Just in time for Teen Tech Week planning, the first 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.

Makerspaces bring people together to collaborate, create, design, and share resources and knowledge. With increasing frequency these makerspaces are being started in libraries. By providing materials, instruction in the use of new technology and an environment that supports the creative process, libraries are powerful equalizers that level the playing field for their users who may not otherwise have access to these hubs of community engagement.


Makerspaces were launched in five public libraries across Idaho through Make It at the Library, a pilot project implemented in 2012-2013 by the Idaho Commission for Libraries (ICfL).

These pilot libraries represent diverse geographic regions as well as rural and urban communities:

  • Ada Community Library, with branches in four locations
  • Community Library Network, with branches in eight locations
  • Gooding Public Library, a one-room library in a rural community
  • Meridian Library District, with branches in two locations
  • Snake River School/Community Library, a public library located within a public high school

Though the project initially focused on engaging teens through maker activities to draw them into these innovative spaces, the makerspaces will eventually be available to the entire community as the project evolves.

The “Make It at the Library” project provides the necessary materials and training for pilot library staff to implement creative, STEAM-based (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) programming for tweens and teens. The project also includes training on leveraging partnerships, involving community, and evaluating outcomes.

Getting started

ICfL project coordinators Erica Compton and Sue Walker looked at desired outcomes, available funding, ideas for tools, and various proven methods for achieving their goals. They built in face-to-face trainings and virtual check-ins to keep communication flowing; established timelines for programming requirements; and researched fun, open-ended materials and tools that could provide sufficient guidance for library staff and exploration opportunities for kids. They also developed evaluation methods and outlined staff requirements.

ICfL provided the pilot libraries with STEAM manipulative kits and materials; customized curriculum; intensive training focused on makerspaces, programming, and design process; technical support; and evaluation tools. ICfL staff also created a webpage that outlines project details and a Facebook page to document progress, share lessons learned, and highlight successes. Additionally, ICfL staff members and participating staff from the pilot libraries have presented locally, nationally, and internationally to share what the Commission and libraries are learning.

Expectations for pilot libraries

In year one of the pilot project, each participating library was required to:

  • Attend six days of face-to-face trainings and three to five virtual trainings and check-ins.
  • Dedicate the staff and space necessary to create a temporary or permanent makerspace.
  • Use evaluation tools and anecdotal information to gather data on the number of teens participating in project events, interest in and efficacy of STEAM programming in the library, increase in knowledge of program topic areas, and best practices for improving and/or expanding programming for teens in the makerspace.
  • Create, implement, and submit eight teen projects/events using the STEAM materials/curriculum and at least six “stealth” (informal) programs to be implemented in the makerspace.
  • Complete all memorandum of understanding (MOU) requirements.

The three libraries with branches had additional requirements to demonstrate how to scale the project up within a library system, and were required to send multiple staff members to each face-to-face training session.

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.

Future posts in this series will discuss materials and tools, training, project evaluation, promotion, implementation, and next steps.

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