Remaking the library

How to combine curriculum, crafts and a dose of creativity in your library makerspace
By: | December 11, 2019
(gettyimages.com: skynesher)(gettyimages.com: skynesher)
Sylvia Martinez is a former aerospace engineer and video game designer, and the co-author of Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. She is a featured speaker for FETC 2020.

Sylvia Martinez is a former aerospace engineer and video game designer, and the co-author of Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom. She was a featured speaker for FETC.

Making in education is a hot topic for schools looking to offer students creative, authentic learning experiences. Schools around the world are taking spaces large and small into the 21st century by combining curriculum, crafts and a dose of creativity. 

Many schools are looking at traditional media centers, computer labs and libraries as a space that can be repurposed. In many cases, the space will serve dual purposes, where the new must coexist with the tried and true. Where will all the materials and tools be housed? And if students are not sitting and quietly reading (as if they ever did), how will we manage all the movement, noise and stuff?

Libraries and makerspaces: A natural fit

Traditionally, a library space is designed around the needs of people as they access books, and more recently, computers. When planning additional functionality for this space, consider how the new functions are similar to traditional library and media center uses, and how they are different. Libraries and makerspaces can coexist naturally. Don’t draw a line down the middle. You don’t have to change the name or throw away all the books. There is incredible potential to be found in integrating the traditional functions of a library with makerspace activities.

There is incredible potential to be found in integrating the traditional functions of a library with makerspace activities.

Many aspects of the best makerspaces already exist in libraries:

  • Libraries are community spaces that offer learning outside classroom structures and time limitations.
  • Libraries model cross grade-level, cross-curricular experiences.
  • Libraries are about making sense of the world, which is the most important aspect of making in an educational context. 

Last but not least, libraries have librarians. Librarians are experts in finding resources and connecting them with kids and teachers who need them. Librarians help people make sense of new ideas and things, which leads to new learning experiences. Librarians are guides to these experiences—not the owner of the experience. This is exactly what a makerspace needs.

Plan your space

Your makerspace will have more moving parts and people than a traditional library. The goal is to have a space that encourages creativity while taking into account both functionality and flexibility. Sometimes that’s a tradeoff. Movable furniture maximizes flexibility, but requires extra space. Plan for more electrical outlets than you think you will need and make sure that they accessible throughout the room without extension cords. Chalk, whiteboard or magnetic paint turns walls and tables into brainstorming surfaces. Preserve space to ease traffic flow around busy work centers. This increases both safety and opportunities for collaboration.


Read: How to turn a library into a collaborative learning center


Maker-style projects require more than a standard allocation of table space. Students will likely not only have tools and materials, but also have a laptop or tablet. Good lighting, space to spread out and organized resources will go a long way toward making your space functional and inviting.

Don’t forget the storage

Makerspaces in libraries need three types of storage not typically found in libraries for materials and tools, projects in process, and finished projects. Students need access to tools and materials as they work. Access may be limited for some tools or materials due to cost or safety, but by and large, students should be able to access a wide range of materials and tools as they work, tinker and change their minds. Students will also need a place to store projects in process—without risk of the parts being cannibalized. Display finished projects to showcase the exciting things happening in your library.

Include maker books

For students of all ages, a well-equipped library is an essential part of a makerspace. Combining them can be the best of both worlds.! However, there are essential makerspace books that are not typically found in a school library. Students should have access to all kinds of books that will inspire them with ideas for projects or just stretch their imaginations. 

Look for a variety of books at all levels:

  • how-to books offering digital photography tips, how to do special effects in movies, how to build things, crafting, sewing
  • books of projects and crafts for kids, especially those with step-by-step pictures
  • puzzle books of codes, math tricks and logic puzzles
  • cross-cultural books, including games from around the world, Islamic tile patterns, Aboriginal paintings and Native American weaving
  • artistic books for inspiration
  • computer and coding books and magazines

‘Making do’

Of course, you may be “making do” within your existing school space. There may be advantages, such as lots of shelves and computers, or there may be things that don’t work as well, such as bolted-down furniture or poor lighting. Making do is the heart of being a maker, so just think of your space as one more variable for tinkering.


Sylvia Martinez is a former aerospace engineer and video game designer, and the co-author of Invent To Learn: Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, called “the bible of the classroom maker movement.” She was a featured speaker at DA’s FETC.

 


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