Children & Technology

Children’s Makerspaces in Public Libraries

In the last several decades, the landscape of public libraries changed from what one might consider a stereotypical book storehouse to an eclectic gathering space not just for materials, but for people. To remain relevant in their communities, public libraries adapted to this shift in focus, working to provide more versatile and technological resources for their community members. One trend in particular that has sprung from this change is  the concept of makerspaces. A relatively young concept as far as technology goes, this  idea has taken root  and managed to establish itself in libraries across the country.

Read more: Children’s Makerspaces in Public Libraries

It is believed that the concept of “making” was first discussed in 2005, as part of an article in  Make – a magazine that published information regarding maker projects. Since then, many libraries have taken the steps to build their own makerspaces filled with different types of technology.  At the very least, most libraries have looked into adding something small, like a 3D printer. Many of these makerspaces are governed by policy, often restricting access to those under a certain age because of the equipment that the space possesses. However, it has been theorized that making can have a profound effect on childhood development, as it is a form of creative play. It is a disservice that we are keeping children out of a space that might net the most benefit for a younger audience.

It can be difficult sometimes to balance the needs of the community with the expensive equipment that is often purchased for a makerspace. What happens if something breaks? Who is ultimately responsible? If you start allowing children into that space, does it make it that much harder to maintain? Even at my own library, children under the age of 17 are not allowed in the Makerspace unaccompanied and require parental assistance in order to do most projects. Our machines have age restrictions on them and require someone of legal age to operate them. As a result, we have a makerspace that really can only be utilized by adults.

But if children are the ones who benefit more from a space that allows for this type of creative exploration, then why don’t we provide greater access? At the least we can make changes so that children can learn how to use the equipment properly. We often have many parents who want their children to participate in our makerspace programs, but they are unable due to age.

So how can we combat this within our own libraries? Here are a few ideas of what you can do to help make your makerspace accessible to children:

  • Find smaller versions of machines that do the same task, but in a more accessible way. For instance, at my library we have 3D pens that we use with the younger kids during programming, especially if this is their first time doing any kind of 3D printing. 
  • Host introduction classes for kids that focus on specific maker tasks, like knitting, crocheting, sewing, embroidery, and more. Some of my fondest memories as a child are learning how to knit and sew from my mom, even if it wasn’t at a library. Providing this experience for a child will go a long way in instilling a love for making and the library.
  • Provide truncated or tweaked versions of classes already provided for adults. We are often tasked with aging a program up or down to hit a wider audience of people. Makerspace programs can also be altered so that they are accessible and appropriate for children.
  • Actually teach them how to use the machines. Children can surprise you with how adept they are at using technology. I have had children as young as 6 and 7 show me how to do things in TinkerCAD and demonstrate how a 3D printer works. I’ve had one child absolutely fascinated with our Carvey Milling Machine and who wanted to learn everything they could about it. Children should not be discounted just because of their age.

While I understand that, for safety reasons, it is prudent to keep children away from certain machines, it seems like they get left out of the maker community solely due to their age. It is possible to ensure that making remains accessible to everyone, and it will allow our young patrons to develop a  passion for it at every  library.


Katie Talhelm is a member of the ALSC Children and Technology Committee and is the Library Service Manager for Youth Services with the Arlington Public Library in Arlington, TX. Katie oversees programs, resources, and services for children and teens in the Arlington community and the surrounding areas as part of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

This blog post relates to the ALSC Core Competencies of: I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming skills, and V. Outreach and Advocacy.

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