Five fantastic maker ideas for your library

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INNOVATIVE, DIY studios known as makerspaces where people can build, invent, share, and learn have become incredibly popular in libraries in recent years. Patrons of all ages gather in these creative, informal spaces to use sought-after tools and equipment, attend events and workshops, and most importantly make things as a part of the community. These unique spaces range widely in terms of allocated workspace, equipment and funding, but each serves the purpose of sparking creativity and inventiveness among participants. And what many forward-thinking libraries are realising is that even without a dedicated makerspace, it’s still possible to provide these types of engaging programmes and events to their communities.

Here are five ideas for you to implement maker tools and technologies in your ­library today. All of these come straight from The Makerspace Librarian’s Sourcebook.

1. Host a Chibi lights event

Chibitronics produces a product called Chibi stickers – adhesive LED lights, which can be combined with coin batteries and copper tape to create circuits, adhered to surfaces for a number of uses. Chibi stickers are a great way to teach simple and parallel circuits, and switches. There are printable templates available online, and the kit comes with a book of these same templates as well. They guide users through the placement of all of the elements of the circuit to make it successfully light up. The LED stickers are also great for creating interactive art work, posters and diagrams that light up when a part of it is pushed, or that use a sensor to create light when someone turns the page or opens a flap. Chibi light stickers can be used to create interactive board games, illuminated greeting cards, and much more.

2. Host a Raspberry Pi event

When listing key items that go into a library media lab or makerspace, Raspberry Pi is often at the top of the list. Not much larger than a credit card, Raspberry Pi is something that looks like a component that was pulled out of a computer system. But don’t let its size fool you. Raspberry Pi is the whole computer system (and a powerful one at that). Raspberry Pi is what is known as a single-board computer (SBC); a complete computer system that is built on a single circuit board. You can code games, apps, and even music on Raspberry Pi ­using an application called Sonic Pi. Creating music using Raspberry Pi is a non-threatening and fun next step programme once the Raspberry Pi has been set up. Even if someone has no musical knowledge (or inclination for that matter), creating music on Pi is more about sequencing instructions than knowing a musical scale. Speaking of sequences, this is a great activity to convey the message that a computer programme, or the act of programming, is nothing more than an ordered list of detailed instructions. For anyone who has no coding experience, this is a great place to experience the concepts of programming first-hand.

3. Host a wearable electronics event

Libraries that are looking for ways to combine STEM learning with art and creativity will embrace wearable electronics and the possibilities they bring for programmes and circulation. Whether you have an extensive background with making, or you are a newcomer to the movement, there is a place for you to get started with wearables. When ­librarians are introduced to e-textiles, or soft circuits as some call them, many became enthralled with the idea of pairing technology and clothing. In addition to the benefits from cross-curricular learning, e-textiles also offer a unique way to teach about circuitry by making the typically hidden parts of electronics visible. Through working with e-textiles, you will discover that wearable electronics allow you to combine an interest in technology with a passion for art, in a way that will speak to many library patrons young and old. Sample projects for patrons could include creating light-up cuff bracelets, light-locked wallets, glowing bookmarks, plushies and more.

4. Host a virtual reality event

Virtual reality, or VR, has been the holy grail of computer technology enthusiasts for decades. Indeed, the concept of being able to immerse oneself in a virtual computer-generated world has captured the public imagination with movies such as Tron and The Matrix, on television with the Holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in science fiction, where the idea of virtual reality as the future of entertainment predates Gibson’s 1984 dystopian Neuromancer by more than 30 years with Ray Bradbury’s short story The Veldt, where the antagonist is literally virtual reality’s fourth wall come to life. It is not surprising therefore that generations of computer programmers and engineers have attempted to realise this goal.

Google Cardboard makes the perfect low-cost introduction to the world of virtual reality for your library patrons. The easiest and cheapest way to acquire your own Cardboard viewer is to assemble one from a pre-made kit. The way I usually organise my Cardboard demonstrations/workshops is to start by assembling the devices as a group activity. One of my favourite starter VR applications is Tuscany Dive, which is a virtual walkthrough of a villa in Tuscany. One of the reasons I’m so fond of this app as an introduction to VR is that it keeps things simple – the interface is easy for kids, adults and seniors to figure out, and because the motion never goes faster than a stroll, the possibility of vertigo or motion sickness is reduced.

5. Host a robotics event

Robotics is the use of computer-controlled robots to perform manual tasks. The concept of robotics is fairly new, coined by Isaac Asimov in 1941 (robotics, n.d.). Robotics can be done in a formal classroom setting or in a much more creative setting such as makerspace. The two main elements when doing robotics are the building element and the programming element. It is important to remember this when using the word ‘robotics’. To some patrons it will mean coding and programming an already built robot, and these patrons will be disappointed if this isn’t what happens during a library programme or in your makerspace. To other patrons, robotics means building an actual robot and putting together batteries, wires, motors, and casings to make the physical robot. It is important to decide what direction your makerspace would like to go so as to plan better the focus of your programmes as well as to effectively allocate funds and staff time and effort.  

Lego Mindstorm EV3 is an all in one product that allows your patrons to build robots using the Lego building blocks they already know and teaches programming on a free platform designed to work directly with Mindstorm EV3. Each kit contains everything you need
to get started building and programming.

This article is adapted from The Makerspace Librarian’s Sourcebook. Chapter - authors whose excerpts are included are: Antonia Krupicka-Smith, Innovation Catalyst Librarian: Programming Librarian, Pikes Peak Library District; Tom Bruno, Director, Knowledge Curation and Innovation, The Westport Library; Megan Egbert, Programs Manager, Meridian Library District; Stephen M. Tafoya, CHAOS Makerspace Manager, Rapid City Library; and Wendy Harrop, Learning Resource Teacher, Summit Elementary School, Oconomowoc School District.

Book Information

The Makerspace Librarian’s Sourcebook, edited by Ellyssa Kroski, was published by Facet Publishing in March. A one-stop handbook to the maker realm written specifically for libraries, it contains cutting-edge guidance from international experts and practical tips and case studies from the field’s most tech-savvy innovators.

ISBN: 978 1 7833 0229 1. £69.95, £55.95 to CILIP members.

Update Magazine

This article was originally published in CILIP Update Magazine, March 2017.

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