Idaho Libraries Creating a Maker Culture

This article is a follow-up to the “Idaho libraries shake up the maker movementarticle in the Fall 2013 Idaho Librarian. Library staff members who participated in the first year of “Make It at the Library” were surveyed about their experiences implementing the maker project and the changes they’ve seen as a result. Their responses have been incorporated below.


In early 2013, the Idaho Commission for Libraries (ICfL) developed the “Make It at the Library” pilot project to implement a maker culture in public libraries across Idaho. It was a successful and exciting first year. We worked with five libraries—Ada Community Library; Community Library Network; Gooding Public Library; Meridian District Library; and Snake River School Community Library—to embrace “making” and push the boundaries of programming with tweens and teens.

Each library exceeded every expectation and demonstrated innovation, creativity, and drive in the implementation of the project. Through their maker programs, the libraries served 3,585 teens/tweens and 1,120 families, and engaged 4,650 people through outreach events. As they nurtured a maker culture in their communities, the five libraries created 18 partnerships and hosted 66 programs with these partners.

These successes made us even more excited to open up the opportunity to libraries for a second year. In year two, we plan to share best practices, replicate the project with new libraries, use pilot library staff as mentors, and continue to expand programming in the pilot libraries. Libraries from the first year of the project have committed one new staff member to attend trainings with the six new libraries selected from eleven applicants to participate in the second year of the project: Aberdeen District Library; Buhl Public Library; East Bonner County Free Library District; Jerome Public Library; Portneuf District Library, Chubbuck; and Twin Falls Public Library. Each of the new libraries has committed two staff members to participate in the year-long project. The first workshop took place February 24-25 at the Commission and focused on developing a foundational understanding of the maker culture and the design process, along with exploration of construction, simple machines, engineering, and architecture. (See a newspaper article and brief news video of the workshop.) A two-day training in May will focus on robotics, and a final two-and-a-half day training in November will cover 3D design, 3D printing, and e-textiles.

We are leveraging feedback from first year libraries to build on successes, learn from their challenges, and allow other libraries to replicate the Make It project. Library staff comments demonstrate exciting shifts in library use, library users, and benefits to the community as a result of the project.

Changes in library use

Staff report patrons are coming in more frequently, meeting with others, staying longer, jumping into more hands-on activities, delving into exploration, teaching others what they’ve learned, collaborating on projects, using problem solving skills, working together as families, and showing increased interest in technology and STEAM-based (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) activities. People “routinely bring in projects that they are working on, from remote-controlled cars that they are modifying to arduino-controlled devices that they have created,” and use the library’s 3D printer and Fischertechnik® engineering kits to design and create. Tweens/teens are more engaged, use the library as a place to explore and work on longer-term projects, take ownership in the maker area, and take pride in their projects and the challenges they’ve overcome. Many makers are truly connecting with the library for the first time. Plus, community members are volunteering to help with Make It programs!

makeithappenpicPlanning and working together

– Photo by Gooding Public Library

Overall, there is an increased awareness of all the library has to offer. The view of the library as a “depository for information” is changing to one of a “meeting and learning place,” a “place where creation happens.” Libraries also report an increased sense of community. One librarian said, “One day, we had patrons of all ages creating snowflakes out of cupcake liners to hang on our Christmas tree. I never thought such a simple thing could bring the community together like it did.”

Changes in who is using the library

Libraries have also seen an increase and shift in who is using the library as a result of the project. Specifically: more patrons of a variety of ages, from students to patrons 50 and older; older children and high school-age users participating more in library programs and the maker events; and homeschoolers coming into the library to participate in makerspace programs, use the library as a resource, and benefit from the social aspect of the Make It space. There has also been an increase in psychosocial rehabilitation (PSR) workers and their clients, due to the “social nature of the programs and the skills that children and tweens learn in a maker environment. Social development is enhanced when children work together to create and solve problems.” One participating librarian also noted: “Our public in general seems to be looking toward us more and more as a resource for technology. Specifically because of the 3D printer, I’ve heard many business people consult us when they are looking to make technology purchases of their own.”

Community/patron benefits 

The “Make It at the Library” project has given libraries the opportunity to create a culture and place that offer a broadened experience. Whole families engage in activities, “strengthening family bonds which in turn can keep parents involved in their kids’ lives and interests over the long-term, thus increasing their likelihood to finish school/go on.” Participants have been observed teaching each other what they have learned. Libraries are focusing more on STEAM program offerings and incorporating math and science into storytimes. Some teens have indicated that they now want to participate in quality STEAM-related courses at school. Some individuals who have had their first practical exposure to computer programming at the library are now enthusiastically writing programs of their own design for arduino devices. Other participants have learned fundamental engineering principles such as gear ratios and leverage by engaging with Fischertechnik® engineering kits.

Library programming is becoming more informal (stealth programming), with an emphasis on group exploration. Instead of “instructing patrons,” libraries are creating an environment where patrons can explore and discover independently as well as collaboratively. Staff members have become more confident and excited about science and technology, and about sharing what they have learned. Staff is also “becoming more comfortable with the idea that they can run a maker program and not know all of the answers.” Libraries are sparking an interest with families and teens because they now know that they can have an even wider variety of experiences at their local library. Staff looks at programming as more of a partnership than a teacher/student relationship or presentation. One librarian said, “By creating programs without a specific outcome, the results have been amazing. Especially with teens and tweens, the amount of group work that happens spontaneously is extremely rewarding.”

The maker tools also have increased awareness and interest in the community. Patrons see the libraries as a place that offers resources they can’t get anywhere else, both because of the actual materials (robot kits, engineering kits, 3D printer, etc.) and how libraries approach their maker activities. With the 3D printer at one library, students in the drafting class are learning how to print their own designs. One student is printing a miniature rocket he has been working on for several years.

ICfL staff looks forward to watching the learning, the making, and the creativity happen in year two as the pilot libraries expand and enhance their maker programs and the new libraries begin offering new programs to their communities. Watch for future articles, where we will take a closer look at successful “Make It at Your Library” partnerships and projects.

If you would like to read more about what we are doing in Idaho, please visit us at the Idaho Commission for Libraries’ website at . To follow our progress please *LIKE* our Facebook page: 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.IMLS logo

By Idaho Commission for Libraries (ICfL): Teresa Lipus, Public Information Specialist; Sue Walker, project coordinator; and Erica Compton, project coordinator


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