MAKERSPACES: Big Projects for Little Spaces

By David Adkins-Brown and Ann Morgester

Working as the Anchorage regional rep for AkASL I have been able to see and hear from almost every librarian in the district on the topic of makerspace. This has probably been one of the biggest topics across Anchorage School District amongst school librarians. Specifically, librarians have been asking he question: What makes a makerspace?

Sheninger, E. (2016)

Many people seem to have the idea makerspaces require large 3D printers, saws, and supercomputers capable of teaching children to program the space shuttle. But what is the function of a makerspace? A makespace provides people with the opportunity to explore and create through the presentation of problems and the opportunity to tinker and make mistakes. With this in mind, a school library makerspace doesn’t need fancy machines or huge amounts of space to be successful and fulfill the above definition. In fact, less is probably more when it comes to school library makerspaces, especially when you might be pressed for space, money, and class time.

The ASD Library strategic plan calls for a library makerspace in all schools by the end of five years. In the meantime, here are makerspace ideas to last ten months as well as make sure you don’t break the bank. All of these small kits should store well in a large shoebox or a slightly larger container.

1: Cardboard loom weaving:


Suomi, P. (2016)

Coding with punch cards has roots in the Jacquard Loom and was formalized into the coding we recognize today by the mathematician Ada Lovelace. Get down to the basics and origins of coding with cardboard loom weaving. Students only need cardboard, string, yarn, a ruler, scissors, and a fork to produce a mat of woven cloth. Include a pattern with X’s and O’s and see what your students can produce.

2: Finger Knitting Kits:

Everyone in Alaska seems to know how to knit or quilt. In fact, I can personally say it seems knitting is a very Pacific NW hobby for men and women. Of course needles cost money, and just learning to cast on might take kids a week to learn. Why not take some yarn (nice ropy stuff for small hands) and create a kit where kids can learn to finger knit? This helps develop hand eye coordination, finger dexterity, and problem solving,

3: Electronic Playdough Kits:

So, you don’t have money for the fancy snap circuit kits and robots. Who cares? Sometimes it’s the simple things kids need to explore. LCD lights, batteries, two wires, and play dough is all you need for this.

4: Fruit Electronics Kits:

Similar to the play dough, this time kids learn about batteries. Just grab some of those oranges they don’t eat at snack time and peel one. Each wedge should be enough for a small LCD light, but they will have to experiment with that to find out. Note: Lemons work best, and the more the better.

5: Black Out Word Poetry:

Everyone wants to do something with poetry, and I always want to do something with the books I just deleted. Blackout poetry offers a solution to both of these issues.

Glimco, E. (2016)

Tasteful, artistic, and puts the A in STEAM; black out poetry will offer all ages a fun time and create something to decorate the library and fridge with.

6: Paper Plate Marble Maze:

When I first heard of this, I thought people meant one of those high standing platform marble mazes that the marble rolls down from top to bottom. Mazes are pathways for our marbles to follow. Keeping this in mind, we can direct our students towards exploring concepts found in disciplines of engineering, i.e., electrical, mechanical, and structural engineering. From this experience with marble mazes, students are experiencing the basics of circuitry, Newton’s Laws of Physics, and basic geometry.

7: Simple Winch:

Engineering and physics are not always the most natural areas for librarians to turn to and explore, but here’s a small project that provides participants with the space to explore both of these. Kids can start with just a pull system and then try out the winch itself.

8: Zine Making:

I am so Oregon. I had to include something about zine making. We have great writers and journalers. We have some artistic people drawing and taking pictures. It just seems a zine would help communicate with many people over a large state that lacks a lot of internet access seen in other places. Zines can provide for all this!

9: Pine Needle Bowl Kits:

When I was in college I had a friend making these all the time. I never tried it but always loved the look and feel of his finished product. You may have to order away for pine needles since the best for this project are usually the longer style needle. I happen to know the former librarian for ANCCS placed a book on this very project in the library as well (La La La…). You can order long pine needles on ebay for about $20.00 for 1.5 lbs. average.

10: Noodle Marshmallow Towers:

Okay, I was going to stop earlier, but I had to include this one too. Have the kids make towers with noodles, marshmallows, and their brains. No using a computer or pictures, this project requires kids to experiment with engineering and math. The answer is always triangles . . .


Sheninger, E. (2016). Free resources to support your makerspace. A Principal’s Reflections. Retreived from

Suomi, P. (2016). How to weave using a cardboard box loom. All Fiber Arts. Retrieved from

Glimco, E. (2016). Poetry in reverse: The art of blackout poetry. Floodmark: Poetry Beyond the Lines. Retrieved from




Basic Steps to Remember in Genrefication

Over the course of the last few years I have seen a repeated conversation crop up on the issue of genrefication in libraries. Everyone, for the most part, seems to be pretty supportive of the idea. I actually wrote a paper for grad school exploring the subject as well; you can see that paper here. Anecdotally, there can be no doubt that the effects of genrefication of a library’s fiction section is positive since the common effects I have seen on circulation numbers for libraries that do genrefy demonstrate the possibility of 7000 item increases within a year of activity (Check out these number here). However, the one thing I feel is missing in the conversation is the best practices for genrefying a library. While still unscientific, here is a list of the five basic steps people have taken towards genrefying their libraries and why these steps are important.

  1. If you are in a school library, then take the summer to genrefy the library.

This should be pretty self-evident, but there are other things to glean from this statement. First of all, the idea of a summer is not a solid figure for length of time, but I have heard from several librarians, through blogs as well as presentations, that anywhere from three to four months is standard for a school library.

This should mean that, when you go to present your proposal to the principal, an average school library should only take a season to genrefy and this is with the help of students.

2. Figure out the subject headings for each genre section.

This might seem like the easy part for a lot of people, but in the end many people have a very difficult time with this. There are a couple reasons for this.

Ontology: Listen, I wish I could make this easier for you, but welcome to the world of cataloging.


photo credit: radientskies


Trying to figure out what your subject headings are can be monumental. You can get into all the arguments of what sorts of fantasy there are and the subtle differences between high fantasy and light fantasy, but let’s be real about this: Do your users care all the time or can they figure it out on their own? Keep it simple. You might just want to use the terms your patrons are using.

School District or Federated Catalogs: You might want to consult with your school district or the main branch. If the head cataloger tells you there is already a list of approved subject headings, then I would suggest keeping with the approved list. One reason for this is the hard work of arguing subject headings has been done for you. It might also be that the list of approved subject headings is going to be used in other cataloging that most front line librarians are not going to have to deal with (Take a look at this from a cataloger’s POV). Remember, you are probably working with a team of library professionals (I’ll skip the para vs professional talk here). Show them a bit of respect for the work they have already done. If you do happen to disagree with a subject heading or want to use another one, then talk to your catalogers and see if you can add one or argue for a replacement.

3. Put those students and parents to work.

The library is more than a reading room; it is a community learning space. Take the people you have and put them to work in creating their library. This can take the form of a learning experience for everyone involved since many students may not know what genres are, much less understand how to differentiate the genres. The same goes for parents, teachers, and principals.

Side note on this: We all know that school principals usually have no idea what a librarian does, but genrefication and shelving projects have been my one way to demonstrate the complexity of what it is we do. I once had a principal and group of volunteers come help me shelve, alphabetize, and shift an entire library over a week. It was during this activity the principal turned to me, with wonder in her eyes, and said, “This really requires three dimensional thinking. I didn’t know it was so complex.” After this, she had a hell of a lot more respect for me and consulted with me more often on a multitude of school activities, both in and out of the library. Gaining administrative support will help you in more ways than you can imagine.

4. Your biggest expense is always going to be labels and tape.

This is not really based on some big study, but after I built a school library as well as spoke with other people, the one thing everyone had to run for at one point or another was tape and labels. You will probably run out at some point. Plan ahead and don’t skimp. You’ll need it, and there’s nothing more embarrassing than having to tell your users it will take another week or two because you have to wait for those very specific labels.


Photo Credit: Semanticseosolutions


5. Keep track of your circulation numbers from before and after.

While many people may see their circulation numbers as merely End of Year report fodder, it is wise for us to remember these statistics can be pulled up at almost any point in the year for things like reports to administration as well as used in grant writing. Keep those number


Photo Credit: Statistics and Maths Tutoring


s handy as well if you want to argue for increased library funds form the school district. If you can demonstrate greater use, your argument for funding goes up as well.

This list is by far not definitive. I’m sure many of you will read over these and have some argument or add in another point of important. But I also hope this post leads to deeper thoughts on what you can do and how to branch out on your programming as a whole. Let us not forget as well, and as I said before, the LIS community needs to take the time to study and research genrefication more. We cannot rely entirely on anecdotal evidence to add efficacy to the genrefication movement.

Charter School Libraries: Different Considerations

Working at Alaska Native Cultural Charter School (ANCCS) has been one of the most gratifying experiences I have ever been through in library science. Not only have I had the opportunity to build a library and start information literacy classes for students, but I have gained the experience of being involved with a charter school.

Charter schools sit within a grey zone when it comes to the public vs private world of education. While they are publicly funded, these schools do not fall under the same rules and restrictions normal public schools do. Programming can be molded into the framework of the charter of the school. Strong philosophies can change the way a charter school not only operates but redefine how classrooms are designed, how lessons are delivered, and what the teacher-student relationship might be.

For a library, the charter school presents opportunities which may not be found elsewhere. For instance, in ANCCS I have been able to create a special collection of Alaskan Native materials. Some of these items are ol9780152656614d and rare; they are never circulated but access is provided to students across the school district. Most public schools would never put money or effort into creating a special collection of this type since they serve a general population, and as can be heard, at least in the Anchorage School District, a school library is not an archive. But we need to remember the charter school is created for a specific type of community who might need very specific needs met.

The meeting of these needs starts by looking at a large spectrum of topics that touch a charter school or private school in general. These topics might cover specific psychological and social areas of interest for educators (think of a Waldorf or Montessori school).  Furthermore a library might need to consider issues of space and design for their collection to meet the needs of the school.

This might childrens_books_creativitymean creating more digital access points for students in the case of a technology focused charter school. As I have said about ANCCS,the definition and focus of our school allowed for the creation of a special collection that focused on Alaskan Native culture and voices.

Being in a charter school has also affected the ways we create access at ANCCS. Our school has been highly influenced by the transitory nature of the Native community. While students are present most of the year, we might have several students leave suddenly to go hunting, visit their villages, or live at fish camps. Within the culture these are all naturally occurring situations with nary a second thought given about the situation. To those outside the culture these are seen as interruptions to the normal flow of education and school activities.

If you are in a charter school library or an independent school library (think special homeschooling programs or even private schools) what topics or special points do you bring into the equation when developing your library? Is there something you have had to consider that many of your counterparts in public schools or traditional school environments might not commonly take into consideration?