Retooling Libraries With Makerspaces

Nearly three years ago, in an article for MultiBriefs Education, I talked about the need to transform libraries for the twenty first century. Since that time, the need for change in library structures continues to be great. I wrote, “For school libraries — much like the newspaper industry — staying relevant in the 21st century has been the story of reinvention. Technology has put information at our fingertips like never before.” I went on to discuss how schools could reinvent their libraries using a model known as a Learning Commons, highlighting the research and writing of my own school librarian Pam Harland on the evolution of the learning commons school library model.

Learning commons take their cue from the concept of the village commons, the 19th century green space in the center of town that was used for grazing livestock, staging a festival or meeting neighbors. A learning commons integrates the functions of a library, labs, lounges and seminar areas into a single community gathering space. The space invites students and teachers to collaborate, to design their own approaches to their work, and most importantly to share the joy of learning.

Over the last few years, the concept of a makerspace has also risen in classrooms and schools from coast to coast. A makerspace is a collaborative workspace that makes it possible for people to collaborate on various projects and other ideas. In schools, these spaces are available to students in the classroom or a shared space and make use of a variety of high tech and low tech “maker equipment” including 3D printers, laser cutters, cnc machines, soldering irons and even sewing machines.

In a recent article for Education Week, author and futurist Dr. Matthew Lynch wrote about why makerspaces are perfect for school and public libraries.  Lynch stated, “Makerspaces have become one of the latest trends for libraries as they continue to adapt to the changing needs of users.  Like other library services, makerspaces have developed as the needs of library users have expanded from print resources and traditional services to include a variety of digital formats and services.” He added, “Makerspaces can provide librarians and educators with an ideal method for allowing students to develop many of the digital information and technological skills they will need to be successful in society.”

Makerspaces can be as relevant for public libraries as they are for school libraries. Lynch wrote, “For public libraries, makerspaces are a way to stay current with developing technologies and engage users in an interactive manner.” He went on to acknowledge the role of makerspaces in promoting engagement, collaboration, and hands-on learning. The same is true of school libraries. Lynch wrote, “School administrators, educators, and librarians have been working together to incorporate makerspaces into school libraries since the beginning of President Barack Obama's Educate to Innovate campaign began in 2013.  The push for improving students' knowledge in STEM subjects has brought the makerspace movement to the forefront of education with its focus on hands-on learning.”

In schools, one such makerspace idea that has grown in popularity is the use of coding. According to this report released earlier this year by the American Library Association (ALA), ALA librarians have partnered with Google Education to launch the second phase of a coding program in libraries aimed at providing more relevant and engaging STEM opportunities for students. The program, known as Libraries Ready to Code, brings together experts in the field to redesign current technology/media courses and then pilot the redesigned courses in their schools. “Libraries play a vital role in our communities, and Google is proud to build on our partnership with ALA," noted Hai Hong, who leads US outreach on Google's K-12 Education team. “We're excited to double down on the findings of Ready to Code 1 by equipping librarians with the knowledge and skills to cultivate computational thinking and coding skills in our youth. Given the ubiquity of technology and the half-a-million unfilled tech jobs in the country, we need to ensure that all youth understand the world around them and have the opportunity to develop the essential skills that employers – and our nation's economy – require.”

This EdSurge article by Parker Thomas can help school librarians, teachers, and school leaders get started with makerspaces in their own schools. Thomas offers these six things to consider when planning for this:

  1. List the hopes, dreams and ideas you and others have for the space.
  2. Define the skills, knowledge and habits that kids will learn or develop in your space.
  3. Define the culture for the space.
  4. Based on the culture and the desired skills, knowledge and abilities, determine appropriate integration points in the rest of your curriculum and the life of the school.
  5. Based on your integration points, define the arc of the year and the projects you are going to include.
  6. Design your space and pick the tools based on the decisions above.

What are you waiting for? School libraries provide the perfect space to foster the makerspace model in your school. The need is great, and there is no time like the present to get your makerspace established than today!

This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education.


  1. Is this part (I hope!) of the aim of the 2-year STEM study for our District?


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