Week of Making: Bringing makerspaces to teens

CC: SJPL Pop-Up Mobile Maker's Space by San Jose Library

CC Image courtesy of San José Library on Flickr

Just over a month ago I became the first STEAM Librarian at the San José Public Library, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. While my title is new, STEAM programming is far from new to my urban library system. Surrounded by so many technology resources and partners, we are lucky to have passionate library staff leading STEAMstacks programs and participating in worldwide events like Hour of Code.

Before my position was even created our Innovations Manager brainstormed ways to extend STEAM programming to the city’s underserved neighborhoods. Part of the envisioned future stated in The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action is for library staff to “leave the physical school library or public library space regularly and provide services to targeted communities of teens (e.g. those who are incarcerated, homeless, in foster care, or in classrooms and other in school locations) where they are, rather than waiting for teens to find a way to get to the physical library space.” The Maker[Space]Ship, a mobile makerspace, is designed to do just that.

The Maker[Space]Ship (MSS) design is influenced by the bookmobile model libraries have used to provide access to community members across a broader service area. This summer we began the process of building the vehicle, but a lot of time has been previously spent figuring out what our model would actually look like. These steps are explained in the San José Public Library’s Mobile Makerspace Guide.

This guide provides best practices in designing your own mobile makerspace (whether it is a vehicle with a built in makerspace or a wheeled cart filled with supplies) by breaking down the design thinking process. Unfortunately the original design thinking team consisting of library staff and teens started before I was employed at SJPL, but the process from empathy to testing doesn’t end once the makerspace is created!

Currently I am chin deep in makerspace equipment research. Before we even finalize the MSS design we have to know what large equipment will live on the vehicle and what storage is needed. One of the most helpful guides I have found was created by SparkTruck, an “educational build-mobile” started by Stanford students. Along with the equipment guide, SparkTruck resources include sample tool cards, lesson planning templates and ongoing reflections. I have also heavily used Makerspaces.com resource list and 3D Hubs 3D Printer Guide in finalizing our supply list. For even more inspiration from start to finish, follow Make:’s Made in Baltimore series and especially the recent article on creating a mobile makerspace.

But what about programming? Besides the design thinking team, we also created a STEAM programming committee. This group consists of library staff passionate about STEAM programming and dedicated to create new program outlines based on Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. Inspiration for programming comes from previous successful programs ran at one of our library locations or online sites like YALSA’s STEM Wiki, Making the Library Toolkit and Teen Programming HQ. My fellow blogger, Maeve Dodds, also mentions more program ideas in her Week of Making: Budget Friendly Technology for YA Programming post.

Next steps on my list include figuring out how we bring the MSS to youth throughout the city. While we are breaking out of the library walls, we still face obstacles in delivering programs to our target communities. Public parking is limited in the city and parks may not be able to physically accommodate large vehicles. Schools follow strict schedules and are often understaffed. What if we set up a program out in the city and no one shows? What if we attract 60 people, but can only fit 20 on the vehicle? We are trying to foresee any issues that may arise with our new venture, but we are also prepared to be flexible while in this trial and error stage.

Not every library is able to afford to build a vehicle to house a makerspace, but a truck isn’t needed to bring your makerspace to teens throughout the community. As stated in a YALSA post during last year’s Week of Making, “How you define your Makerspace, and your path to becoming a Maker, is up to you!”

About Casey McCoy

Casey McCoy is a Librarian at San Jose Public Library and earned her MSLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2014. She has a passion for working with teens as well as discovering ways to use technology as a community engagement tool. Her thoughts on libraries, technology and attempts at adulting can be found on Twitter @CayMcCoy.
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