Mobile Makerspaces

makerspace graphic a

Libraries and “makerspaces” have gone hand-in-hand since libraries have had programming. “Crafternoons,” DIY programs, DYI programs, “deconstruction” programs, crafts, STEM, art:  any type of “creation” program that a library holds is a “makerspace” program. The only difference between then and now is that we’re now getting attention and hopefully funding for these types of programs. While we all tend to crave a huge space filled with the shiniest tech and newest materials, within the limitations of library land and teen services, that might well be the last option we get. More often, we get the option of mobile makerspaces. But what works for mobile makerspaces, what doesn’t, and what can actually be done with them? In reality a whole lot, but it takes some forethought and planning.



We always want to give our teens and tweens everything that we can and beyond- it’s only natural. However, when planning out makerspaces, especially mobile ones, we need careful consideration of the needs of the tweens and teens that we’re serving. There are practical questions to consider before running out to your local craft store or going online to your tech vendor and spending all your money. Think about things such as:

  • What needs are there within the programming that’s already being offered, and how will these mobile makerspaces fill them?
  • What definition of mobile are you using? Mobile in that the materials will go to the teens in kits, or mobile in that the technology will move to them (like tablets)?
  • What broad library goals are these makerspaces addressing?
  • What specific goals are you/your department expecting these makerspaces to accomplish and how will they be measured?
  • How big can your makerspaces be? Where will they be housed? Are they going to be shared between locations?
  • Will your makerspaces be available for checkout to the general public? Will they be available for checkout to teachers or other educators?
  • How are you going to move them? How are they going to be secured?
  • What resources will be consumed within the makerspaces and how will they be replenished?
  • How are you going to fund them initially? How are you going to keep up with funding?


At conferences it seems that there’s always a discussion about how makerspaces have to be either high-tech or low-tech; it seems there’s no in-between. That’s not necessarily the case. I’ve had huge successes with high-tech makerspaces (such as raspberry pi programming and wiring) just as well as art based makerspaces. The prep was different as was the size of the makerspace kit, but both worked just as well. SLJ ran an article in May about successful tech mobile makerspaces in a Knoxville, TN school district. They built four carts (art, 3-D printing, production, and STEM) as well as docking stations at each home location with a $50,000 grant. At Madison Public Library, they created a mobile makerspace using a grant from LSTA that includes iPad minis, digital cameras, laptops, play-dough, Legos and other equipment. At previous libraries, I created rotating makerspace kits using duct tape, scissors and books for ideas in one; origami materials, books, and instructions in another; and Lego kits with instructions in a third.  I kept them in my area ready to grab for the next program as I rotated between locations. Each location had a tablet and teens would look up ideas on their phones using the free WiFi.

While many teens and tweens love anything tech-related, blending the tech and the arts makes it easy for everyone to be involved, and paves the way for staff and management to get on board. If you can utilize things you already have while angling for the more expensive equipment (again negotiating between the extremes to satisfy all the parties), it makes for a smoother transition. You automatically block the arguments of those saying the library is going completely digital by highlighting the library’s collection and showing that you’re using books, databases, and other resources for the teens to access during programs. You show that you’re hitting a variety of developmental milestones with teens by building on their technological and visual literacy while also building on social skills and a stronger community. And by blending both high and low tech, once your “high” tech becomes either stale or out of date you aren’t as dependent on it as you would have been had your makerspace programming been completely based on high technology.


What works best for mobile makerspaces? First, answer the questions above and then ask your teens what they want. Then blend the two because what works for one library in one area is not going to work for another, and sometimes what works for one branch in a city might not work for another branch in a similar area of another city. A makerspace program that had huge attendance at a branch I worked at for years in a large metropolitan area was a complete dud for another librarian who did the same program at a different branch in the same system. The difference? A completely different demographic of teens. Mine loved doing hands on crafts and creating things, while theirs wanted more tech programming skills. We flipped programs and it was the exact opposite- mine could care less about learning the programming aspects while theirs stayed for hours afterwards. You are the specialists in your library.  You are the ones who know your teens and tweens.LittleBits_Premium_Kit_(14_Bits_Modules)

What has worked for me? These are some of the more popular kits that I’ve rotated around in systems.

  • Duct tape: rolls and rolls and rolls of duct tape in as many different patterns as possible; X-Acto knives; self-healing cutting mats; books on duct tape crafts; binder containing instructions for favorite crafts and notes on variations
  • Origami: real origami paper (not cut construction paper or copy paper or scrapbook paper); cardboard squares to help with folds; Japanese pop music CDs (for atmosphere, my teens loved it, YMMV); books on origami shapes and crafts with varying degrees of difficulties; binder containing instructions for favorite shapes and notes on how to do them and variations
  • Little Bits: huge collection of various kits of Little Bits such as this kit, along with the teaching guides and tablet with specific tech
  • Raspberry Pis: books and binders with instructions and notes about what to do with the Pis (Pis were kept at each location), such as Scratch programming and Scratch games (minecraft was huge), programming LED lights and sound

Do you have mobile makerspaces in your library? What has worked or bombed for you? What was your process? Share with us!

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *