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Apr 9 / Philip Zupon

Presenting Maker Spaces: Libraries Are Truly More Than Books

                You have probably heard the phrase “libraries are more than just books” uttered more than once. In fact, I have heard this cliché so often since I entered the library profession four years ago that I am convinced that it has become the 21st century mantra for librarians and their libraries. It is true that the growth of the internet and more recently, the rise of e-readers, have forced libraries to actively reinvent how the public perceives them. For many librarians, this means drawing the attention of their patrons away from the stacks of books and emphasizing the library’s computer stations, both which serve as the gateways to many online resources that those patrons could normally never access on their own home computer without going through the library’s website. However, there is a new trend in public libraries across the United States that is expanding what libraries have to offer beyond the realm of anything that is traditionally associated with libraries. Have you ever imagined a library that offers bike-repair sessions, electronics workshops, book writing and publishing sessions, or even 3-D printing and fabricating laboratories on a weekly basis? Well, you can actually find libraries that offer and host weekly activities like these and much more in the form of “maker-spaces;” a new invention that may revolutionize how libraries serve the public in the near-future.

Maker-spaces are not entirely without precedent. In 1905, Francis Jenkins Olcott, the head of the children’s department at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburg, assisted in the establishment of home libraries in working class houses within the surrounding communities. In these home libraries, Ms. Olcott organized crafts such as sewing and basketry for local kids.  In 1976, the city of Columbus, Ohio used a federal community development block grant to start the Rebuilding Together Central Ohio Tool Library, which served as a tool-lending library. The Tool Library entered a second phase in 2009 when the organization Rebuilding Together Central Ohio took over the operation of the library from the city of Columbus. Today, this unique library continues to lend out tools to the people of Columbus and the other surrounding communities within Franklin County.

In 2011, the first true library maker-space, known as the “Fab Lab,” opened at the Fayetteville Free Library in Fayetteville, New York. The Fab Lab, short for “Fabulous Laboratory,” was the brainchild of Fayetteville librarian, Lauren Smedley. While still in graduate school, Ms. Smedley wrote a proposal calling for the creation of a “maker space” within a public library where people could collaborate, create, and make things. The Fayetteville Free Library was so impressed with Ms. Smedley’s idea that they hired her to make it a reality. As of today, the Fab Lab has expanded to offer Makerbot 3D-printers, video cameras, podcasting equipment, and other digital media equipment all for the purpose of providing members of the community of all ages with the opportunities to collaborate together with their creative ideas and make different things. Currently, the Fayetteville Library is remodeling a wing of its building so that the Fab Lab can have a larger space to offer people a wider variety of resources so that they can put their creative resources to use.

Fayetteville Free Library FFL Fab Lab

Detroit Public Library Hype Makerspace

It hasn’t taken long for other libraries across the United States to catch on to the fact that Fayetteville Free Library might really be on to something. In April of 2012, the Detroit Public Library opened a maker space in its HYPE Teen Center located at its Main Branch. The HYPE maker space provides a wide variety of workshops featuring activities that teenagers can participate in such as bike repair, electronics, graphic design, sewing and crafts, and Arduino robotics.  Cleveland Public Library and Allen County(IN) Public library launched similar maker-spaces of their own several months later. During the previous year, Chicago Public Library had launched its own unique collaborative learning center located at the Harold Washington Library Center known as YouMedia. YouMedia originally began as a vast learning space filled with computers and other digital media where youth could read, play games, and create their own media in many different formats. However, the Chicago Public Library recently received a huge grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to create a maker space of its own that will feature 3D printers just like the Fayetteville and Cleveland libraries. This addition of a maker space to YouMedia might just enable the Chicago Public Library to set the standard for learning and collaborative creativity for the digital age and the 21st century! Library maker spaces are by no means limited to public libraries or large cities. The University of Nevada Reno has opened a maker space in its DeLaMare Science and Engineering Library and the Connecticut suburb of Westport has recently started a maker space at its public library.

3D Printers at the Westport Public Library

The resources for any library aspiring to join the maker-space movement are quite plentiful. The Institute of Museum and Library Services has awarded grants to several large public libraries such as the Chicago Public Library and the Free Library of Philadelphia to start maker-spaces. There are even some private non-profit organizations such as the Maker Education Initiative that are attempting to start maker spaces at both libraries and other community gathering venues. In addition, there is even a magazine, Make, which has been publishing since 2005 and is entirely devoted to promoting science-based innovation and hands-on-learning in a collaborative environment. Many of the idea’s in Make could easily inspire the workshops and activities that many public libraries are currently hosting in their new maker spaces. In fact, around the same time Fayetteville Free Library was in the process of creating their Fab Lab, an article appeared in Make titled “Is It Time To Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make ‘Techshops’” that outlined many of the basic ideas behind the public library maker space.

However, perhaps the greatest contribution that the library maker space has to offer both libraries and the communities that they serve besides ensuring that libraries will be able to remain institutions of free education, learning, and inspiration for creativity into the distant future is the opportunity to promote community involvement in the education of their children and even adults. Yes, there are currently a number of federal and private funding sources that are available to assist communities that do not have the funds to start a library maker space with all of the latest digital and electronic technology. Nevertheless, in the case that a community is not able to obtain enough grant funding needed to create the most up-to-date maker space, there is still an opportunity for the members of the community to come together with the resources available to create a collaborative learning environment at their library that can still be of great benefit to everyone. While 3D printers and the most advanced forms of digital media may be too expensive for a library to afford in a community, or educational institution that is economically limited; a maker space that features bike repair, sewing and crafts, and even electronics is not out of reach if the members of the community are willing to come together to donate their time, energy, and even their own resources to make it happen. The internet and digital revolutions have brought us many new educational resources that have expanded our ability to learn and even expand upon our creativity. However, we have also entered an era in which people have become overly-reliant on the newest and latest digital innovations for both their learning and entertainment to the point where they may not know how to sustain themselves without their devices. Moreover, although the digital revolution has not replaced hands-on-education, it may be causing people to lose site of the value of hands on learning and the unique perspective that it brings to our lifelong educational experiences.

So for those of us in the library community, we have the opportunity of a life-time to take part in an educational movement and offer our communities a service that will enable us to prove that we are truly “more than just books;” re-engage our communities and get them involved in the education of our children, teenagers, and adults; and promote and maintain the value of hands-on-learning and education beyond the digital revolution and whatever other changes our future may bring. If your library does not have a maker space yet, now is the time for you, the librarian, to encourage them to start creating one and then go out there and help make it happen! Maker-spaces are the greatest innovation that has come to the world of libraries since Benjamin Franklin’s first book lending library and the invention of children’s programming. We have too much to lose if we as librarians even think of not joining in.


Good, T. (2013). Manufacturing Maker Spaces. American Libraries, 44(1/2), 44-49. doi:

McCue, T. J. (2011). First Public Library to Create a Maker Space. Forbes. Retrieved from

Detroit Public Library. (2012). HYPE Makerspace. Retrieved from

Institute of Museum and Library Services. (2012). IMLS Awards $249,999 to the Chicago Public Library Foundation to Create a Maker Space. Retrieved from

Springen, K. (2011). What’s Right With This Picture?: Chicago’s YOUmedia reinvents the public library. School Library Journal, 57 (3). Retrieved from

Westport Public Library. (2013). Maker Space. Retrieved from                                              

K. Steele. (2013, February 28). The Free Library of Philadelphia: A Maker Corps Host Site Providing Meaningful Experiences for Teens [Web log comment]. Retrieved from

Maker Media. (2013). Management Team. Retrieved from

Torrone, P. (2011). Is It Time to Rebuild & Retool Public Libraries and Make “TechShops”?. Make. Retrieved from

FFL Fab Lab [Video file]. Retrieved from

Detroit Public Library HYPE Makerspace [Video file]. Retrieved from

3D Printers at the Westport Library – Dan Kain- CBS – Channel 3 Hartford  [Video file]. Retrieved from

One Comment

  1. Valerie Sobczak / Apr 20 2013

    Hey, Philip! Thanks for the HYPE shout-out, looking forward to having you visit again! Also love reading about more than just one program. There’s so much going on with libraries and makerspaces, it’s good to stay informed on all of it.

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