experiential learning and helped build the foundation needed to implement the pilot.
The trainings included discussions on the design process, inventory management, partnerships, evaluation, and formal and stealth programming. Staff members were encouraged to work as teams, making their colleagues an invaluable support system as they moved forward. Plenty of time was provided to work with the tools and brainstorm ideas on how to best use them in library settings. Significant time was spent with the curriculum, learning technical nomenclature, building principles, and how to extend projects in new directions. Staff members were also given an opportunity to talk about their library’s unique needs and brainstorm ways to engage the teens in their community. Frequent check-ins helped make sure that everyone was comfortable with the content and only then moved forward with more challenging projects.
At a November 2013 workshop, staff will be trained on 3D design and on using 3D printers. Maker Media out of San Francisco will train on e-textiles and circuitry.
Compton and Walker designed tools to help evaluate the program on two levels:
- Library users: To evaluate the effectiveness of the makerspace activities and programs, they developed a survey tool to poll actual participants—as a group— before and after an activity. It is designed to record changes in skills, attitude, and behavior. So far there has been mixed success, but the survey is being modified as it is used and tested for effectiveness.
- Libraries: To evaluate the overall project from the libraries standpoint, ICfL is looking at attitudinal changes; circulation; attendance; space usage; and feedback from partners, community members, and library staff.
“We’ve had overwhelmingly positive feedback from everyone involved,” says Compton. “And after each training staff members are ready to move forward—exploring new tools and creating and implementing programs of their own.” Walker adds, “As we encourage the use of new technologies, we also tap local innovators, such as PCS Edventures! and Reuseum. We have recommended that libraries also team up with community partners and leverage local entrepreneurs. Pilot libraries have been creative in building partnerships, working with local engineers, artists, and other makers. Ada Community Library partnered with a local sheep rancher to learn all about wool production. Kids of all ages were given the chance to wash, card, and dye wool and then create a simple bowl with the finished material.”
Promoting the project
Excitement about the maker movement is huge. Idaho’s “Make It at the Library” project gained national attention this year and from there has attracted the notice of other countries interested in innovation at U.S. libraries. In 2013, ICfL project coordinators Compton and Walker and participating staff from the pilot libraries have presented to audiences at several venues including:
- Boise Mini Maker Faire, which included TED-style talks at Boise Public Library on day one with Compton and Walker, and hands-on workshops and demos in a science fair format at the Discovery Center of Idaho on day two with Compton, Walker, Nick Grove and Megan Egbert of the Meridian Library District, and Travis Porter of Ada Community Library.
- American Library Association Annual Conference, which included an overview, a brief hands-on opportunity with the tools, a presentation from Compton, an Animoto Videofrom Kate Radford of the Meridian Library District, and a Powtoons presentation from Egbert, who also related the presentation, as told through Twitter, at http://storify.com/MeganEgbert/make-it-idaho-ala2013.
- Pacific Northwest Library Association conference, which included a presentation by Grove, Porter, and Jennifer Redford of Boise Public Library on how libraries are implementing makerspaces to engage community participation and creativity.
- Afterschool Alliance webinar, where Compton noted the important role that libraries play in afterschool education and described how libraries are using the makerspace activities and related stealth programming to engage kids in STEAM learning.
- Association for Small & Rural Libraries (ASRL) Annual Conference, where Porter and Timothy Owens, Senior Program Officer in State Library Programs at the Institute of Museum and Library Services, shared ways to reach teens by adapting ideas from the maker movement.
- Idaho Library Association Annual Conference where Compton and Walker discussed using makerspaces to engage teens with STEAM. The importance of critical thinking, leveraging failure, and persistence in the design process were also highlighted.
- Innovation in U.S. Libraries video conference broadcast into the U.S. Embassy in Paris, where Compton, Porter, and Egbert (using video teleconferencing equipment at ICfL) were joined by the Detroit Public Library Hypespace, Cuyahoga County Public Library, and the University of Pennsylvania. They described for high level French officials how Idaho libraries are fostering the acquisition of STEM and 21st Century skills with makerspaces.
Making it work
The libraries are doing an exceptional job implementing programs at their libraries. Below are some examples of how the pilot libraries have integrated the maker culture into their libraries and embraced making in all forms.
- Some libraries implemented weekly open making time. Others have a variety of programs offered throughout the week—each with a specific topic or focus.
- Not all programming is at a specific time and place. Stealth challenges prove to be a good way to expand the makerspace idea and allow participants to be creative on their own time schedule. Daily or weekly challenges are set out and require little or no staff time to implement. Some libraries tethered digital cameras near the challenge so kids could snap a picture of the finished project and enter it into a weekly contest.
- One library is looking at creating an outdoor makerspace where gardening, nature, and other related activities can be implemented.
- One library has set aside time for a Maker Day for staff. All staff will have time to work with the tools to ensure that they are well-informed and actively promoting the project to the community.
- One library incorporated the PCS Brick Lab® and Idaho’s sesquicentennial, providing new challenges that incorporate different parts of the Capitol Building or other parts of Idaho history.
- Branch libraries jumped on board and tried out programming right away. Kits were thrown in cars and taken on the road.
- One library’s bookmobile took their PCS BrickLab® out and had a mobile makerspace!
What we’ve learned
- Training: Extensive training is vital. You need an experienced trainer, time to practice, reflect, and then come back for more. Scaffolding the learning (designing it to build on prior knowledge) is imperative.
- Communication: Ongoing communication is essential. Having frequent virtual check-ins, emailing reminders to staff about requirements, and keeping in touch through Facebook has enhanced the experience and helped ensure its success.
- Inventory: Many of the resources provided had thousands of tiny parts. Inventory management is something each library needs to think through to discover what works in their situation.
- Teen response: Teens learn fast and they naturally work together well. They can be competitive and enjoy a challenge. They have tackled feats of engineering and explored principles of physics, all while having a blast. One teen said of a soldering activity, “I never knew it would be so cool to melt things into other things.”
- Space: Actually creating a permanent space for making is easier said than done.
“Not all of the libraries have dedicated spaces yet,” says Compton. “We started out thinking that every library would. However, we quickly found that this was going to be a major challenge. So we switched our focus from creating makerspaces to creating makers. One piece of advice I would give is to not let the lack of space stop you from starting a makerspace. I know that sounds contrary, given that it is a makerSPACE, but it’s not. Embrace the idea of temporary spaces, moving spaces, rotating spaces—and it all will work out.” Here’s how one library used a temporary space for making, over a time span of three hours: time lapse video (1:13) of Meridian Library setup, programming, and take down in July 2013.
“The biggest surprise in adding a makerspace to our library has been how it made us rethink our entire library and what we do…going beyond just a collection,” says Egbert.
With the increased emphasis on STEAM skills, it is a natural step for libraries to expand their role in helping people learn valuable skills through makerspaces and other innovative programs. Libraries can provide the space, tools, encouragement, mentors, and support for people to create and make. Libraries are looking at their collections and space in new ways, reevaluating and re-envisioning ways to find dedicated space for the “Make It at the Library project” and keep their communities engaged in emerging trends.
Porter notes, “Making is unpredictable by nature so we need to be comfortable guiding the process wherever it wants to go.” And Walker says, “Flexibility is key to everything we do. Each library evolved their programming, their space, and their philosophy slightly differently based on their unique needs. Every one of them had the experience of trying something, then coming back to the drawing table and saying, ‘Well that didn’t work like we thought it would. How can we make it work better?’ And, of course, that philosophy is at the heart of being a maker and so it fits right in!”
The “Make It at the Library” project is made possible in part by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services and a grant from the Micron Foundation. See more on the Idaho Commission for Libraries website at http://libraries.idaho.gov/make-it-idaho and on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MakeItIdaho.
Teresa Lipus, Public Information Specialist, Idaho Commission for Libraries (ICfL) with significant input from Erica Compton and Sue Walker, ICfL project coordinators.