Blogger School-Age Programs and Service Committee

Low Tech Makerspace

Do you suffer from Makerspace envy? I do. I wish I had the dedicated space, materials and personnel that some of my more lucky library and school friends do. At my last school, they had a dedicated shop with a flank of 3-D printers, CNC machines, fabrication tools and a dedicated lab director. Sigh.

As much as I wished to duplicate that for my public library patrons, like most of us, I didn’t have the space OR the money. But I still wanted my patrons to have the benefits that a good makerspace program can provide. So, I went on to do what we youth librarians have been doing for decades – I created the programming on the cheap. And by cheap – I mean price, not experience! After all, the concepts behind the makerspace movement don’t rely on money. They are based on constructive learning theory – we learn through observing and doing – and the design process. Makerspace ethos embraces learning from mistakes (iteration) and personal creativity (testing ideas). Even a librarian on a small budget can create (or appropriate!) programming designed to highlight these concepts of learning and design.

To get your ideas flowing, here are two examples from Denver Public Library that were previously published on our ALSC blog on March 28, 2018 written by Amy Seto Forrester. (At DPL, they created)… “Open Studios and Tinkering Programs inspired by the friendly, accessible nature of the makerspace movement. Both these programs…(were drop in) and… encourage participation and sharing of ideas. Liesel (Schmidt) described them this way:

Open Studios allow participants to explore different art media like watercolor paint, oil pastels or clay. We make real art materials available to visitors, along with suggestions of techniques to try. It works to demonstrate examples of new techniques that will allow participants to further explore the media without prescribing a “correct” way to make the art.

Marble Machines and Cardboard Automata, our pilot Tinkering Programs, were both inspired by materials from the Exploratorium Museum’s Tinkering Studio. Marble Machines allows participants to collaborate to create a pathway for marbles to move down a pegboard. Cardboard Automata gives participants a chance to experiment with simple machine elements through cardboard.” These drop-in programs were done over the course of two hours with staff acting not as teachers but as facilitators that questioned and encouraged.“

All in all, these programs have been very successful at our library, especially on weekends and during school breaks. Liesel is especially happy because, “We’ve seen a lot of terrific intergenerational interaction around these programs. We’ve also seen that programs like this encourage strangers to interact with each other–helping us in our goal to strengthen community connections.”

You can also use passive programming to promote makerspace ideals. Like most librarians, I had a collection of odds and ends left over from various crafts. I started to rummage through our library recycle bin and out came various boxes to break down into cardboard sheets, toilet and paper towel cardboard rolls, plastic trays and lids and various bits. Add different weights of paper, several types of glue, beads, pipe cleaners, rubber bands, office supplies, etc. and you have a stocked makerspace. I set out these materials on a cart or table on rainy days or school half days and offer ‘Pop-Up’ makerspace programming. I add simple directions that encourage children to use the materials at hand to solve an imaginary problem. For those that needed a little help to get started, a list of possibilities or ideas to spark their imagination was provided. For example, making a leprechaun trap around St. Patrick’s Day was always a favorite! Assistance was provided on an ‘as needed’ basis. I would also have directions for the parents as well. Parents were requested to follow the child’s lead and allow them free rein with their ideas and to allow them to experiment and fail if needed! They were encouraged to ask their child to explain their thinking as the child was working on a project. Sometimes, the caregivers would also use the materials to create their own object. Of course, there were also those that just wanted to create something else – and that was also encouraged. If I had time, I would often ask a child about their thought process, which were sometimes lengthy, but always rich conversations. After all, it is not the object made, but the process they went through that was more important.

In the end, whether you call it makerspace or tinker time or creative works, the result is the same. We are encouraging our young patrons to use their brains to internalize a simple design process that can be expanded as they grow. It encourages them to take risks, to assess where something went wrong and to try again. All of these processes will aid them as they become lifelong learners – which most of us can attest, leads to a full and rewarding life.

Here a few links to start the process or to learn more:

Kelly Depin is a member of the SAPS Committee.

One comment

  1. kidscastle

    It’s truly inspiring to see how you’ve embraced the spirit of makerspaces by adapting to your constraints without compromising on the quality of experience. Your approach highlights an essential truth of makerspaces: it’s not about flashy tools and big budgets but about fostering creativity, learning through doing, and the freedom to experiment and make mistakes. This kind of innovation not only serves your patrons but also sets a fantastic example for libraries everywhere on how to offer meaningful, engaging programming with limited resources. Great job turning challenges into opportunities for growth and learning!

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