Top Tips for Running a Makerspace

Makerspaces are collaborative learning environments where people come together to share materials, explore new ideas, create, innovate, play, network and learn new skills.  They are exciting places for all ages to learn about STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths) related topics and make perfect sense for public libraries to expand their offer into this area. Redbridge Libraries created their makerspace Lab Central in 2017 with funding from Arts Council’s LOFE programme. Since then thousands of people of all ages have discovered and taken part in a diverse programme to inspire and
nurture a new generation of scientists, inventors, artists and makers.

If your library service is interested in creating a makerspace we have a few tips and suggestions to help guide you through the process.

Identify the need

Before investing time, money and energy into buying equipment and designing a space, you need to establish if a makerspace is appropriate for your library. Consult with your regular users and non-users to find out what they want and need from a potential makerspace in your library.

Do your research

Next spend some time to find out what has been done elsewhere and what has been successful. Go and visit some in person and learn about different types of makerspaces such as dedicated spaces, temporary pop-ups or maker events and establish which approach will  suit your library service best.

Involve your stakeholders

A successful makerspace is one that has been designed in collaboration with the people who will be using it and those that will be running it.  Create a steering group made up of library staff, potential users, delivery partners and volunteers to help shape the design of the space and the programme that will take place in it. There is no one size fits all approach – different users will have different requirements so think about incorporating flexible furniture and layouts as well as curating diverse programmes.

The Physical Space

A makerspace can be any size you want it to be. You can give over a small corner of your library, or dedicate a whole floor to one. Go for a ‘pop up’ approach if you are unable to create a fixed dedicated space.  Your makerspace is going to be full of excited participants, choose a location appropriate for raised noise levels! Even if you start with limited resources your equipment will grow with time, so think about storage at the very beginning.

People

You will be surprised at the hidden talents and passions which exist amongst your staff so start with finding out who already has STEAM skills and knowledge and those who are willing to learn. Having them on board from the beginning, shaping your offer will mean a higher degree of success for your project. Your local community are also really important – create volunteer roles where local people with the relevant skills and interests can help with the delivery of activities. Volunteers who play an active role in shaping the programme are generally more likely to turn up and be committed to making the programme happen. Local universities, colleges, secondary schools and companies often have people willing to get involved in community projects. STEM Ambassadors  is a programme that links STEM volunteers with local opportunities. Over time invest in a development programme for key staff who can cascade the learning across your workforce and develop the programmes across your library network.

Equipment

Choosing equipment will be an overwhelming task at times but also an exciting journey of discovery! Talk to other library services and test drive their equipment before you commit to buy, especially high cost items like 3d printers.

Start by picking low cost equipment that is simple to use. Our top 5 things to invest in when starting out are:

  • 5 x Copper foil tape
  • 300 x LEDs fob
  • 10 x coin cell battery (packs of 5)
  • A selection of Augmented Reality books
  • 10 x Cardboard VR
  • 10 x Micro:bit basic kits
  • 10 x tablets – iPad or Android

The above items range from under £10 up to £350 for a decent tablet.

Only invest in more expensive and complicated equipment once your staff become more confident and skilled. The arrival of new equipment will be a thrill, consider in advance who will ‘unbox’ it and more importantly, learn how to use and maintain it.

Regular maintenance of equipment and software updates are really important considerations and don’t underestimate the amount of time this can take, so be prepared to scheduled time to do this.  Allocate part of your budget to deal with any equipment that needs repairing because it can and will fail or break! Have someone covering your back to deal with the issues and repair your kit when possible.

Suppliers will ALWAYS release newer versions of equipment – do not rush to update these each time, make the most of what you have got!

Programme

There are endless possibilities of things you can make and do in your makerspace! Join forces with local providers such as colleges, universities and local businesses who can deliver activities on your behalf. We recommend the following sites to help your staff and volunteers get started:

Our ultimate tip is to start small in all areas and slowly build things up as budget, confidence and interest grow. A maker space can start on a small table and grow into something more substantial over time so don’t be in a hurry to get there – it’s taken us 4 years to get to where we currently are. In that time, we have tested what works best for us and have created a main makers lab in our central library with a  spoke model  operating in our branch libraries.

About us

To see Lab Central in motion follow our youtube channel.

We organise Lab Central visits and training days for library staff at various points of the year. For further details, please contact library.information@visionrcl.org.uk

Follow us on social media to keep up with what we are doing @Redbridgelibs.

Contributor

Anita Luby, Culture, Libraries & Heritage Services Manager

Vision Redbridge Culture & Leisure (VRCL)

VRCL is a charitable trust delivering Culture, Library and Leisure services on behalf of Redbridge Council.