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Sunday Reflections: If You Build It, Will They Come? The story of a MakerSpace miracle.

Karen playing with photo booth props & photo manipulation apps

Karen playing with photo booth props & photo manipulation apps

Yesterday a Christmas miracle occurred. Except in January. And it had nothing to do with Christmas.

No, let me start over.

Yesterday, a library miracle occurred.

Yesterday, we did the final full load in and set up for the MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. You know, the library where I work. We were busy syncing iPads, downloading apps, and making sure we had signage when a group of teens walked in. My internal knee jerk reaction was to stay no, come back another day we’re not ready. But I didn’t.

At first they just sat around and talked in the space like they normally do, but ever so slowly they started to – well, tinker. They started to play with the Lego station. They started to ask questions. They started to really engage with me and my colleague who were in the space. We were test driving a robot because we ourselves don’t really know how to work it, and they really got excited about that. That little Ollie robot is a real conversation starter.

One teenage boy even sat down and started to play with our Osmo. This was a real test for me because after we bought it – it had glowing reviews – I began to think it was really too young for the space. But he found that there is an adventure mode and he spent a good 45 minutes trying to solve these puzzles. Sometimes it took four of us helping him out to figure it out. We had a blast.

But, more interestingly, they were engaged. We sat down there together for probably a good three hours trying to figure out how to use things, talking, and even though it looked to the outside observer like we were playing, we were all learning stuff.

I ran into a previous colleague back in October and he had asked me what I was doing. “I’m working on turning my teen space into a Maker Space,” I informed him. He got that look on his face, you will all know immediately what look I am talking about. “I’m just not so sure about this Maker Space stuff,” he replied to me. I get it, I was there once.

One of many teens who played with our Ollie robot yesterday.

One of many teens who played with our Ollie robot yesterday.

But then I saw my own Maker Space in action.

You see, a couple of the teens in the Maker Space were teens that we semi-regularly have to deal with behavior issues with. Every library has them and some probably immediately came to your mind as you read that sentence. But yesterday was different. Yesterday we, together, had a great time figuring things out, exploring the space, and, yes, learning stuff.

In fact, in just the couple of days that we have been at various levels of open, I have been taught several things by my teens. I learned what a MEP is on YouTube and how (and why) one teen goes about creating them. A MEP is a multi editor production, it’s basically a group project over the Internet, except different because you don’t always know the people contributing. This teen, for example, creates MEPs around anime characters and other people will make drawings, for example, of said character and contribute it to a portion of the video. If you are interested here is a random example of a MEP on YouTube selected as an example because it is really well edited and short: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-y9sEzTNoc

This same teen taught me about speed painting (you do a video of painting – either in real life or using an online program, even a program as simple as paint – and then you speed it up real fast). Imagine if we had video of Michealangelo painting the Sistine Chapel and could create a speed painting video of that. Again, here’s an example off of YouTube selected because it is short and, well, Darth Vader: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3M6LJqQmiLQ

Playing with the Osmo.

Playing with the Osmo.

My programming fear has always been: If you build it, will they come? We all know that there is that brief moment of stress and panic that occurs right before program launch time where you just aren’t sure any teens will show up. You swallow the lump in your throat, you cross your fingers, and you walk into the program room and silently beg somebody to please show up. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. That’s kind of how I felt during the entire process of creating this space.

And I mean, this isn’t like a couple of $300 craft programs, it’s kind of a bit more money than that. We have spent far less than many libraries creating our space – if I’m not mistaken, I believe you will be able to read more about it in an upcoming issue of School Library Journal – but significantly more than you might spend on a single program. So it was very gratifying to see some of our least engaged teens so dramatically and fully engaged.

My day ended yesterday with an amazing sense of gratification and this warm, bubbly feeling in my soul. I believe some people might refer to that feeling as joy. Once again, I was reminded that we – public libraries, YA librarians – do important and meaningful work. Yesterday I connected with some of my teens, they engaged in meaningful activities that looked like toys but they were little building blocks of learning. To the outside observer it may look like we’re just messing around, but you and I both know something far more significant happened yesterday.

Yesterday was a small little miracle. And every once in a while, we all need one.


  1. Thanks for reminding us what happens when you don’t listen to that “wait, I’m not ready yet” voice and let them join you. What an exciting way to launch your space and really involve your teens.

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