Making Makers in Your Community Makes Sense

By Sue Walker, Library Consultant – Idaho Commission for Libraries

This article shares information compiled for a presentation at the 2015 Association for Rural and Small Libraries. The presentation focused on making activities in rural libraries and was developed to document how libraries are incorporating the maker culture into their programming and to demonstrate that making does not require large budgets, spaces, or numbers of staff.

Because STEM has been emphasized in making through Idaho’s “Make It at the library” and Montana’s “Montana Makers” projects many of the respondents had worked with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) tools and programs.  However, respondents also shared information about other making programs that demonstrate the variety of ways making can enhance programming, attract different audiences to the library, and allow the library to address an unmet need in its community.

The following information is taken from the two page executive summary.  The entire document linked below provides detailed analysis of the information gathered and shares specific programming ideas that have been successful in libraries in Idaho and Montana.

Background: Making is a hot topic in many educational organizations, including libraries.  For rural libraries, new trends raise concerns about staffing, programming, and funding new initiatives when staff may feel overwhelmed by current program needs.

Staff from the Idaho Commission for Libraries and the Montana State Library developed projects to introduce the making concept to libraries.  Cara Orban, Montana State Library Statewide Projects Librarian, and Sue Walker, Library Consultant at the Idaho Commission for Libraries, collaborated to develop a better understanding about making in the two states’ rural libraries.

Methodology: Library staff in the two states were invited to complete an online making survey which focused on the following topics: materials, training, space, partnerships, cost, and programming.  Follow-up was conducted to elicit more specific information on some questions.

Staff from two libraries in each state were interviewed to highlight their programs in more detail. The information is compiled in an electronic document that contains the survey questions, each library’s response to the survey, the full responses from each of the four highlighted libraries, and summaries of responses to each question.  The survey is arranged by library size to allow libraries to identify libraries of comparable size if desired.

The full document can be accessed here:

Respondent overview:

  • Response: 35 individual libraries: 28 public, 2 school/community, 4 high school, 1 middle school. In addition, 4 library branches from 3 different library organizations submitted responses, and staff from 4 libraries submitted more than one response.  All submissions are included in the electronic document.
  • Respondent demographics: Library size was determined by the number of cards issued for public libraries, and the student enrollment in school libraries. Libraries were segmented into the following categories: <5000 card holders, 5000-15,000 card holders, > 15,000 card holders.

Survey findings:

  • Materials: A large variety of materials are used in making. Since the Montana State Library and the Idaho Commission for Libraries provided materials to libraries in both states, those types of materials were the most commonly listed.  STEM tools currently are generating interest, especially newer tools such as 3D printers. However, the materials listed include everything from construction and deconstruction, textiles, photography, robotics, circuitry, and tools to create music and movies.  The type of materials used depends on the community’s needs.
  • Training: Most of the respondents had received some formal training as part of the projects sponsored by the two state agencies. This training was supplemented by hands on experimentation and learning from others. Training needs expressed focused on better knowledge of STEM topics such as robotics, engineering, and 3D printing.  Respondents also noted ways to better incorporate the tools into programming would be useful.
  • Space: More than 50% of respondents do not have a dedicated Maker Space. Meeting rooms, teen spaces, and other library spaces are used as needed.  Space components most libraries listed: tables, computers, shelving, and access to electricity. Space components depend on the tools used. Access to the space used for making varies widely. An equal number of libraries provide access whenever the library is open and only when maker programming is occurring. Most are as flexible as space and other programming allows.
  • Partners: Partners are an integral part of making. 100% of respondents listed at least 1 partner, two thirds listed 2 partners, and 11% listed 5 partners.  Partners included trainers such as teachers and professors, musicians and artists, and volunteers to help with activities. In-kind partners provided supplies, refreshments, and publicity.
  • Cost: Initial cost depend on the types of materials purchased, and many libraries received tools from their state agency. 25% of libraries estimated the initial cost was less than $1,000.00 and 70% less than $5,000.00.  Comments focused on the ability to start small and add tools as needed.  Several libraries used grant or gift funds or received material donations.
  • Programming: Many respondents had access to STEM materials provided by the state library agencies and used these resources with teens and other audiences. 3D printers are a big draw-even if participants are not designing or printing designs themselves.  However, other programs such as knitting, construction/deconstruction, and circuitry are also popular.  Programs that were initially designed for teens and tweens have expanded to include other audiences.
  • Program goals and achievement: The reasons for incorporating making into library programming are diverse, but all focused on providing more access to different resources to a variety of audiences. Most respondents feel they are slowly reaching these goals, but the progress is slow and varies from library to library.
  • General comments:
    Comments covered a variety of issues and should be reviewed in their entirety. General themes and accompanying comments:

◊ Don’t be afraid or intimidated
Don’t be overwhelmed just take baby steps and it will all come together.

◊ Start small and build from there
Start small and do it. Watch tutorials online, experiment and get your hands dirty. Try everything first; that will help ease fears and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

◊ Don’t try to do it alone-need staff support and partners
Staff must be interested and excited about the activities they choose to offer to the public. There are many activities and a library may choose some and leave other activities for partner organizations to offer outside the library. The library should be open to having guest instructors who are experts in their field. If a volunteer will help in the lab as a regular instructor or mentor, run a background check on that person and provide them with a “volunteer” name tag so they are perceived as official.

◊ Making is a culture which requires community involvement
The community that you are serving should guide the programming that is provided.



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