Teen Librarian Toolbox
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5 Reasons Why Maker Days/Labs/Spaces Can Trump Traditional Library Programming

As I approached my position as the YA coordinator at a new library, one of the things I knew I wanted to do was to evaluate my maker programming and try and recreate the parts of it that were successfull while making any necessary changes to improve on the model. And since it was a new idea for this library, I had to be able to prove that there was some benefit into adopting a maker lab model of programming, especially since it can involve a high initial cost. When you are asking administrators to spend money, you need to have some good, solid reasoning for how and why that money is going to be spent. So I went to my new administrators asking that we make that investment of time and money into a maker lab/space so that we could move away from more traditional library programming.

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First, let me define what I am meaning here when I use the term “traditional library programming”. For many YS and YA librarians, we are tasked with continually coming up with programs based around an idea or a theme. For example, you might host a Doctor Who party with a variety of Doctor Who activities or a Mockingjay release party. Traditionally, we are tasked with coming up with a program theme and then create a program around that theme. It can involve a currently popular book, movie or tv show, it can be a craft, or it can be related to a specific medium, such as an anime club. I have been doing programs like these for 20+ years and I understand the who, what, when, why and where of them. I am in no way going to suggest that we should stop doing them. I am, however, going to suggest that we do less of them and develop more programs like MakerSpaces – whether permanent installations or a rotating program like Maker Mondays – to be the primary foundation of tween and teen programming in our libraries.

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In comparison, I have been hosting a regular Maker Mondays for a couple of years now at two different libraries. At The Public Library of Mount Vernon of Knox County (OH), I have 3 carts loaded up with a variety of maker stations that include things like Legos, Little Bits, button makers and more. I go in on a Monday, set up the make lab, and have an open program for several hours. I take a laptop with me so that I can work on book orders or research more maker items (you can rotate new stations in and out to keep it fresh) or answer email in the event that I have a down time with no patrons in the library. Though to be honest, I have yet to have any down time during one of these open labs, even on days when I have had the make lab space open for five hours. They are popular and busy.

So what makes a maker lab/space more desirable than engaging in more traditional library programming? I’m glad you asked.

1. Predictability Drives Up Attendance Numbers

If I have a maker lab or Maker Monday every Monday from say 3 to 9 PM, teens and staff know when upcoming programming is taking place. Having a regularly occurring program with a set schedule eliminates the guess work for our intended audience; it helps them develop a regular routine of coming to the library. My teens at my previous library knew that on Mondays they can come to the library after school and hang out and make stuff. This is the same principle that is applied with things like teen cafes, teen hangouts, or homework help sessions. There’s no carrying around calendars or looking events up on the webpage only to realize that you’ve missed something really cool, it’s regular and predictable and becomes a part of everyone’s routine.

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2. Provides Developmentally Appropriate Opportunities for Self Direction and Exploration

It’s fun to have a trivia night or for everyone to go from station to station during a Harry Potter party, but it’s also developmentally appropriate to give teens the space and freedom to engage in some self directed behaviors, to give them an opportunity to make choices about how they want to spend their time, what they want to create, and what they want to explore. A maker lab or space does this. I have a variety of options, they get to choose what they do or don’t do. It’s empowering, it’s asset building, and it helps them transition into the oncoming storm of independence.

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3. Balances Hands On Learning with Opportunities for Social Interaction

I have routinely found that one of the things that most teens primarily want in library events is a time for social interaction. If you can provide an opportunity for teens to do something and be social, it’s win-win. Part of the large appeal with something with like Rainbow Looms, which were a huge deal not too long ago, is that it is something simple you can do with your hands while sitting around a table and talking with your friends. I like having a couple of maker stations on hand that create this same time of atmosphere for teens. The teens who wish to can go work together on robotics and being really involved with that process, while other teens can do something that requires less attentiveness and catch up with their friends in a safe environment.

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4.Creates a Better Time Management Scenario

Programming and collection development are the two parts of my job that require the most amount of time. At one library I worked at they hired an operations manager from the corporate world with no library experience, she put together a spread sheet for all the librarians of how they should be spending their forty hours a week and allotted one hour to programming. This was an impossible scenario because I was required to have a weekly one hour program, but programming involves more than just this one hour. I had to research each program, deciding which activities we would do, purchase and organize staff and supplies, market the program, set up the program, execute the program and then clean up after the program. Having a regularly recurring maker lab/space cuts down on the amount of time I spend researching, setting up and marketing a program, freeing up more time for me to do other things, like school visits or innovate new elements for the library like our circulating maker kits.

In addition, having a regularly recurring event is easy to brand, which cuts down on the amount of time you spend creating and distributing marketing materials. If you develop publicity materials for your maker space, including a unique logo, then you are kind of set in the marketing department. It’s easy to go in an change dates, re-print, push out notifications on your social media pages. Where as every time you have a new, unique program you have to start from scratch with your marketing effort.

Even if I continue to have say one additional program every month or every other month, like a Paper Towns or Mockingjay release party, the regular maker lab/space gives me more time to research and put together higher quality programs for these bigger events as opposed to having a lot of smaller programs that have to be researched, organized and marketed. Even though I am engaging in what appears to be more regular programming, each individual program takes up less background work, giving me more time for other things.

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5. Has Larger General Audience Appeal

If I have a Doctor Who party, which I have and definitely will again, I am creating an event with a more limited audience. Each time we pick a program theme, we are pre-selecting and limiting our audience. A Doctor Who party appeals to Doctor Who fans, an anime club appeals to anime fans, a gaming night appeals to gamers, etc. When we create a larger event with a variety of activity choices, like a maker lab/space, we are creating programs that are more open for the general public. We are inviting a larger target audience into our space, serving a more diverse portion of our local communities.

A good maker labe/space would involve high and low tech options, you can even throw a craft station or two in there. Right out of the gate, because there is no theme except come make stuff, you are opening your event up to a larger portion of the population. At a recent Maker Monday I had around 75 tweens and teens come in and make stuff with me, that’s more than I get at most of my regular themed programs, except of course for something like a Harry Potter night.

And as I said, I’m not going to stop having some traditionally themed programs, I am just transitioning the ratio of my programming for the reasons stated above. And as the maker movement eventually phases out in popularity, which it probably will, I’ll have to rethink my programming strategy once again. I have been doing this for 20+ years now, this is the strategy that is working for me now, it’s different than the strategy that I used 5 years ago, and I’m sure it will be different than the strategy I use 5 years from now. Being a good YA librarian means paying attention to the needs of my audience and making changes when needed. This is what works best for me now, and as long as it continues to do so I will keep doing it. But you and I both know that won’t be forever. Librarianship is all about change; the core of who we are and what we do remains the same, but the tools we use and the ways in which we do it change from time to time.

MakerSpace Notes:

My Original Mobile Makerspace (the text below)
My Updated Mobile Makerspace
MakerSpace Tech Tools Comparison Chart
The Unboxing and Learning Curve
Exploring Circulating Maker Kits and Circulating Maker Kits part 2 with a Book List
The Maker Bookshelf/Collection (with a book list)
Strawbees part 1 and part 2
Things I Learned Visiting the Cincinnati MakerSpace: Fun with Buttons! Edition
Creating and Using an iPad Lab in Your Library
Take 5: 5 Tools for Movie Making in Your MakerSpace
Take 5: The Robot Test Kitchen Reading List

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