Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Maker Philosophy

Maker spaces have been something of a libraryland topic du jour recently, and youth services most definitely has a role to play in the maker movement. Really, youth services is where it's at--where making has always taken place. Currently, there's the idea that maker spaces necessarily involve often-expensive equipment: 3D printers, woodworking tools, looms, soldering irons, computers with a gamut of fancy design software. These tools are great, no doubt about it, but they do not a maker space make. Think of all those crafts and open-ended building activities libraries have been hosting for children for decades. That's making right down to the core. We were making in the children's room long before maker spaces were cool.

Libraries of every ilk can tap into their own maker potential by thinking about making's roots in youth services. High-tech is great, but it's not a maker space necessity, especially when it comes to making with kids. In my view, there are only a handful of true necessities. Making with kids means:

1. Open-ended Activities -- While I agree that kids need to learn to follow directions and thus product-oriented activities have a benefit, I think open-ended activities are much more conducive to that making mindset. Open-ended making activities for kids can mean creating aliens--you decide what your alien looks like. It can mean choosing from a variety of techniques to create greeting cards for friends, children choosing the methods and materials they want to employ. Open-ended can mean we all have similar goals, but how we accomplish them is up to us. It can also mean a total free-for-all, open creative space in which the sky is the limit.

2. Variety of Supplies -- Making is so much more interesting and creative when you have lots of tools and supplies to choose from. That fact works wonderfully with the realities of youth services, where we always have odds and ends left over from various crafts and activities. Making those aliens? Have a myriad of recyclables and leftovers to use as alien body elements. Offer different types of tape and glue so kids can choose what they think is appropriate for their individual creations. Don't assume everyone will want to use the same materials, and don't stifle by limiting supplies to just what you think you'd need to make the "sample" creation. Variety also allows makers to explore materials and techniques they've never experienced before, creating a truly valuable informal learning experience.

3. Plenty of Time -- It takes time to create. In a library program space, kids need to get situated and get comfortable with the idea of their maker task; only then can they actually start to create something that is meaningful to them. And so time becomes a huge necessity: there needs to be plenty of time for kids to think, to explore and experiment with the materials at hand, to try out different techniques, to see what their neighbors are doing, and to change their minds. Short time limits and strict activity-to-activity schedules lead to unfinished products and creations kids don't care much about; time breeds challenge, creativity, and innovative thinking.

4. Display Space -- Having a designated area in which to display children's maker space creations is wonderful. It advertises the types of maker activities other library customers could enjoy, and it allows the makers to feel pride in both their creations and the library. My library displays kids' LEGO Club creations every month on top of our reserves shelving, which is a high-traffic area. Display space can be at a premium in a library, though, so happily there are alternatives to physically displaying creations in the library. One option is to take pictures of the creations and print out a few for a library bulletin board. Another is to upload those photographs to the library's Facebook page or Flickr account. (Want lots of folks to visit your social media pages? Tell caregivers they can see their kids' creations on your pages, and *BOOM* hits galore.) You can even go all out and offer a gallery-style program in which all the various creations from library programs are on display in the program room.

In my philosophy, if you have most or all of these components in any of your library activities, you're providing the kids you serve with a maker space. You don't have to call it a maker space. Chances are many of your customers don't even know what a maker space is, so the name isn't all that important. What is important is to offer youth the space, materials, and opportunity to engage their brains in hands-on creation. No curriculum, no specific desired final product. Just plain old making fun.


I've shared my maker philosophy in connection with my panel for The Digital Shift: Reinventing Libraries, titled "The Community Joins In: Library Maker Spaces." I'd love for your to share your philosophies on maker spaces with youth in the comments, too.


  1. I found your SLJ article very inspiring; thanks for sharing with us. You offered me advice for starting a Lego Club at my tiny branch library a while back, and it has proven to be a great success. Thanks for all you do.

    1. Melisa, I'm thrilled to hear that your Lego Club is enjoying success. I'm sure that success is in no small part due to your hard work to put it together.