The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Media Innovation
Feb 08, 2016

Maker kit program turns libraries into places for content creation, not just consumption

Posted by Victoria Rakowski

Above: Maker kits being delivered to Illinois State Library.

Victoria Rakowski is a public librarian and co-founder of Make it @ Your Library.

Librarianship is a funny profession–the day is often a mixture of hokey jokes from people who haven’t been in a library in years, and strategizing ways to implement robotics and computer coding into programs for everybody from preschoolers to seniors. When people see what libraries actually get up to these days, they’re almost always surprised. So many people in America depend on their libraries to help them forward when it comes to technology, and lots of libraries have answered that call with aplomb, learning as they go.

Make it @ Your Library was founded in 2012 as part of an Institute for Museum and Library Services Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian grant, and our original intent was to help get all libraries up to speed on the concept of makerspaces in the library–or, rather, DIY culture and content creation in the library, versus content consumption. While libraries bring a great deal of technology to their communities, there was no denying the gap in access that exists all over our home state of Illinois: Many rural libraries just aren’t on the same financial playing field as suburban Chicago libraries. We originally began with the simple intention of helping libraries, no matter their budget and ability, bring makerspaces and DIY concepts into their communities. Our mission morphed a bit when we were awarded a Knight Prototype Fund grant in January 2015.

With Knight’s backing, Make it @ Your Library has created Maker Kits that are largely technology-based, and partnered with the Illinois State Library to circulate those kits throughout the state. The kits include everything from engineering toys to 3-D printers, and have been in constant circulation throughout Illinois since November 2015. While more detailed analysis is in the works, “the kits are very popular and fly out the door to another library as soon as they are returned,” according to Kathleen Bloomberg, associate director library operations. This project has been an amazing way to put technology into the hands of librarians who have less to work with, and enabled them to take those possibilities to their patrons through programming and open access.

The opening of a maker kit at Fondulac District Library.

Our big takeaway from this project has been that people will rise to the occasion when they have the tools they need to grow and learn. A perfect example of this comes from Fondulac District Library, one of the libraries that helped us test our 3-D printing kit. Long story short, they broke the 3-D printer, but didn’t give up, fixed the printer and learned a lot in the process. So much of the maker movement is about experimentation and tinkering and with the Maker Kits–breaking and making.

We’ve also learned to dream big when it comes to looking for organizations to partner with, to look not necessarily to the organizations that are most like us, but the ones who want the same things. During our first phase we partnered with Instructables, a website focusing on the DIY movement, and in this phase we’ve relied heavily on the Illinois State Library and their expertise in connecting Illinois libraries. Whatever the next phase of Make it @ Your Library brings, we know we can’t do it alone and that building partnerships is key.

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