Webinar: Makerspaces in Academic Libraries

Sorry, everyone, for the missed post last week! Thankfully, I am finally over being sick, and this week I want to share with you a webinar I recently presented on the top of makerspaces in libraries, with a special focus on academic libraries.


Makerspaces are finding their way into more and more libraries lately, but the majority of these tend to be located in public libraries, and these ones often get the most attention. Academic libraries and makerspaces can be a great fit for each other, though, and there are a lot of ways that a makerspace in a higher ed environment can be beneficial not only for students but for the whole campus community.


What are these benefits, and what are some great things academic library makerspaces are already doing? What are some important things to think about and some first steps you can take towards your own makerspace? Check out the webinar hosted by the SLA Education Division (and you can download my slides as well).

Thoughts? Questions? Leave them in the comments below, or let us know on Twitter!


Guest Blog Post: Buttonmakers as Pop-Up Making

Photo of a badge with a retro image of a woman reading a book. On the book is written, "Accessorize with a banned book."

Today's guest blog post comes from Cathy Evans, Director of Libraries at St. Mary's Episcopal School in Memphis, Tennessee. St. Mary's is a pre-K through 12th grade school where academic excellence and the well-roundedness are both critical goals for its all-female student population. As the school's headmaster writes:

"We know how girls learn best and have a community of caring adults who want each girl to reach her potential.  Girls here are smart in many ways--academically, creatively, athletically--and success at St. Mary's therefore is as individual as each girl.  Our dedicated faculty provide the students with habits of mind and academic tools to thrive in their future: core knowledge, collaboration, creativity, and the desire and ability to keep learning as an adult." 

This fall, on a listserv for school librarians, Cathy shared her idea for how to make making-on-the-fly happen in her library in a way that merged the library's goals with the creative impulses of her students. I was intrigued by Cathy's posts because our Michigan Makers inventory includes an old-school electric buttonmaker, which we pull out at the start of the year as a low-risk, enjoyable way to achieve early making success while also providing us with reusable name tags that help build community.

Cathy's story is a reminder that making doesn't have to start with a custom-designed space full of the latest gadgets. It can begin in simple ways that welcome in makers so that they can engage and become planners in the future activities of the makerspace.  Enjoy Cathy's post!

- Kristin Fontichiaro

* * *

The Idea

In our library, we are always looking for new and creative ways to promote the love of reading and make the library a really fun place to be.  This year as we were brainstorming about how to increase awareness of Banned Books Week, we came up with the idea of making buttons.   A very simple idea to be sure and one that we were a little doubtful about but thought we would go ahead and take the plunge. Over the summer we took the wall out between two computer labs in the library which gave us enough space to create a maker space in the library.  It has concrete floors and columns painted in chalk paint.   We sort of took the approach of build it and they will come.  During in-service and as part of our professional development we have been promoting the idea of making across the curriculum.  Making something as simple as buttons seemed a quick and easy way to promote the idea of making.  


The Supplies

We ordered a z225F Fabric Button maker from American Button Machines.  It came with enough supplies to make 500 buttons.  With shipping the cost came to $405.00.   After receiving the machine we quickly realized that cutting out circles is a real time suck, so we went back to American Button Machines to order a punch that cuts the circle to the exact size needed.   This added another  $160.00 to the overall cost—worth every penny!


Making the Buttons

We made an announcement about making buttons for Banned Books week and set the machine out in the library.   From there it took on a life of its own.  We showed the first few students how to use the maker and then they showed other students, and it continued in that manner.  We also put a very simple step sheet out on the table and tossed out some colored paper, markers and colored pencils and let them go with it.   In addition, we sent an e-mail to all of the students in grades 9-12 encouraging them to participate. Attached to the e-mail was a template that the girls could use to download images and create more sophisticated and professional looking buttons.   This required a much more sophisticated skillset.  The students in the design class asked their teacher if they could make buttons and she told them they could but only if they used the template.  One of the students in the class was very savvy with the process so she ended up teaching the class how to do a graphic design project.  The teacher was very glad for the impromptu learning experience.  

At first the students stuck to making Banned Books Week buttons but then their imaginations took over.   We just let them run with it at that point and they were able to be as creative and they wanted to make whatever kind of button spoke to them.  


Student Response  

The way in which the students responded to making buttons came as a real surprise to us.  They were making them every chance they got.  I overheard one student say, “I would miss my whole lunch period just to stay in here and make buttons.”  We asked the students for feedback; here are some of their responses:

“It was fun to accessorize our backpack, clothes etc.”

“I loved the freedom we were given.“

“ It was really great seeing everyone’s personal creations.”

“I loved the “Fandom” themed buttons.”

“ It was so easy and persona.l”

 “There are so many things we can do with this, who  knows? The button maker has endless possibilities.”

We are already thinking of ways to use it in the curriculum.  One idea we have had it to do a button “book report.”  The name of the book can not be on the button , only and image and a few words that really capture the essence of the book.  The 5th and 6th grade teachers are already on board with this idea.  

* * *

What kinds of activities in your makerspace do you use to welcome new makers and stoke their enthusiasm for future projects?

Photo provided by Cathy Evans


Craftivism - Activism for Makers

The past week has left me feeling dissatisfied with the world, and thinking I ought to do something about it. I’m not much of one for shouting or joining loud, noisy groups, but I am a maker and a crafter. As a result, craftivism appeals to me.

If you haven’t encountered it before, craftivism is defined by its creator, Betsy Greer, as:

Craftivism is a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite.

The process of making the craft deeply engages the creator with the message he/she is trying to convey. Then, when the craft is out in the world, it’s an engaging, non-threatening way of getting people to talk about important issues. Sarah Corbett, who founded the Craftivist Collective, also points out,

Often I craft alone or in a small group in public spaces like cafes, train stations and on public transport. And it means people are naturally curious & come up to you and say “what are you doing?” and you can say “I’m stitching this issue about inequality – what do you think?” And you engage people that way. So you are getting out into the world of non activism bubbles but still talking to people about those issues. Because craft is involved, it’s not scary: people naturally come to us and ask us what we are doing, they tweet pictures of us, stick it on instagram, pinterest etc. (from her recent TEDxBedford talk)

Some notable examples:

Mini Protest Banners

mini protest banner

Mini protest banners are small, embroidered cloths highlighting an issue and meant to be hung in a public space. They can be a form of protest, education, or encouragement, and are meant to spark discussion. According to the Craftivist Collective:

[By] hanging your banner in public, you engage others in the fight for a fairer, more beautiful world in a provocative but thoughtful way, without them feeling threatened or preached at.


Counterfeit Crochet

counterfeit crochet items

The Counterfeit Crochet project urges participants to crochet copies of designer products, and then carry/wear their “counterfeit crochet” item. This is a way of starting dialog about consumer culture. From the description of the project:

The media machine pushes onto the public the desire for luxury goods. Celebrities tote high-end purses, and slick glossy ads amp-up the sexiness factor. Fashion is fun fun fun! But at the same time, most of us "ordinary people" can't afford such things, and some even knowingly buy knock-off products to sublimate our desires. If you take the logic one step further, and actually make the item yourself, you are in a sense taking the situation into your own hands without giving a single penny to the company brand. They have excluded you anyway, by keeping their prices astronomically high.


Tank Blankets

tank blanket

Marianne Joergensen’s tank blankets are an iconic example of craftivism. She was protesting Denmark’s involvement in the Iraq War. Of her work, she says,

Unsimilar to a war, knitting signals home, care, closeness and time for reflection. Ever since Denmark became involved in the war in Iraq I have made different variations of pink tanks, and I intend to keep doing that, until the war ends. For me, the tank is a symbol of stepping over other people's borders. When it is covered in pink, it becomes completely unarmed and it loses it's [sic] authority. Pink becomes a contrast in both material and color when combined with the tank.


Of course, you can also come up with your own projects that address the issues that matter to you, using the skills and supplies available to you. I would love to see more schools and libraries encouraging students to engage thoughtfully in social issues, and I think craftivism projects could be one way to do it. Do we have any current craftivists in our audience?


Photo credits:

Craftivist Collective. (2009). "Mini protest banner at Bank tube station, London July 2009 [photo]." Retrieved from https://www.flickr.com/photos/craftivist-collective/3954373888.

Paul Ward. (2008). "Counterfeit Crochet [photo]." Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/53Z2D8.

Madeline Tosh. (2007). "Tank knitting [photo]." Retrieved from http://madelinetosh.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/01/.


Comic Book Makers Part I


Spoiler alert: I am a HUGE nerd. I really like to read comics, especially superhero comics. Before, I never really thought of adding the identity of “makers” to comic book characters. But in truth, they’re all over! In today’s post, I thought I would highlight examples of  makers in comics. 


Tony Stark

If you take ‘makers’ and ‘comics’, most people will think of the same person: the (in)famous Tony Stark.

Picture of Tony Stark from Iron Man: Extremis

Tony Stark’s claim to maker fame is that he is the inventor and builder of the “Iron Man” suit and co-founder of the Avengers (in the main Marvel Comics storyline). If you haven’t watched the movies yet, get on that! If you want to jump into the comics, try starting with the Iron Man: Extremis graphic novel.


Lila Rhodes

Lila Rhodes is, by far, my favorite character on this list. If you don’t know who she is, don’t worry, she’s a pretty recent addition to the Marvel world.

Picture of Lila Rhodes

Lila first premiered in the first issue of the new run of Iron Patriot starring Tony Stark’s best friend James “Rhodey” Rhodes. Lila is a maker because she enjoys opening up her Uncle’s Iron Patriot suit just to see how it works.


+100 to Marvel for showing that young African-American women can be makers too! Also, according to the Marvel Wiki, she (not Tony Stark!) is the one to make modifications to the Iron Patriot suit whenever her Uncle needs them. There’s only one volume of Iron Patriotwhich sadly got cancelled, but I loved it, so go check it out!


Howard Stark

Howard Stark is the father of Tony Stark, and was the driving force behind Tony’s interest in engineering, despite their troubled relationship.  

Picture of Howard Stark

Howard founded Stark Industries, of which Tony later became CEO. I honestly don’t know a whole lot about Howard Stark beyond what was depicted in Captain America: The First Avenger and the Iron Man movies, but read the Marvel Wiki to find out more!



I’ve only recently met Forge in the new run of Storm comics so I don’t know him very well. 

Forge - Marvel comic book character,

In this new Storm series, we meet him after he’s invented and built a machine that will bring rain to a drought stricken village in Africa. Forge is a fascinating example of makers in comics since, as a mutant, being a maker is literally in his genes! To find out more about Forge, check out his page on the Marvel Wiki.


Peter Parker - Spiderman

Another well loved Maker/Superhero is Spiderman/Peter Parker!

Another well loved Maker/Superhero is Spiderman/Peter Parker!
Thanks to the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield Spider-man/TASM movies, we should all know Spider-man’s origin story at this point. Not only is Peter Parker a scientific genius, he also invents and builds most of his own gear used in his career as Spider-man. Other than the Spider-man costume, the very first thing that Peter Parker makes for crime-fighting alter-ego are his famous webshooters!
There’s a huge Marvel comic event about Spider-Man and all the other Marvel “Spiders” going on right now, so I would definitely jump in if you haven’t already. Otherwise, check out the Marvel Wiki to learn more about Spider-man!


Watch out for other posts featuring makers in comics in the future! Are there any you thought I should have covered here? Feedback or questions? Let us know in the comments below or find us on twitter @MakerBridge!



Making for the Holidays

As I write this post, it's snowing outside and I've actually had to turn on my heat for the first time since last winter. You know what that means: the holidays are coming up fast.

One of the things I like most about the maker movement is its rejection of constant consumerism and mass production in favor of more custom, handmade things. The holidays are a great time to really embrace this spirit by skipping the Black Friday stampedes and focusing instead on using your maker skills to give your friends and family thoughtful, personalized gifts they'll really enjoy. Check out the suggestions below; now is a great time to get started so your gifts will be ready in time!

Is this really what you want to be doing? Or would you rather be at your local makerspace? Image Credit


101 Crafty Gifts - Instructables

Some of my personal favorites include this Hot Shoulder Dragon and a homade Salt & Sugar Scrub

Best way to keep your shoulders warm

Small Gifts to Make - Pinterest

I'm really intrigued by these Dip Mix or Hot Cocoa Mix Ornaments

Seriously, how awesome do these look?

- 100 Homemade Gift Ideas - about: home

Crocheted greeting card bowl, felt fortune cookies, and more

Excellent use for greeting cards



And don't forget the animals!

25 DIY Gifts for Pet Lovers

DIY Gift Ideas: Pet Toys and Treats to Make for Dogs and Cats


Do you have any creative gifts planned for this holiday season? Let us know in the comments below or tweet at us to show off your work!




Photo of a mentor's project experimenting with a stencil cut with a Silhouette Cameo and printed onto a t-shirt, originally found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/michiganmakers/13571463644/

The kids in our elementary after-school makerspace have a huge affinity for physical making. Give them the choice between having a glider competition in the hallway or a screen-based creation activity and they'll pick the glider 9 times out of 10. Many times we simply go along with what they choose -- choice in materials and making is a key tenet of our work. But because our makerspace is an extension of our information school, we sometimes feel we need to shift them into technology from time to time. So we're always on the lookout for digital projects (iSchool goal) that result in physical objects (student preference).

This coming week in that vein, we're going to try this by pairing the Silhouette Cameo, which was designed to cut out shapes for scrapbooking and crafts, with t-shirts. We're going to have students play with graphic design by combining words with images in the Silhouette Cameo to create a t-shirt image, cut it out onto freezer paper or Contact paper (final trials are still to come!), and use fabric paint to apply the stencil. 

Our students are used to having used clothing as source material for various projects: a few weeks ago, we challenged them to create Halloween costumes out of old pants, shirts, skirts, and dresses. (Those "teacher jumpers" made of denim or corduroy? Cut off the bodice and unbutton the skirt that remains, flip it upside-down, and you've got an instant superhero cape ...)

"Upcycling," a few of them call it. Last year, we cut fleece scarves out of old pajama pants and pullovers (cut off the bottom band; make a horizontal cut under the armpits; divide the remaining space in half; cut open each loop & stitch together). We take this path for both budgetary ($1/project!) and environmental reasons (to show kids that we can make from what already exists instead of buying new). 

So as I was shopping for secondhand-but-looks-new t-shirts, I started to realize that I was throwing other things into the cart as well: a couple of button-down shirts, a few blazers, long sleeves and short, ruffled collars and gathered hems. As I encountered these new materials, my imagination went to work: where would place a design here -- on the pocket? On the back? On the sleeve? Design elements in the various garment types called out new possibilities to me, and into the cart they went.

I realized that I was planning for provocations, what Bing Preschool at Stanford, TinkerLab, or the Reggio Emilia project would refer to as materials that spark the imagination and jumpstart creative thinking. When your makerspace has a few "weird" materials in it -- a length of refrigerator hose in your junk box, metallic yarn for the knitting group, a sample Squishy Circuits playdough circuit that greets makers as they enter the space, a piece of music waiting to be mashed up in your digital creation studio, a scrapbook of ideas for cutting up a t-shirt,  or an intriguing photo (what if a bubble wand were shaped like a cube instead of two-dimensional? how would that change the shape of your bubbles?) -- you prime the pump for creativity, providing just enough spark to generate ideas that might not surface otherwise. Provocations are part of what help inspire novice makers to transform materials to create something that has never been made before. Provocations help create those OOAK (Etsy-speak for "one of a kind") creations that shift your space away from an everybody-makes-the-same-craft club and into a thriving makerspace.

Of course, the trick is to set out intriguing materials and restrain yourself from jumping in and telling them what to do with them. (Remember the jumper-to-cape idea? Yeah, I used my out-loud voice on that one. After I watched a kid execute it -- albeit in a different way than I imagined it -- and said, "Wow - that turned out great," I realized my mistake when he said back, "Yeah, it was your idea." In a makerspace, it should be his idea. Oops.) 

What provocations do you set out for your makers?

- Kristin Fontichiaro


Image: a mentor's experiment with the Cameo and printing on fabric from Spring 2014


Crafting and innovation

This weekend, I came across YALSA’s Making in the Library Toolkit. If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s well worth a look. This is a free PDF that has tips on getting buy-in, starting partnerships, suggested projects including the price per participant… all kinds of things! It really is a great resource, and I encourage you all to download it.  There is a lot of content here that you may find useful.

That said, I’m still scratching my head about some of the things the authors said as they tried to explain what making is.  Specifically, in the overview section, they say:

“[M]aking, DIY and crafting are all hands-on, but the focus of making is to learn and ultimately innovate through doing and to leverage technologies to achieve that. DIY and crafting can involve academic learning, and certainly offer hands-on activities; however, their purpose or outcome is often different from making, because there is less of an emphasis on experiential learning or innovation. DIY and crafting often tend to be more about creating for recreation or as a means to self-reliance. Making focuses more on providing a social environment where students can develop new knowledge and skills that often can contribute to academic achievement or career preparation.”

Can anyone explain to me the lines that are being drawn, here? I’m getting hung up on the differences between “academic learning” and “knowledge and skills that… contribute to academic achievement or career preparation.”  Do they mean that crafting and DIY are often used to help drive home facts, but making is about ways of thinking and interacting?  And if they do mean that, then how is it that they say that crafting/DIY are a means to self-reliance, but still don’t fall into the category of making?  Is self-reliance not useful for academic achievement or career preparation? Am I missing something?

Furthermore, the authors also included a table in which they claim that crafting is rarely innovation driven, making is always innovation driven, and DIY is somewhere in between.  This is something I don’t just question--this is something I take serious exception to.  I’m going to make my argument here based on knitting and crocheting, just because those are crafts I’m familiar with, plus the authors of this document explicitly name knitting as a crafting activity on page 11. The argument will hold true for other crafts as well, though.

Now, I’ll grant you that if you host a how-to-knit workshop, your attendees are unlikely to move into the realms of innovation during that first session.  They’re going to be too busy trying to remember how to cast on, where to hold their yarn, etc.  I’ve been knitting for almost a year now, and I can do only the most simple of plain, rectangular projects without a pattern to follow.  It took me about 10 years of crocheting on and off to get to the point where I designed my first crochet pattern from scratch--but I did, and I hold that that is innovation.

Given all of that, if the Making in the Library Toolkit’s authors are just trying to say that many crafts have a long, hard learning curve that you have to get over before you’re likely to stop just following someone else’s directions… well, I’ll grant them that.  But I fail to see how that’s really any different from electronics or programming or anything else that the authors call “making.”  Every type of making has its own beginner-level projects; is a “Hello World” program or a single, lit LED really any different from a completed scarf?  There’s not a whole lot of innovation to any of those.  They’re just exercises to introduce a novice to the discipline and help them build up to bigger, more innovative projects.

The only different I see between those beginner-level projects is that knitting a scarf will likely take many times longer to complete than “Hello World” will.  That is a valid consideration for whether or not you think knitting is an appropriate activity to try to teach at your makerspace, but I don’t think it makes a difference one way or another in terms of whether something should be considered “making.” What do you all think?  Am I missing the point somewhere along the line?


Shout out to these awesome organizations!

Here at MakerBridge we make an effort to advocate for diversity and inclusion in the maker culture and the technology industry. Some of our previous posts have covered Black Makers, LGBTQ+ inclusivity in maker culture, women in technology, and STEAM education for girls and young people of color.
Since our last post highlighting diverse groups in the maker movement and hacker culture, I have come across several more organizations that are devoted to increasing minority engagement and employment in the tech industry that we have not yet covered.
TransTechSocial is an organization that works to educate trans and gender nonconforming people with technology skill training, professional apprenticeships, and navigating the higher ed financial aid system. They work to empower trans and gender nonconforming people by providing leadership training and supporting racial and social justice causes. TransTechSocial also works to employ trans and gender nonconforming people by providing resume and interview training, networking, and education on employee rights.
CodeNow works to diversify the technology industry by engaging young women and people of color in computer science and technology educational opportunities. Their main program centers on providing workshops that teach computer programming to underrepresented high school students.
Maven also fosters the diversification of the technology industry by providing LGBTQ youth with opportunity to build technical skills, engage with social justice causes, and encourage networking between LGBTQ youth, youth services/nonprofits, and other groups of young LGBTQ youth across the nation. Maven provides a safe (virtual and physical!) space for LGBTQ teens to investigate their identity and to build confidence via practical technology skills, experience, and mentorship.
Have comments? Questions? Let us know in the comments below, or message us on twitter @makerbridge!

Master of Arts in Education Technology Maker Day at Michigan State University Library

This week's guest post comes to us from Jill Morningstar and Terence O'Neill, who work as librarians at Michigan State University. In it, they discuss Maker Day, a recent event. Read on for more!

The inaugural MAET Maker Day at Michigan State University Libraries came together perfectly, and would not have been possible without the dedicated students and faculty in the hybrid MAET program. The Master of Arts in Educational Technology program enrolls current K-12 teachers who want to expand their knowledge in the realm of educational technology. Many students become Technology Integration Specialists, Instructional Designers, and Technology Consultants in their schools. The program takes about two years to complete and is mostly online. Students spend a little over two weeks on campus at Michigan State University for intensive face-to-face training over the summer, and one of the major assignments for first year cohorts is to create a maker activity to integrate into their classrooms. 

Led by Dr. Leigh Graves Wolf and Dr. Michelle Schira Hagerman, the MAET 1 cohort spent their two weeks of face-to-face time meeting with librarians and planning their maker activities. With the help of instructors Craig McMichael, who teaches at Detroit Catholic Central and is a current faculty member at both MSU and Wayne State University, and Spencer Greenhalgh, PhD candidate at MSU in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology (EPET), along with a few of our librarian colleagues, MAET students spent one hour of each packed day planning their activities at the library. They were able to spend time working in our brand new REAL (Rooms for Engaged and Active Learning) classroom and they even had a personal showing of the library’s Makerbot before we had unveiled it to the public. The students were inspired by their time spent in the library, and of course their instructors and each other, which led to the amazing turnout on Maker Day. 

On the day of the event, the library simply set the stage and allowed for the MAET students to run their workshops, trying out their ideas with real live audiences from a variety of age groups. As a great example of the low startup needs for running Maker activities, we set up the workshops in a variety of library rooms with little rearrangement needed.

Over sixty children, MSU students, and practitioners of all sorts stopped in at each of the workshops distributed at different points in our building. The size of the crowd was perfect for the small group instruction and hands-on engagement that makes these types of activities particularly effective for technology education. Here were the workshops conducted by the MAET students:

- “Human Drum Kit”: using MaKey MaKey, Scratch, and a computer’s sound system, MAET students designed a program where participants united circuits to signify different parts of a drum kit. Touch that person’s shoulder for a cymbal, this one’s knee for a bass drum, and *gently* tap your new friend’s bald head for a cowbell.

- “Playing With Your Food”: This group used MaKey MaKey and Scratch to enable the creation and manipulation of video games based on the completion of circuits using items from the kitchen.

- “And a third tied together geography and cultural studies, creating an interactive map that lit up LED lights for the home of each participant.

The workshops were a huge success, as the MAET students got practice running workshops, the library got to experiment with different types of Maker workshops, and participants got to have some fun and learn a bit, too. As our library continues to think about how to engage with and support our community as they pursue their scholarship and teaching, we hope that collaborating with the Master of Arts in Education Technology will continue to reveal what’s happening on the cutting edge. 

To learn more about the Master of Arts in Education Technology, visit their website here: http://edutech.msu.edu/programs/masters/. And if you’re in the area, feel free to visit MSU’s library and see how we’re using 3D Printing and our Espresso Book Machine to enable our students and professors to create the next generation of education deliverables.


Everybody In: Diversity in Making

This week we have a guest post from the awesome folks at Maker Jawn Initiative in Philadelphia. We love the work they do; read on to learn more about it, and be sure to check out their blog, as well!



Hi MakerBridge readers! We’re the Maker Jawn Initiative; a team of artistically-minded engineers, designers, and thinkers who run maker-based mentoring programs at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Our programing focuses on experimentation, play, and interest-driven learning. This means that we receive input from students and facilitate programming based around their interests. It also means we work on a wide variety of projects that include, but are far from limited to, copper tape circuitry, e-textiles, video production, mask making, and gardening. Sustainability important to us, so we tend to use inexpensive and reclaimed materials for projects. We also believe that libraries are perfect for maker spaces! Neighborhood libraries provide one of the few safe places where diversity of race, gender, and age is respected, and that makes them a special environment for learning.




Our program is nimble. We don’t have dedicated spaces, and primarily work out of bins of materials, stashed at each neighborhood library our mentors are present in. We hope that other communities and institutions with less funding opportunities will see models like ours, and realize that a makerspace is a possibility for them. The same quality of learning (or better) can happen with inexpensive supplies, and a flexible and dedicated staff, as in a well funded space with lots of gadgets and tech.  In underserved communities where access to STEAM-based education is minimal, the most important aspect of the maker movement is it’s ability to teach creative thinking and a DIY mentality. The tech aspect is secondary.  



During the school year, we provide after-school programming at six neighborhood libraries in North Philadelphia, a part of the city that is 61.6% African-American and 32.5% Hispanic. Fewer than 2% of adults in these neighborhoods are employed in scientific and technical fields, with 65.46% of households earning less than $25,000 annually.  We believe that this is the type of neighborhood where maker spaces are needed most. Through our programming we seek to create a dialogue about race, socio-economics, and gender within the Maker community, in an attempt change these statistics. In America, the fields of science and engineering have been historically dominated by white males, and until recently, Maker culture has been no different. We hope that our program encourages those who haven't been encouraged before, and sparks interest in those who have been waiting for a spark.



Through an opportunity from the Institute of Museums and Library Services, Maker Jawn will be expanding beyond programming for kids and teens and will be providing multi-generational education. It will be interesting to see how programing changes when we have people of all ages learning side by side. Along with this, we’re hoping to explore new hiring practices, with the hope that we can transition enthusiastic members of the community from their role as participants, to paid mentor positions. We’re aiming for a model that will ultimately empower communities in a sustainable way. Currently, our staff and our participants look very different. Our mentors are primarily white, college educated, and from backgrounds where they’ve had access to education, support, and opportunity. The goal is for mentors to better reflect the communities our maker programming serves.



Keeping learning gender neutral is also something we strive for, and struggle with. It’s really interesting, as an educator, to monitor and keep in check your own biases towards gender norms. We’re often surprised to hear ourselves call things that girls make “pretty” or “cute”, while using other adjectives like “cool” or “awesome” for the work of boys. Some of this stuff is so ingrained, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. And sometimes, maybe we do it because we think it will please the kids, which is a bit cowardly. We are so worried about losing their interest or participation, that we won’t comment when they say something gendered. And how much should an educator push their personal beliefs on their students? Sometimes there’s a fine line between prompting your students to rethink some of their behaviours and perceptions, and pushing your own moral agenda.


We try as much as we can to remain neutral unless a child is saying something particularly, harmful, hurtful, or negative. How much should we comment on our girls’ interest in princesses? And does it matter, if the way to get them to be interested in making a robot, is by making a princess robot? Even if you are keeping your space free of gender norms and stereotypes, you are still dealing with the messages kids are getting at home, at school, and from the media, which can vary greatly from kid to kid. Recently, a mentor had a 13 year old girl come in with a t-shirt that said “Jezebel: You toil at work all day for nothing, meanwhile your man is spending his money on me, and you’ll never know”. How do you deal with something like that? It can be tough and awkward to initiate a conversation around these situations.



No matter the child’s gender or background, our goal is to build confidence, take things slowly, and have students develop hard skills at their own pace. By making the activities interest-driven and providing more structure for students that require it, we can attempt to meet the needs of children with different learning styles and interests.

Maker Jawn will be blogging its experiences, struggles, and success as it pilots its new model for multi-generational learning. We think that keeping this conversation going and continually being reflective about what we’re learning and observing, and how that’s informing our program, is the best way to keep an initiative healthy. Stay tuned! You can follow along at makerjawn.org.