Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Makerspaces: Giving Our Libraries Some STEAM

The latest issue of a library journal, Library Sparks, discussed an upcoming trend in libraries, called "Makerspaces." Makerspaces originated out of campaigns to get kids involved in STEAM activities, or hands-on learning experiences involving Science Technology Engineering Art or Math.

Long before Makerspaces evolved to Makerspaces TM, having my own space where I could build and engage in active learning was in important part of my life. I remember television shows like PSB Zoom! that encouraged kids to enjoy simply creating things. Shows like Zoom! were not only fun to watch, but their ideas validated my way of learning.

I needed space for learning, as much as I needed my learning to be hands on.

Zoe, my favorite Zoomer.

Flash forward a couple years at school, and the message we students were receiving was not the same. We were told only a few kids could do a science experiments because of limited supplies. Our grade school labs could only have one trial experiment because of time limits. In high school, we were graded based off experiments where we had only one shot to get it right.

And last time I checked, having one trial shot to learn anything is not the way to learn.

my feels, depicted via Bill Nye The Science Guy

We know schools are underfunded. So are libraries. But we, as librarians, have a unique opportunity to take the initiative to create amazing programs that promote STEAM. We can try and pick up where schools, finances, common core, and administration have failed.

So here is my guide to trying to work within your library system to make some great programs for your kids. Most involve creativity, and not a lot of cash.

Makerspace STEAM Programs: (The Way-Way Under Budget Edition)

Ask About Grants

If you don't have the money, and are riding with the $0 policy, look into grants. All districts and states are different, but the time you spend applying for grants will be worth it. If it is a specific librarian's job to work on grants, work with them, and say what you wish the library would have for your maker's programs. Create plans with specific, reasonable ideas. Bounce these ideas off other librarians. Make the grant hunt a collaborative process which includes input from your director, and coworkers. 

Remind them: the money you receive from a grant could never be made via fundraising. The hours you put into the grant hunt will pay for itself.


Can your community collect used books to sell at a library book sale? Can you have a restaurant day where a portion of the proceeds go to your library? Can you find people who want to auction off goods in your lobby display cases? Can you find local businesses who want to sponsor your program?

Get creative. Good things come to those who ask. 


So, now that you've got a bit of money, here are some low budget programs we did here at the Oak Brook Public Library. All of these programs drew a high-occupancy, and were favorites from our students. 

Program One: Lego League, by Miss Stephanie (Cost: Lego's and Creativity)

Miss Stephanie from youth services made it a priority to get our patrons in youth services some legos. She then crafted a building program around STEM learning, for some great lego fun. The following images are hers, taken from the first meeting of the Lego League:

Program Two: Coding (Cost: Team Up with a Local Code School...for free?)

Did you know many grade schools and high schools are now teaching their kids and young adults to code? Well, they are. Code is the language of computers, and it creates everything you see on your computer screen. Building websites is an integral skill needed for the future. We were lucky enough in the past to team up with coding educators. Find a local chapter of a coding school, and you may be in luck for a free program demo in teaching your kids to code!

MD Maker's Workshops with Miss Theresa

Oh, Miss Theresa and I have done many a Maker's Workshop. Here are some projects with STEAM backgrounds that we have enjoyed with our patrons.

Program Three: Bring in a Wildlife Buddy (Cost: Nature Center Fee, or Free?)

I happen to have an African Pygmy Hedgehog as a pet. His name is John Watson. He has been able to stop by for many programs, some of them teaching about hedgehogs, and their life in the wild.

Programs with animals are worth having. Conservation and education are important aspects of scientific thinking. If you are looking to have a program with animals for some zoological fun, look into getting a local chapter of a nature center come by. Chances are, they want to have an established relationship with the community, and would love to do a program. 

Program Four: Make Your Own Soap (Under $50)

This weekend Theresa and I had the task of trying out a new program. Of course, it takes time to fine-tune a project, but all of the rushing around was worth it. We had around 18 students in a class learning to make their own soap. And they had many questions!

How do you make soap?
Why do glycerin blocks melt?
Why does soap get bubbles when you add water to it?
How long does it take for liquid soap to harden into a bar of soap?

It was exciting to try and answer these questions. By making soap, it sparked student's curiosity in more complex topics.

If this project sounds like something you would like to see at your library, look for a future post on how-to make your own soap.

In closing, one of the things I liked about the Library Sparks articles on Makerspaces was that the authors pointed out that any materials and programs targeted at "STEAM learning" are going to be expensive, especially if you hire out. The answer for many libraries seems to be a process of creativity, and not giving up when you have set goals. 

You may not have a professionally made Makerspace, or maker's supplies, but a little bit of creativity can go a long way in integrating STEAM programming into your library.