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Finding What Fits: Approachability of Makerspaces and Making in the Library

Your Name and Title: Abigail L. Phillips, Postdoctoral Research Fellow 

Library, School, or Organization Name: Utah State University, Department of Instructional

Technology and Learning Sciences

Co-Presenter Name(s): N/A

Area of the World from Which You Will Present: Intermountain West United States

Language in Which You Will Present: English

Target Audience(s): School and Public Librarians

Short Session Description:

In this presentation, I will deconstruct the concept of “makerspace” and reveal possibilities for approaching the library as an accessible and inclusive space for making.

Full Session Description:

As STEM/STEAM learning becomes an increasingly hot topic in school and public libraries, librarians are looking for ways to bring making and the maker experience into their libraries (Barniskis, 2014; Mardis & Howe, 2010). At the same time, they are mindful of space constraints, funding, and outside support (or lack of) that can impact these efforts (Britton, 2012; Moorefield-Lang, 2015). What may be feasible and attention grabbing in one community may be overwhelming and distancing in another. While a physical makerspace may be an initial impulse for some librarians, making in the library can be presented in different ways and take up many distinctive forms (Norris, 2014). And by doing so, support the democratization of the maker movement, particularly for underserved youth (Barton, Tan, & Greenberg, 2016).     

In this session, I will deconstruct the concept of “makerspace” and reveal possibilities for approaching the library as a space for making. An accessible, inclusive, and attainable 21st Century learning environment. And, while doing so, place emphasis on making as a community experience and an approachable, equitable pursuit. This presentation will draw primarily from insights gathered during observations conducted in four small school and public libraries in Northern Utah and semi-structured making-focused interviews with the librarians. This currently on-going study focuses on understanding and supporting the needs of school and public librarians as they incorporated Maker-geared learning in their libraries. During year one of our three-year project, we saw the participating librarians distancing themselves from a formal, separate “makerspace”; choosing instead to provide maker activities, programs, and guidance throughout the library space. The library itself becomes a space for making, creating, and collaborating, as it has been for so long (Paul, 2015).    

The perceptions of “makerspaces” and “making” are often associated with 3D printers, high-powered gadgets, video studios, and other costly instruments, typically found in larger urban libraries. Additionally, libraries must seek out qualified and knowledgeable library staff or train current staff to maintain the makerspace and work with patrons who have a wide range of abilities (Koh & Abbas, 2015). For smaller and rural libraries, introducing makerspaces as an independent area within the library, housed with expensive, time consuming tools is a struggle. Framing the making and the maker movement as requiring a designated space or set of specific technologies does a disservice to school and public libraries seeking more equitable and sustainable options. However, conversations about making and making in the library space are changing.

Several existing library practices, such as comfortable library layouts, drop-in teen programs, and open collaborative spaces, can be used to support youth maker programs (Lee, Lewis, Searle, Recker, Hansen, & Phillips, 2017). Libraries can apply and expand their role as an informal learning environments to encourage maker engagement among youth patrons with or without a stereotypical makerspace. Moorefield-Lang (2015) discusses the use of mobile makerspaces to extend outside the library walls. Using case studies of libraries with makercarts and maker bookmobiles, the researcher highlights how makerspaces can move beyond space limitations and reach young patrons where they are. Duxbury Free Library in Massachusetts is working to turn formally non-circulating science kits containing Littlebits, Spheros, Raspbery Pi, etc. into circulating items that patrons can take home (Lamarre, 2016). As demonstrated by the work of Moorefield-Lang and Duxbury Free Library, the connection between libraries, making, and community engagement is a powerful one. Making is about community, bringing people together who have an interest (or beginning curiosity) in creating, exploring, tinkering, and experimenting (Charmaraman, 2013). As community strongholds, libraries have an important role in promoting the maker movement and making this movement accessible for everyone.                                                   


Barniskis, S. C. (2014). STEAM: Science and art meet in rural library makerspaces. iSchools.

Barton, A. C., Tan, C., & Greenberg, D. (2016). The makerspace movement: Sites of possibilities for equitable opportunities to engage underrepresented youth in STEM. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from

Charmaraman, L. (2013). Congregating to create for social change: Urban youth media production and sense of community. Learning, Media and Technology, 38(1), 102–115. 

Fallows, D. (2016, March 11). How libraries are becoming modern makerspaces. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Koh, K., & Abbas, J. (2015). Competencies for information professionals in learning labs and makerspaces. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science Online, 56(2), 114–129.

Lamarre, J. (2016, December 21). Library as makerspace: Science toolboxes: An update. Retrieved from

Lee, V. R., Lewis, W., Searle, K. A., Recker, M., Hansen, J., & Phillips, A. (2017 June 27). Supporting interactive youth maker programs in public and school libraries: Design hypotheses and first implementations. In P. Blikstein & D. Abrahamson (Eds.), Proceedings of IDC 2017. Stanford, CA: ACM.

Mardis, M., & Howe, K. (2010). STEM for our students: Content to co-conspiracy? Knowledge Quest, 39(2), 8–12.

Moorefield-Lang, H. M. (2015). When makerspaces go mobile: Case studies of transportable maker locations. Library Hi Tech, 33(4), 462–471.

Norris, A. (2014). Make-Her-Spaces as hybrid places: Designing and resisting self-constructions in urban classrooms. Equity & Excellence in Education, 47(1), 63–77.

Paul, A. M. (2015, May 12). How to ensure that making leads to learning. Retrieved from

Websites / URLs Associated with Your Session:;

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