Just in time for Teen Tech Week planning, the last in a four-part series detailing how one state library commission facilitated a culture of learning and experimentation through the maker movement in a variety of library settings.

By Teresa Lipus, Public Information Specialist, Idaho Commission for Libraries (ICfL) with significant input from Erica Compton and Sue Walker, ICfL project coordinators.

Project evaluation

Making it work

The libraries are doing an exceptional job implementing programs at their libraries. Below are some examples of how the pilot libraries have integrated the maker culture into their libraries and embraced making in all forms.

  • Some libraries implemented weekly open making time. Others have a variety of programs offered throughout the week—each with a specific topic or focus.
  • Not all programming is at a specific time and place. Stealth challenges prove to be a good way to expand the makerspace idea and allow participants to be creative on their own time schedule. Daily or weekly challenges are set out and require little or no staff time to implement. Some libraries tethered digital cameras near the challenge so kids could snap a picture of the finished project and enter it into a weekly contest.
  • One library is looking at creating an outdoor makerspace where gardening, nature, and other related activities can be implemented.
  • One library set aside time for a Maker Day for staff. All staff had time to work with the tools to ensure that they were well-informed and actively promoting the project to the community.
  • One library incorporated the PCS Brick Lab’® and Idaho’s sesquicentennial, providing new challenges that incorporate different parts of the Capitol Building or other parts of Idaho history.
  • Branch libraries jumped on board and tried out programming right away. Kits were thrown in cars and taken on the road.
  • One library’s bookmobile took their PCS BrickLab’® out and had a mobile makerspace!


What we’ve learned

  • Training: Extensive training is vital. You need an experienced trainer, time to practice, reflect, and then come back for more. Scaffolding the learning (designing it to build on prior knowledge) is imperative.
  • Communication: Ongoing communication is essential. Having frequent virtual check-ins, emailing reminders to staff about requirements, and keeping in touch through Facebook has enhanced the experience and helped ensure its success.
  • Inventory: Many of the resources provided had thousands of tiny parts. Inventory management is something each library needs to think through to discover what works in their situation.
  • Teen response: Teens learn fast and they naturally work together well. They can be competitive and enjoy a challenge.
  • They have tackled feats of engineering and explored principles of physics, all while having a blast. One teen said of a soldering activity,”I never knew it would be so cool to melt things into other things.”
  • Space: Actually creating a permanent space for making is easier said than done.

“Not all of the libraries have dedicated spaces yet,” says Compton. “We started out thinking that every library would. However, we quickly found that this was going to be a major challenge. So we switched our focus from creating makerspaces to creating makers. One piece of advice I would give is to not let the lack of space stop you from starting a makerspace. I know that sounds contrary, given that it is a makerSPACE, but it’s not. Embrace the idea of temporary spaces, moving spaces, rotating spaces and it all will work out.”

Here’s how one library used a temporary space for making, over a time span of three hours: a time lapse video (1:13) of Meridian Library setup, programming, and take down from July 2013. “The biggest surprise in adding a makerspace to our library has been how it made us rethink our entire library and what we do is going beyond just a collection,” says Megan Egbert of the Meridian Library District.

What’s next

The pilot project will continue into year two with additional libraries receiving the same materials and training as year one libraries. Year one libraries will continue to refine and expand their makerspace activities and mentor the second year libraries. ICfL staff will continue to share best practices and develop more effective and efficient evaluation methods.

With the increased emphasis on STEAM skills, it is a natural step for libraries to expand their role in helping people learn valuable skills through makerspaces and other innovative programs. Libraries can provide the space, tools, encouragement, mentors, and support for people to create and make. Libraries are looking at their collections and space in new ways, reevaluating and re-envisioning ways to find dedicated space for the “Make It at the Library project” and keep their communities engaged in emerging trends.

Porter notes, “Making is unpredictable by nature so we need to be comfortable guiding the process wherever it wants to go.” And Walker says, “Flexibility is key to everything we do. Each library evolved their programming, their space, and their philosophy slightly differently based on their unique needs. Every one of them had the experience of trying something, then coming back to the drawing table and saying, ‘Well that didn’t work like we thought it would. How can we make it work better?’ And, of course, that philosophy is at the heart of being a maker and so it fits right in!”

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. See more on the Idaho Commission for Libraries website at http://libraries.idaho.gov/make-it-idaho and on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MakeItIdaho.

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