March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ’s Final Fall Maker Workshop Webcast Wows Participants

SLJ’s final fall Maker Workshop webcast gave participants an inside look at successful maker programs. Participants heard from Mick Jacobsen and Amy Holcomb of Skokie (IL) Public Library, followed by Oli Sanidas of Arapahoe Library District (CO). Denton (TX) high school librarian and maker guru Colleen Graves wrapped things up.

Making = Knowledge

“We’re about learning, not stuff.” It was with this apropos assertion that Mick Jacobsen, Learning Experiences Coordinator at Skokie Public Library got the online workshop off and running.

The motto of Skokie, a long-time leader in inventive learning options, is Make Everywhere. It underscores the library staff’s driving belief that people learn best by doing. From the 20+ year-old children’s craft room to BOOMbox, a STEAM middle-school learning space, all its users have one thing in common. They define their own learning experience, while Skokie supplies space, supplies, mentors, and plenty of motivation.

The chat participants were especially responsive to the Boombox themes, planned a year in advance, that rotate regularly between branches. The space functions as an incubator, with each theme using different kits. Recently in the rotation were Fabrications; Big and Small; Gardening; and Textiles. Branches offer family drop-in learning events in the afternoons and evenings. In addition to staff, Skokie also uses paid high school student mentors.

Gardening in one of many rotating themes in Skokie. Image courtesy Skokie Public Library

Gardening is one of many rotating themes in Skokie. Image courtesy Skokie Public Library

Jacobsen is a big believer in the PLA Project Outcome Initiative. Skokie’s performance measures include participation surveys, written in the active voice: “I came to the digital media lab today to _____”  or “Someone helped me to _______.” Staff fill out simple end-of-shift reports about activities and user feedback. While designed for public librarians, this initiative is definitely applicable to school librarians looking to document or use data for program measurement needs.

Begin with Buy-in

Oli Sanidas, Director, Digital and Library Material Services, Arapahoe Library District (CO) is all about buy-in. Without it—from both users and staff—you’re not getting very far with your maker program.

Start with the users. Top priority is to find out what the community wants that it doesn’t have. In many cases, patrons aren’t familiar with makerspaces, so the library is “having a vision on their behalf,” explained Sanidas. When Arapahoe was building its media lab, staff thought about how to engage life-long learners and creators. What kind of projects would they like to take on? How could the library offer cutting edge devices and opportunities?

Appealing to lifelong learners and creators is a priority at Image courtesy Oli Sanidas

Appealing to lifelong learners and creators is a priority at  Arapahoe. Image courtesy of Oli Sanidas

Chat participants voiced their agreement, chiming in about how helpful field testing assignments were in getting user input.

Next up is securing staff buy-in. The best way to do that is to allot staff the time to play around with the trappings of a maker program. Sanidas and his crew gave the staff specific projects, to help them both learn to use the tools and get comfortable with the concepts. Case in point: a contest to build the best book trailer in one month.

Be Awesome

Finally, Colleen Graves, a maker librarian in Denton, TX, spoke about her programming. She offered fresh ideas—stop-motion and “how-to” time-lapse videos make a perfect project—and pointed to several of her newest, most well-received experiments. These include her lesson on the MaKey MaKey site that details how to map sound effects or poetry and turn your class or library into an interactive environment; her “talking book drop” on Instagram; her blog post on Sphero stations and painting with light.

Her newest student group is Circuit Girls, exploring light-up simple circuits.

“Don’t be afraid to have a hard time figuring things out in front of students. Let them figure it out! Create a community of problem solvers,” stressed Graves.

Of particular interest to participants was the wealth of information she shared about purchasing and implementation. A few of the tips she stressed included:

  • Talk to your vendors first about funding. Just be sure to get approved vendor status, if needed. Look into DonorsChoose and the many funding options in Mackin’s Grant Channel.
  • Use social media to promote your program. Blocked at school? Use it anyway! Kids can and do access it with their phones, which aren’t affected by blocking. It expands your reach exponentially.
  • Pitch local media about the big picture; it really helps with fundraising. Stress that you and your fellow librarians still love books, of course. It’s just that now you want to add new interesting options.
  • Don’t let a limited budget curtail plans. You can do a whole lot with a few choice acquisitions. Start with five MaKey MaKeys, three littleBits kits (space kit, synth, and premium), and Sphero. Want to try some coding ideas? Scratch is great with MaKey MaKeys. Also, look at free iPad Tickle app for programming Spheros. For the younger set, try Dash and Dot for beginner robotics.
  • Show something awesome to administrators and visitors every time they show up. “Sharing what you do boosts awareness of your role as an integral instructional partner and how you boost literacy, including visual and coding literacy,” noted Graves.

This webcast was the perfect end to the four-week, interactive learning experience. Collaboration and reflection continues.


Melissa Techman, MLS, NBCT, former K – 5, former public librarian, is a librarian at Western Albemarle High School, Albemarle County Public Schools, VA.

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