26 December 2022
Someone wearing a sweatshirt that says "I like you, but if zombies chase us, I'm tripping you."

Once upon a time, there was a library nestled amid farm fields in Central Illinois.  Now, this library was not big, but its patrons loved the library, and the library loved all the people that came to visit.  The kind people who ran the library wanted to do everything they could to provide materials and services to their patrons that could not be found elsewhere.

One day, the library staff heard about makerspaces, places where patrons could come to be creative, making crafts, using tools they might not have at home, or gathering with other like-minded creative people.  The library staff knew that having a makerspace would be something their patrons would love, but they weren’t sure how to do it or where to start.  They didn’t have a separate room that could be converted into a makerspace, but they knew if they moved a few things around, they might be able to have a makerspace area.  It would not be a large area, maybe only large enough for a single person to work in at one time, but that would be better than nothing.

The library staff thought long and hard about what to put in their makerspace.  If they could only have one machine for their patrons to use, what would be the best option?  They settled on a Cricut Maker, a magical machine that could cut paper, cardstock, cardboard, fabric, felt, balsa wood, cork, and even thin metal!  The Maker could also engrave acrylic, write and draw with markers, and add sparkle to projects using gold leaf-like foils.  The staff bought the Maker and the tools they thought they would need.  They put it in their makerspace area and waited, but no one came to use the magical machine.

Several months went by, and the library staff was sad that no one was coming to visit the new makerspace.  The program coordinator suggested that maybe the reason the patrons weren’t coming was that they didn’t know how to use the machine.  So, in September, the library offered four weekly classes to teach their patrons how to use the Maker.  One of the patrons who came to every single class was a teen boy.  He was quiet and shy, but attentive.  He listened carefully but gave no indication that the Maker excited or inspired him.

About a week after the last class, the boy arrived at the library with some craft materials.  He asked if he could use the Maker.  The library staff showed him how to go online to reserve time in the makerspace, and he set to work immediately.  He worked diligently and soon the Maker was humming along, cutting through the design the boy had created.  When he was done, he thanked the library staff, gathered his materials, and left without showing anyone the project he had been working on. 

Days went by, and the Maker was once again sitting, unused, in the makerspace when the boy returned, this time with his parents.  He was wearing a funny Halloween sweatshirt.  When the family stopped at the front desk of the library to ask about using the makerspace again, the proud mom told the library staff that the boy was wearing the sweatshirt he had decorated using the Maker.  The boy seemed embarrassed but genuinely pleased when the library staff congratulated him on a job well done.

To this day, the boy visits the library two or three times a week to use the Maker.  He has made t-shirts and sweatshirts, designed stickers, created cards, and even made festive home décor for the holidays.  More excitingly, he has taught his father and older brothers how to use the Maker, and often they will come in and craft together.  Other patrons have noticed the boy and his family using the Maker and have asked about learning how to use it themselves.  The library continues to offer classes and encourages patrons to use their little makerspace whenever possible.  And the boy, . . . well, the program coordinator asked the boy if he would be interested in joining the Teen Advisory Board AND being a co-presenter for a teen t-shirt workshop where teens could make their own funny t-shirts, and the boy said, “YES!”

The moral of the story is, it doesn’t matter how big or how small your makerspace is.  Carve out a creative corner, then teach your patrons how to use the things in your makerspace.  If you build it and market it, they will come!

Today's guest blog post is from Donna Forbis, Marketing and Events Coordinator, Illinois Prairie District Public Library