Week of Making: Making on a Shoestring

It’s hard to get excited about makerspaces when you don’t have ANY budget for materials. Installing and maintaining the software to run a 3D printer might seem a logistical impossibility when you don’t even have permissions to run the Windows updates on your public computers. But there are a number of ways to establish a maker culture with things you might already have lying around your library.

Use your graveyard of equipment for a hardware tear-down. Our digital natives may never have had the opportunity to peak inside a tower or under the keyboard of a laptop. Showing them how to upgrade the RAM or swap out other bits attached to a motherboard is a real-world skill that makes computers more useful for longer. Back when I sponsored a high school technology team, one of the most impressive student projects I saw involved a student daisy-chaining a set of old CPUs together to create a robust machine. Before adding to the e-waste explosion, offer your deaccessioned hardware to your teens, along with screwdrivers, clamps, and other basic tools. If your patrons see you playing with this sort of stuff, you may receive donations…

Photo: https://twitter.com/shk_le_shka

Photo: https://twitter.com/shk_le_shka

Hack their old toys.In a similar vein, one of my Alabama colleagues demonstrated how you can eviscerate a thrift-store Tickle Me Elmo to produce your own weird sound effects, a project certain to delight most teens.

Offer teens a VR experience. Don’t wait on the pricepoint of Occulus Rift to come down. The amazing resource Instructables has a template for making Google Cardboard viewers of out of all those boxes you have in your office.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SO51KTCtdDE

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SO51KTCtdDE

Easy, cheap, removable greenscreens. Your local dollar store probably has some green plastic tablecloths that are perfect backdrops for green screen video projects. You might have to play around to find the best shade to work with your app or software (I like the iPad App by Do Ink, an affordbale $3, though there are free versions out there, too), but it doesn’t involve the mess or permanence of painting.

Makerspace on a cart. Don’t have a dedicated spot or need to be able to remove or secure your making stuff? Put it on a rolling cart! Vendors have cottoned on and are offering purpose-built versions, but simply searching “makerspace on a cart” will give you an embarrassment of ideas for creating, organizing, and containing the components you have on hand.

Ready to make a small investment? At around $40, Raspberry Pi is a low-cost way to get started with creating new hardware solutions using existing peripherals. And it’s such a flexible device, it can be used in a relatively infinite number of ways, and the sheer amount of documentation around Raspberry Pi projects, many that don’t require network connectivity, published online will be sure to inspire you.

So making doesn’t have to mean buying sets of Little Bits or Makey-Makeys. There are terrific ways to use things you have on hand or can purchase relatively inexpensively. It’s a great way to test the waters and see if there is excitement and momentum in your community about making before you invest…after all, purchasing products goes against the very ethos of making.

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