Building a Library Makerspace: 5 Things We Have Learned So Far

We have been working on The Maker Spot project since October 2013 and along the way we have learned quite a lot. Some of the things we learned were about ourselves and some of the things were about others, but there are five things that we think our fellow libraries could find immeasurably helpful as they embark on their own journey to integrate the Maker culture into their library:

  1. Find Makers in your community & tailor your space to their needs

    • Look at the clubs and/or organizations that are already using your meeting rooms to learn where the interests lie in your community. At our library, we have a quilting group, a ham radio club, a Maker group and homeschoolers that meet regularly in our meeting rooms. By learning more about these groups we were able to decide that soft crafts, electronics and 3D printing were things that we needed to include and that we wanted our space to be open and safe for Makers of all ages.
    • If you don’t currently have any groups that could be considered ‘Makers’ meeting in your library (or you don’t have public meeting rooms) then a great place for you to discover interest groups in your area is through meetup.com. These are often informal niche groups that are full of very passionate people. Attend one of their meetings to see if they would be interested in their hobby being integrated in your library.
    • If all else fails, just begin to offer ‘Maker’ programs and track both attendance and demographics of your attendees. You will discover over time what works best and what types of programs your community responds to.
  2. Makers are collaborative and spontaneous

    • Because free-thinking Makers are almost polar opposites of us organized librarians, we need to remember that the most important part of working with them is to be flexible. You may have to meet in a new location, at a different time or plan an entire program in a week and the thing that will strengthen your partnership with this group of people is the fact that you are flexible, honest and realistic about what can be accomplished.
    • Sometimes Makers have thrown out ideas to us that have scared us. When you are faced with something that seems daunting ask them how they plan to accomplish it. We have found that when we ask how instead of why we will get a better response and often the how will answer the why. This also goes to say that if the how is unclear or doesn’t exist then maybe it’s OK to shoot that idea down.
    • With all of this, you have to remember to be open to new ideas. But hopefully, that goes without saying.
  3. Feed and care for your Makers

    • The Makers that you find to help you with your project are real people, as are the library staff that you draft to work on your project. We found that everyone always worked better when they had the chance to snack on some pizza or cookies during the meeting.
    • Make sure to thank your Makers. Whether this means sending them a thank you card after each meeting or inviting them to your annual volunteer appreciation event, like we do, you need to remember that all of the time that they are spending helping you is time that they could spend tinkering on their latest project.
    • Give your Makers special privileges. This may mean that they get to use the space before anyone else or it may mean that they get to use the 3D printer for free for life. Whatever you decide, make sure that they know that it is an exclusive privilege that they get for doing such great work and being so dedicated to your project.
  4. You will need more time and more people than you think

    • Our initial group of library staff working on our project was 4. We now have about 8 very busy staff working on things to do with the project.
    • When we drafted our first grant, we were applying for funding for the space with the anticipation that we would open right away. After one too many tense meetings where things just weren’t coming together, we changed direction and applied for a grant that allowed us to take a whole year to plan every aspect of the space. This was probably the best decision we made.
  5. A few tips on equipment…

    • Think local. When we were purchasing our 3D printers, we were far from experts in knowing what we needed. Thankfully, our Makers, in all of their infinite wisdom, referred us to Midlothian based PolyPrinter. By choosing a local company we have gotten fast support, received personalized training and their staff came to our facility to set up our printers. Not to mention the fact that we are supporting our local economy. We can’t say enough good things about the staff at PolyPrinter–or their printers!
    • Just because everyone else has one, doesn’t mean you should. When our grant was awarded we were ecstatic. We were like cartoon characters rolling around in all of that money. We made giant lists of all of the equipment that we wanted to put in our space. But, after reviewing the types of interests we were targeting and the age group we wanted to attract, (having kids means no band saws!) we were able to pare that list down to stuff that we thought would be most effective. Although some of the things we cut were things that you see in other makerspaces, they weren’t right for us and our community so we don’t feel guilty about not having them.
    • Do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT be afraid to let people use your tools. When we first started drafting our usage policies and procedures some of our library staff (And I’m not afraid to say that I was one of them) were anxious about letting our patrons use the tools themselves. After researching the DIfY (Do It For You) model that some other local libraries were using we decided that we wanted to stick with the more traditional DIY (Do It Yourself) model that is used in most makerspaces that aren’t located in libraries. For us, this not only meant that our staff would be more effectively used, but it meant that our patrons would feel empowered to create really awesome things.

We hope to continue to learn things that we can share with you as we keep going down the road to completing this project. If you have any questions about any of this advice or any other questions about our space, please feel free to leave a comment below or contact us.

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