What Is a Makerspace?

Have you ever envisioned a library where, “Kids gather to make Lego robots; teens create digital music, movies, and games
with computers and mixers; and students engineer new projects while adults create prototypes for small business products with laser cutters and 3D printers” (American Libraries, 2013, pg. 44)?

Well, many libraries are offering places called “makerspaces,” which are “part of a growing movement of hands-on, mentor-led learning environments to make and remake the physical and digital worlds. They foster experimentation, invention, creation, exploration, and STEM learning” (Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2012, para.1).

Makerspaces are also known as, Fab Labs, Hackerspaces, Makelabs, Digital Media Labs, DIY Spaces, Creative Spaces, or Tech Shops. Makerspaces are comprised of or include "a continuum of activity that includes “co-working,” “hackerspace,” and “fab lab”; the common thread running through each is a focus on making rather than merely consuming" (Colegrove, 2013, pg. 3). They can,“be embedded inside an existing organization or standalone on its own. It could be a simple room in a building or an outbuilding that’s closer to a shed. The key is that it can adapt to a wide variety of uses and can be shaped by educational purposes as well as the students’ creative goals” (Behen, 2013, pg. 72).

Makerspace Tools and Materials

Makerspaces can include but are not characterized by:
  • Workshop or Workspace
  • Digital Fabrication Equipment (3D Printers, 3D Scanners, Laser Cutter, Laser Engraving, Vinyl Cutter, CNC routers, etc.).
    • 3D printers -- printers which produce 3D models from a digital file, generally out of plastics (Abram, 2013).
    • 3D scanners -- scanners which create digital models of physical objects that can in turn be "printed" using 3D printers ("Makerspace," n.d.).
    • Laser cutters -- machines which have the ability to accurately cut or etch materials from a digital file ("Makerspace," n.d.).
  • Digital Media Software and Open Source Software Applications (Adobe Photoshop, Computer-Assisted Design (CAD) Programs, etc.).
  • Open Source Hardware Software (Arduino, Raspberry Pi, etc.).
    • Arduino -- microcontroller boards that have the ability to read input from sensors, control outputs like lights or motors, and connect to computer software (“What is Arduino?,” n.d.).
    • Raspberry Pi -- affordable computers no bigger than a credit card that plug into monitors and keyboards (“FAQs,” n.d.).
  • Electronics and Computers (Robotics, microcontrollers, etc.).
  • Textiles and Fiber Arts
  • Different Types of Machines (Embroidery, Espresso Book, Knitting, Laminating, Milling, Sewing, Routing, Stitching, and many more types of machines).
  • Power Tools (Drill, Jig Saw, Orbital Sander, Table Saw, Belt Sander, Drill Press, etc.).
  • Metalworking Tools
  • Welding Tools
  • Woodworking Tools

The Educate to Innovate Initiative and Maker Corps

In 2009, President Obama launched the initiative, “Educate to Innovate” (Schulman, 2013). The President said, "I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it's science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent—to be makers of things, not just consumers of things" (Obama 2009).

From the “Educate to Innovate” initiative came, “The Maker Education Initiative’s” Maker Corps. Maker Corps was created to “empower young adults, makers themselves, to become role models and to help them inspire others in their communities to involve more children in making” (Thomas, 2012b, para.3). In the summer of 2013, The Maker Education Initiative introduced a Maker Corps pilot program. The Mission of this program is that, “Maker Corps will create teams of young makers who can share their enthusiasm for making and their love of learning with younger children and teens, offering support and encouragement that helps introduce them to science and technology in a personal way" (Thomas, 2012a, para.1).

Some of the “Maker Corps Mentors” from this year’s (2013) pilot program include: Arizona State University College of Technology and Innovation (Mesa, Arizona), Free Library of Philadelphia (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Girl Scouts of Central Maryland (Baltimore, Maryland), LevelUP Teen Makerspace (Chicago, Illinois), the Children’s Museum of Houston (Houston, Texas), Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI-Portland, Oregon), The Exploratory (Los Angeles, California), The Da Vinci Center for Innovative Learning (Stockton, California), the New York Hall of Science, (Corona, New York), the Henry Ford Museum (Dearborn, Michigan), and many more (Davee, 2013, pg. 1). The goals of the Maker Corps program are to:
  1. “Provide opportunities for makers to gain leadership skills, increase confidence and build career readiness skills” (Maker Corps, 2013, pg. 1).
  2. “Expand the network of maker mentors and community leaders” (Maker Corps, 2013, pg. 1).
  3. “Expose more youth and families to creative problem-solving through making” (Maker Corps 2013, pg. 1).
  4. “Expand the capacity of youth-serving organizations to serve their communities in maker-oriented projects” (Maker Corps, 2013, pg. 1).

Why Libraries and Makerspaces?

Many public, school, and academic libraries have decided to join the “Maker Movement.” By joining the movement, libraries are providing their patrons with opportunities to experience by building, constructing, developing, and working on projects with others in their community and with those who share similar or mutual interests. Makerspaces in libraries can:
  • “Foster play and exploration” (Britton, 2012, para. 3).
  • “Facilitate informal learning opportunities” (Britton, 2012, para. 3).
  • “Nurture peer-to-peer training” (Britton, 2012, para. 3).
  • “Work with community members as true partners, not as users or patrons” (Britton, 2012).
  • “Develop a culture of creating as opposed to consuming” (Britton, 2012, para. 3).
  • “Reorient the library towards greater user engagement, collaborative creative activity, and participatory learning” (Bailey, 2012, para. 4).
  • “Position the library as a place of building, inventing, and doing instead of a static location of consumption and acquisition” (Bailey, 2012, para. 4).
  • “Cater to a particular type of library patron: inventors, artists, entrepreneurs, crafters and youth groups. The technology used in these workshops can revolutionize the manufacturing process, allowing designs and creations that can be modified to suit individuals in ways not possible with mass production” (Newcombe & Belbin, 2012, para.5)
  • “Help cultivate creative interests, imagination, and passion by allowing students to draw upon multiple intelligences” (Wong, 2013, pg. 35).
  • “Embrace tinkering, or playing, in various forms of exploration, experimentation and engagement, and foster peer interactions as well as the interests of a collective team” (Wong, 2013, pg. 35).

Examples of Makerspaces in Academic Libraries:

Examples of Makerspaces in Public and School Libraries:

YOUmedia, Learning Labs, and Anythink Library District

Some makerspaces simply provide a space for people to come and tinker. Others provide digital media equipment for people to utilize in the creation of a variety of projects. One example of this is the YOUmedia network (www.youmedia.org). “YOUmedia are spaces where kids explore, express, and create using digital media. YOUmedia’s core philosophy is that youth are best engaged when they’re following their passions, collaborating with others, and being makers and doers, not passive consumers…YOUmedia are transformative spaces—and catalysts—for new kinds of thinking about libraries, museums, and community centers. The sites are open, flexible, and highly creative, with inspiration zones, production zones, and exhibition labs where youth ‘hang out, mess around, and geek out.’ YOUmedia connects three realms of learning—peer groups, interests, and academics—in deliberate ways. One of the most important aspects is that they connect learning directly back to school, careers, and other realms” (“About”).

YOUmedia started in Chicago, and is expanding in different ways across the country. One branch of YOUmedia is the Learning Labs Project, which began in September 2010. It is “an initiative of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation...in answer to President Obama’s ‘Educate to Innovate’ campaign, which called on public and private sector partners to work together to improve America’s student participation and performance in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)” (“Locations”). With a series of grants, the IMLS and the Foundation are working to set up 30 Learning Labs in libraries and museums across the country.

The Studio at Anythink Wright Farms (www.anythinklibraries.org/thestudio), a branch with the Rangeview Library District in Thornton, CO, is a recent addition to the Learning Lab initiative. In 2012, Anythink was awarded a $100,000 grant from IMLS and the MacArthur Foundation to build a digital lab. Built in the spring of 2013, The Studio has three sound-proof rooms (one of which is a recording studio), a green screen, video equipment, and the full Adobe Creative Suite. The idea behind The Studio is to fill teen’s technological needs and help them become contact creators. “At The Studio, it’s not just about what you do, but who you will become. We partner creative community members with teens to help push their creativity to new bounds. These creation labs are places where teens are connected with tools to express their creativity – whether they want to be performers, designers, filmmakers or sportscasters” (“The Studio”). With help from the Tween/Teen Guides (librarians), and the Artists in Residence, teens can learn 21st century technology skills, experiment with a variety of equipment, and fuel their interests.

In the recording studio, which can be used for two hours at a time, teens can record their voices and/or music, make podcasts, sports casts, voiceovers, and create their own beats. This room comes equipped with a computer with Garage Band editing software, a MIDI keyboard, microphones, and a guitar.
Recording Studio.jpg
The recording studio

Next to the recording studio is a green screen, where teens can experiment with lighting techniques, and take pictures or record images with digital cameras available for check out. There is a nearby editing station where they can upload their videos or images, and substitute the green screen with whatever background they want – stationary or animated. Editing software available to them includes the Adobe Creative Suite, Final Cut Pro, and the iLife Suite. They can also incorporate their creations from the recording studio into their final product.
Green Screen (2).jpg
Green screen
Editing Computers.jpg
Computers for editing photos and videos

The Studio also includes graphic design and photo editing software, and two other sound-proof rooms, which can be spaces for video gaming, karaoke, and quiet places for studying. There is also an extra large Windows Surface that teens can use for web browsing, music, news feeds, and apps.

Surface 1.jpg
Surface Pro table top
Other rooms.jpg
Sound proof study rooms

Anythink, along with libraries and museums across the country, applied for this grant in a nationwide competition, and was one of the first 12 recipients of the grant. The other 11 locations (four museums and seven libraries) for learning labs included:
  • San Francisco Public Library (San Francisco, California)
  • Howard County Public Library (Columbia, Maryland)
  • St. Paul Public Library (St. Paul, Minnesota)
  • Kansas City Public Library (Kansas City, Missouri)
  • New York Hall of Science (New York, New York)
  • Columbus Metropolitan Library (Columbus, Ohio)
  • Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (Portland, Oregon)
  • Da Vinci Discovery Center of Science and Technology (Allentown, Pennsylvania)
  • Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
  • Nashville Public Library Foundation (Nashville, Tennessee)
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (Houston, Texas) (Institute “21st Century”)

A second round of grants added learning labs to:
  • Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas, Texas)
  • Madison Children’s Museum (Madison, Wisconsin)
  • Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, California)
  • Science Museum of Virginia Foundation (Richmond, Virginia)
  • University of Alabama/Alabama Museum of Natural History (Tuscaloosa, Alabama)
  • Rochester Public Library (Rochester, New York)
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
  • City of Lynn, Massachusetts (Lynn, Massachusetts)
  • Las Vegas-Clark County Library District (Las Vegas, Nevada)
  • Parmly Billings Library Foundation, Inc. (Billings, Montana)
  • Pima County Public Library (Tucson, Arizona)
  • Poughkeepsie Public Library District (Poughkeepsie, New York) (Institute “New Grants”).

The Maker Movement

Even if a library can’t afford or doesn't have room to have a designated “makerspace,” there are other ways to get involved in the Maker movement. The Maker movement doesn't just include makerspaces, but all kinds of maker opportunities.

When looking into the Maker movement, Maker Media is a good name to know. Maker Media has been the driving force behind the Maker movement, beginning with the first publication of MAKE Magazine in 2005 (“Maker Media,” 2013). Maker Media produces the Maker Faire and Makezine, an online zine that offers makers project ideas, as well as Maker Shed, an online store that sells kits and other supplies for makerspaces.

Not having a “space” for your “Makerspace” doesn’t mean you can’t contribute to the Maker movement. For instance, a “Pop up Makerspace” is a temporary makerspace set up in an alternative location, like a classroom (Houston, 2013). Mobile makerspaces, which are able to be moved easily to and from a space and probably lower tech, are always an option (“Teen Makerspaces,” 2013). Makerspaces don’t have to have high tech tools like 3D printers. They can get started with as little as a few craft supplies and a rolling cart.

Another alternative is for a library to get involved in a Maker Faire. Touted as the “Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth,” the Maker Faire is an annual celebration of the Maker movement (“Maker Faire,” 2013, para. 1). Maker Faires allow makers to share their creations and let others know about the Maker movement. Traditionally, the main Maker Faire is located in the Bay Area, as that is where the Faire started in 2006 (“Maker Faire,” 2013). But since the Maker movement has spread, so have Maker Faires, with a “World Maker Faire” taking place in New York City and “Mini Maker Faires” popping up around the world (“Maker Faire,” 2013). Mini Maker Faires are getting more popular as the Maker movement spreads. Even Urbana-Champaign, IL holds its own Mini Maker Faire to showcase makers in the community.

It is also possible to involve a local maker group, many of which have popped up around the country (i.e., Makerspace Urbana in Urbana, IL). Getting a community group involved in the library’s efforts may draw in extra interest, especially if they are well known.


Directories of Active and Operating Makerspaces Throughout the World

Makerspace Project Ideas, Videos, and Tutorial Sites

How to Start a Tool Lending Library

  • Tool Library Toolkit via Sharestarter provides a how-to guide on starting your own tool lending (or any other lending) library.

Grants, Scholarships, and Crowd-Sourced Fundraising Sites For Makerspaces and Makers

Grant Sites

Scholarship Sites

Crowd-Sourced Fundraising Sites

Budget and Funding Articles and Blog Links

Print and Electronic Resources

Books on Makerspaces

Books on Arduino and Raspberry Pi

Electronic Resources

Additional Web Resources


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  2. “About.” The YOUmedia Network. Web. 14 Nov. 2013 www.youmedia.org/youmedia-network
  3. Anythink: A Revolution of Rangeview Libraries. (2013). Anything Brighton Awarded Grant to Design Teen Makerspace. Retrieved on November 8, 2013 from http://www.anythinklibraries.org/news-item/anythink-brighton-awarded-grant-design-teen-makerspace
  4. Bagley, C. (2012) What is a Makerspace? Creativity in the Library. ALATechsource. Retrieved on November 10, 2013 from http://www.alatechsource.org/blog/2012/12/what-is-a-makerspace-creativity-in-the-library.html
  5. Bailey, J. (2012). From Stacks to Hacks: Makerspaces and LibraryBox. Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO). Retrieved on November 8, 2013 from http://metro.org/articles/from-stacks-to-hacks-makerspaces-and-librarybox/
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  7. Behen. L.D. (2013). Recharge Your Library Programs with Pop Culture and Technology: Connect with Today’s Teens. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited.
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  31. Newcombe.P., & Belbin, N. (2012). Fab Labs at the Library: Community ‘Makerspaces’ Give Access to Cutting-Edge Tools. Government Technology. Retrieved on November 9, 2013 from http://www.govtech.com/e-government/Fab-Labs--at-the-Library.html
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  33. Plemmons, A. (2012). Opening the Space: Making the School Library a Site of Participatory Culture. Knowledge Quest, 41(1), 8-14.
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