Making and Unmaking at the Library


It’s been a long time since I’ve posted in my Librarians Help! series – but a program that happened this week was so awesome, I have to report it here.

For years now, I’ve heard about Makerspaces in libraries and wondered if there’s a way we could bring that to our customers. At my level, a Youth Services Manager at a regional library in a system of twenty-two branches, there didn’t seem like a way I could bring this to my branch. How would we find space for equipment? How would we provide expertise? And how would customers pay for things like 3D prints? We already have a complicated system for regular print-outs. It just seemed beyond my resources to bring to our branch.

However, libraries are about learning and creating! Our mission dovetails so nicely with the ideas of Makerspaces!

And then I mentioned to a friend that my cousin is Mark Hatch, CEO of TechShop, a for-profit Makerspace. Shortly after his name came up, Mark’s Mom posted on Facebook that President Obama had recently toured the newly-opened TechShop location in DC/Arlington. Now that TechShop is in our neighborhood, I wondered if they think about doing outreach. Their mission is much the same as that of the library – about creating and learning.

I contacted my cousin, and he put me in touch with the Education Coordinator at TechShop DC/Arlington. That such a position exists was a great sign. After some discussion, we set up three programs for teens at City of Fairfax Regional Library this summer!

The partnership works wonderfully. TechShop provides the equipment and expertise. We provide the space and the publicity, reaching out to our neighborhood teens. Our Friends of the Library pay TechShop’s fee (just like paying for puppet shows or other performers) and we are able to offer the programs free of charge to the teens who come.

For the first program, TechShop brought in their vinyl cutter and the teens designed vinyl stickers and cut them out on the vinyl cutter.


For the second program, TechShop brought two Sphero Robotic Balls. The teens got into two teams and created obstacle courses from cardboard which they then ran the robots through.


The third program happened this week. TechShop brought in two old computers and lots of tools. Then the kids took apart the computers and learned about how they work.

As with all the programs, the kids started out kind of reserved and holding back…


But once the drill came out…


They got more and more engaged.


I simply loved seeing them get better and better at figuring out how to take each next layer apart. They were having a fantastic time; they were feeling empowered; and they were discovering really cool stuff deep inside the computers!


It was an awesome thing to watch!

I’m hoping to do more programs with TechShop in the future. We’ve planned a 3D printing workshop in October, and I’d like to do another Computer Deconstruction program. Next summer, maybe we can plan some workshops at more branches.

Now, I do always want to think through how I can improve the program. Next time, I’ll pull out more books on making and creating. (The library recently purchased my cousin’s book, The Maker Movement Manifesto, for example.) I think for the Deconstruction program, I’d like to bring in more craft materials, to give the teens more ideas of something to do with the computer parts they uncover.

I think that other libraries out there that don’t feel quite ready to open a Makerspace of their own might think about this approach. Is there a Makerspace in your neighborhood that might be able to bring programs to your library? It’s a natural partnership.

Once again, as a Librarian, I got to help! In this case, I got to help kids learn and create in exciting and engaging ways. By working with TechShop, we were able to open teens’ minds to a world of possibilities. And we all had a lot of fun, as well!


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