Staying Current: Maker Spaces in the School Library

‘Maker Spaces’ is the newest and trendiest buzzword in the LIS community. But what even are they? According to this nifty article I found, they are “creative, DIY spaces where people can gather to create, invent, and learn.” The instruments that make up a maker space can vary anywhere from 3D printers to Lego sets. Essentially, it’s a place where people can nurture their creative sides. As libraries strive to stay relevant in the era of STEM, maker spaces allow libraries to tap into an audience that has normally been excluded. Until the present, creativity and physical innovation had no place in a library – it was a place for reading, writing, and learning. That is starting to change though.

To start, I have no experience with maker spaces. I have not been in a library that houses one, nor do I have one of my own to run. But I see the value in them. While not entirely a maker space, I am in talks with my principal to open the library up during recess time. Scheduling conflicts have prevented it thus far. Our idea is that if we provide art supplies, brain exercises, and online activities, students can drop in on their own time. They can take control of what they learn or what they make. This way, when a student just doesn’t feel like playing basketball, they can spend a quiet recess in the library making a popsicle stick cabin.

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I am entirely overwhelmed by the maker spaces that I’ve seen online – the ones that look more like engineering labs than places where students can engage in creative STEM work. But after doing some research, I found this article published in School Library Journal, that details a number of different tips for putting together a maker space. This first tip was ‘Start Small’ – which is good, because I’m 99% sure that I do not have the funds, nor the space to ‘Start Big’. In order to do this, a list of materials needs to be drawn up – materials that are already taken care of, and materials that need to be purchased. From there, a budget should be drawn up. One aspect that I did not consider when I was meeting with my principal was the need for a maker space to have consistent and constant funding. It is not a one time purchase. In the School Library Journal article, it mentions ‘Maker Mondays’ – this appealed to my worries about receiving adequate funding. Instead of having the maker space be in a permanent fixture, advertising it as a weekly occurrence could not only save on expenses, but also increase the amount of students that visit the space. The article carries on to list the various tool and resources that their maker space offered.

In a follow up article, also published by School Library Journal, that same librarian that recorded how she created her own maker space, offers tips for librarians looking to put together their own. A couple of tips really stood out to me – the first tip advises librarians to combine technology with arts and crafts. This totally appeals to me, as the idea for our potential maker space came out of the idea of offering students a place for arts and crafts. Another tip touches on the big ticket items, such as 3D printers. These are expensive and bulky, and therefore, may not be the best purchase to make for an elementary school library. But the author points out that oftentimes there are alternatives to those kinds of tools, such as 3D pens, and before opting out of of them, to do more research on cheaper options. Lastly, I enjoyed the tip ‘Small Space, Intimate Conversation.’ Well, I didn’t necessarily enjoy it, but I gleaned a lot of information from it. With a constricting space, it is hard not to interact with the students and realize what they want from a maker space.

It is clear that maker spaces have become more of a public library phenomenon, then a school library one. I assume that it is because of space and budget limitations. But part of me is wondering if that is because we librarians want the best. We see these amazing strides being made and we want to emulate that. We don’t want to fall behind, we don’t want to fail, and therefore, we don’t always make the effort. So, if I’m able to install a maker space in my library, it probably wouldn’t be the biggest or the best, it definitely won’t have large amounts of technology, but it would be better than nothing. It would introduce students to the idea of interacting with science and technology, and it would show our kids that they do have a space in the library.

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