Maker Spaces in Libraries?


Video by the Westport Public Library.

8.8.12 | Maker spaces —workshop areas that encourage tinkering and creating—and other interactive community spaces have been popping up in unexpected places.

One of the newest homes for these collaborative environments has been in public libraries. Many of these spaces expose young learners to STEM skills, and help kids make the connection between what they learn in classrooms and real-world applications.

The Idea Box, a 9’ by 13’ glass-enclosed space in the Oak Park (Ill.) Public Library, inspires visitors to participate in its rotating installations. According to the library website, changing the Idea Box provides a fresh way to keep visitors engaged.

“Installations vary to reflect the diverse interests in our community. One installation may feature participatory art and culture; another may solicit opinions on an upcoming initiative or library service, or be hands-on, demonstrating new technology,” the site reads.

Past installations have included an exhibition of visitor-created poetry using magnetic words in honor of National Poetry Month, and an open working studio for visual artists. The box has also invited visitors to create their own constellations out of LED touch lights, and contribute to its ever-growing “Post-It Wall.” The library space holds special events, as well, like a photo shoot complete with various backdrops and accessories for visitors to use while taking photos with their library cards.

“It’s like a pop-up shop of creative surprises,” wrote Zachary Slobig in a recent write-up in Good Magazine.

Slobig also discussed the maker space at the Westport Public Library in Connecticut. Inspired by a local maker faire, the space has its very own Maker-Bot Replication—a 3-D printer library-goers can use to “print” the tools used within the space. Patrons can also help the library’s resident maker, Joseph Schott, build two airplanes that will hang from the library ceiling.

One of the best things about maker spaces is their ability to harness community involvement and participation. Now that they are in libraries, they offer what may otherwise be rare opportunities (like using a 3-D printer) to a larger, diverse audience.

Buffy Hamilton, a high school librarian and teacher at The Unquiet Library—the Creekview High School Media Center in Canton, Ga.—recently discussed library maker spaces on her blog and said this new platform for the spaces is ideal for participatory learning.

“I believe that makerspaces can provide students and teachers opportunities to exercise these elements of participatory learning and to form what James Gee calls affinity spaces, communities formed around passions and shared interests,” she said. “Tinkering, collaborative learning, play, conversations for learning, intergenerational learning, experimentation, inquiry, the act of creation, and problem solving–these are just some of the qualities that can happen in makerspaces and encourage participatory learning.”

As Slobig noted, libraries are evolving out of necessity; no longer the formal, silent reading rooms of our childhoods, they are instead, as he words it, “dynamic workshop spaces for creative multimedia learning and doing.”

Another benefit of placing these energetic new spaces of innovation in public libraries: They will likely give kids one more reason to go to the library, where they may discover how to create more worlds of their own making.


Picture of Amanda Goodman
Amanda Goodman (United States)


We opened the Digital Media Lab at Darien Library in June:

The focus of the DML is more on digital creation (photos, video, digitizing home movies, etc.) than building physical objects.


Leave a comment

Comments are moderated to ensure topic relevance and generally will be posted quickly.

Commenting is not available in this section entry.