From large urban libraries to small rural ones, makerspaces are happening. Spaces like these are important because they give people of all ages the opportunity to gain knowledge on their own through hands-on exploration. The possibilities are endless and can range from being tech-based, such as 3D printing and multi-media, to art carts and building stations.
Libraries are Always Ahead of the Game:
In 2015, The Teen Tech Week theme Libraries are for Making highlighted the fact that indeed libraries have always been “centers for “making” and “creation” for as long as we have been having crafts, programs, and classes! Everyone seems to think that a makerspace needs to be high-tech and technology driven, but all it really needs to be is a program or space that enables and encourages teens to explore, create, and share.,” says Christie Gibrich, Senior Librarian at Grand Prairie Library System. (Young Adult Library Services, Volume 13, Number 2)
I work at the Reading Public Library, District Center in Reading, PA located in Berks County. We are fortunate to have a space dedicated to teens called the Teen Loft. In that space, teens have simple makerspace areas that I have created based on the interest of the teens and the resources many lack at home. One of those spaces is our Art Cart. We take for granted having access to simple things such as crayons, markers, paper, scissors, and glue. Our building makerspace consists of K’Nex, Legos, Moon Sand, and more. We also have a monthly themed makerspace challenge to keep things interesting such as our Granny Square project and decorating bookends that we featured for Teen Read Week this year. In many circumstances, these are luxuries for our patrons because their parents and guardians cannot afford them. They look to us for a space to relax and socialize with their peers. Programs are great and fortunately, we can provide them daily, but there is something about being able to have the time to explore on your own terms. Makerspaces provide that opportunity and support resources in our collection.
How Do I Start a Makerspace?
1. Listen and Observe
Libraries are always at the forefront because we listen to our patrons’ wants and needs and assess them through close observation. Teens have great ideas and if given the opportunity are willing to share them. Many times some of the best ideas I have received have been in passing. I make sure that I keep a list and refer to it monthly.
2. Use What You Have
We all know that we have bought too many materials for a program that we thought was going to be a huge success or we have one or two of something left from a previous program that we cannot quite think of what to do with. Get it all together, put it out in a central area or on a cart and voila, you have just created a makerspace. Keep it general, put a sign out that says, “Make It!” so that you give yourself enough room to change it anytime you run out of something or add to it.
3. No Money, No Materials? No Problem!
Find a grant to support your vision. I spoke to Noel Christman, Director at the Oley Valley Library; one of our Berks County Public Libraries; about their makerspace. She was able to secure funding through a grant from the United Way. It enabled them to buy four makerspace carts that include materials to make invisible ink treasure maps and monster marshmallows. Her ideas were inspired through a book called Maker Lab by Jack Challoner. “A makerspace is a great addition to any library or classroom. It boosts kids’ imaginations and helps them think outside the box. Our makerspace is a great addition to the library and I find myself using it more often than what I had planned!” If you do not know where to start, check out these tips 5 Tips for Funding Your Makerspace from Demco’s Ideas and Inspiration Blog and YALSA’s Awards, Grant, Stipends, and Scholarships page.
Free play is important not only for preschoolers that are usually the focus but also for teenagers and adults. According to an online article from Time Magazine by Hilary G. Conklin, Ph.D., “Researchers have documented a rise in mental health problems—such as anxiety and depression—among young people that has paralleled a decline in children’s opportunities to play. And while play has gotten deserved press in recent months for its role in fostering crucial social-emotional and cognitive skills and cultivating creativity and imagination in the early childhood years, a critical group has been largely left out of these important conversations. Adolescents, too—not to mention adults, as shown through Google’s efforts —need time to play, and they need time to play in school.” (Time, March 3, 2015)
Public Libraries are obviously not schools, but we are educational institutions that prides ourselves on being what a person needs and wants at a certain place during a certain time in their life. We have always been advocates of exploration. At this time, our teens need makerspaces where they can enjoy themselves, have downtime, and develop the necessary skills needed to be successful such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and collaboration that can go beyond making in their lives.
Ashly R. Roman is the Teen Loft Supervisor at the Reading Public Library, Main Branch in Reading, PA.