My take on makerspaces

From time to time, people ask me about makerspaces.  Instead of recreating the wheel each time, I thought I’d write it all here so I can just send them to my blog!


So to me, a makerspace is a community center with tools, the community in this case being the students and staff at the school.  I don’t have a soldering iron at my elementary makerspace, but I do in my secondary one.  The tools have to be age-appropriate for the audience.

And the tools in a makerspace are varied.  I share Kristin Fontichiaro’s list all the time.  When I first got started, I gave that list to a few students and asked them what we should get.


And do get student involvement!  The maker movement is all about empowering students.  Let it be *their* makerspace by letting them have decision-making power.  I actually have a Makerspace Club, and we fundraiser and do events and all of that.  They make most of the decisions.  But just by themselves, makerspaces can help lessen the digital – or resource – divide.  I have students who got Lego Mindstorms and Makey Makeys and Wacom tablets and 3D pens for Christmas.  Let’s share those sorts of things with the kids who didn’t find those under the tree.

The one thing at the elementary level that I’ve struggled with is getting teachers to see the makerspace as more than just *my* thing.  It’s in a space in the library, we have classes most all the day in the library itself so it’s difficult for teachers to use the space or resources in here.  This spring and summer, I’m going to work to make it more accessible for teachers and students, so they can check out materials.  Barcode numbers and due dates they understand.  (I’ve already started some – I have a Makey Makey checked out to a 4th grader and her parents right now.  She’s going to meet me next week and tell me all about it.)

But even if I succeed in getting the tools in classrooms, the fact is, not every teacher will use those tools.  Elementary teachers are so stinking busy and I honestly feel guilty asking them to put anything more on their plates.  So we do “Maker Week” each month, where students come for their regular Library/Technology special class but instead of what we usually do, we do maker activities.  Those have varied from coding to fusing plastics, robots to braiding yarn, marble roller coasters (with toilet paper tubes) to stop motion videos to marbling paper (that’s this month’s activity).  We hold a maker night a few months of the year and that is for kids and their parents.  We don’t get a huge turn out to that but that’s okay.  I think the people who come get a lot out of it.


Author photo. All rights reserved.

I think kids sometimes get the message that they aren’t in charge of their learning.  It’s all do this and do that, without giving kids ownership of any of it.  I think the library can be instrumental in giving them the message that they are in charge of their own learning.  We can do that through makerspaces, with the type of existential learning that can occur there.  (We can also do that through fighting for our students’ intellectual freedom, but that’s a whole other blog post!)

At the secondary level, makerspaces are a bit easier to set up and for students to use – they have more free time than elementary students – but then it’s on you to do the marketing.  Your audience doesn’t come to you in a specials class – you have to go get them.  Have an assembly, have making contests, do little workshops on making a craft or treat for a holiday.  Keep the makerspace in front of the kids all the time.

OK, so I’ve convinced you.  Now what?  First, educate yourself on the benefits of a makerspace, and formulate a loose plan.  Do you have a room you could put it in?  A corner?  I did a case study on a high school makerspace that is situated in two different corners of the library.  It wasn’t a separate room or anything, just a cart with a bunch of craft supplies accessible to the kids and then a green screen on the wall with a iPad on a tripod.  It really doesn’t have to be elaborate, and it’s probably better to start not that way.  (That library also has Lego Mindstorms and that sort of thing kept away in the back for kids to check out for library use.)  Look around for funding sources – fundraising, material donations, grants.  Then go to your administrators and talk to them about makerspaces and tell them what you’ve figured out.  Maybe they’ll give you some money to get started.


See the other makerspace posters I made here.

If you’re asked to do a makerspace, make sure you have help.  I could not do this without my full-time paras at each building.  They’re my eyes and ears on what the kids do every day, what they’re using, what they’re not, what’s giving them fits.  I’m not always there.

But remember, you and your paras don’t have to know everything.  Think of it this way – librarians are great at facilitation – giving their patrons the books and internet access and meeting space and even cake pans they need (well, North Liberty (IA) Public Library does!). Have we read every book?  Well, I haven’t.  This is simply one more thing we’re facilitating . . . tools.  It doesn’t mean we have to be the resident experts – let our patrons, especially our student patrons – teach us a thing or two.  That’s where their real learning begins. (But safety first, of course.  See ¶2 above, ” I don’t have a soldering iron at my elementary makerspace.”)

Finally, I think Dale Dougherty, current leader of the maker movement (Seymour Papert has the title of “Father of the Maker Movement) said it best:

Kids today are disengaged and bored in school, and as a result, many see themselves as poor learners. We should be framing things in our schools not just in terms of “how do we test you on that?” but on “what can you do with what you know?” When you’re making something, the object you create is a demonstration of what you’ve learned to do, thus you are providing evidence of your learning.” (Dougherty (2012).  The maker movement.  Innovations, 7(3), 11-14.)

Sometimes, librarians will talk about makerspace classes and challenges and grades . . . that’s just not how I do things.  Makerspaces really should provide existential learning opportunities, giving students a safe place to fail.  Dougherty stated, “If schools don’t get the spirit of [the Maker Movement], I don’t think it will benefit them a whole lot” (as cited in Herold, B.  (2016).  Maker momentum.  Education Week, 35(35), 28-30.)  But when they do?  The sky’s the limit.

(And that shushing thing?  You’ll have to give that up.  Makerspaces are usually loud and messy.  But so is learning.)

Taylor, Laura. ‘Day 174: Amazing Push-Button Shushing Action!” CC BY 2.0


My Dad, the Maker

You might know that one of my passions is the maker movement. I speak about makerspaces often, and I plan for my dissertation to be on the subject. Truth be told, though, I’m really not much of a maker myself. I mean, I cook, but going off-script, eschewing my cookbook collection, is actually out of my comfort zone. I’ve made baskets but it’s been more than a decade since I did that. I’ve sewn before, but I haven’t done mending in ages, let alone straight-up sewing. Oh well. That’s actually something I stress when I present on the topic – that you don’t have to be a maker yourself to have a makerspace. It’s about facilitating the work and creativity of others, and I definitely can do that. 

But the recent Make issue got me thinking. It has a piece about leathercraft. Leathercraft?!  My dad used to do that. He would order these Tandy kits and make wallets and belts and that sort of thing. It seems very 1970s-esque, so I was surprised to see it in the bible of the maker movement. 

And my dad did woodworking.  Turh be told, my dad was a little competitive and when my brother took shop class, my dad decided to take up woodworking. He made me a beautiful oak desk that I still have, and will always treasure. 

The epitome of his making was, of course, his house that he literally built with his own hands. When I became an adult and someone would tell me that they were building a house, I quickly learned that that did not mean that they were building it themselves, like my dad did with the help of his dad and sons, but they were paying someone to do so. Later, he remodeled the kitchen and made all new cabinets. Not buy, but he made them himself. Really fancy ones, too. 

You know, I still have those basketry supplies. Maybe I should get those out . . . 

RIP, Dad. The original maker in my life. 

Lion Love

A special education teacher recently asked for a children’s book that had a strong storyline for an upper elementary student to identify actions and consequences in text.  I walked her to the picture book section of my library (which looks like this):


And scanned for books.  I quickly found one of my favorites:


Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen, with pictures by Kevin Hawkes.  It’s the story of a lion that happens to find his way into the public library and all that happens – good and bad – because of it.

But that got me thinking of another picture book that has a pretty substantial storyline, again about a lion and libraries:




Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty.  It won the Caldecott Medal in 1939.

Well, then THAT got me thinking of pairing up these great lion books with a nonfiction text:



Lions:  Life in the Pride by Adele Richardson.  The series from Capstone Publishing, Wild World of Animals, is really popular.  We have 29 of the books in the series, which isn’t even all of them.  (You can see the ones we do have here.)

It’s fun pairing up books like this!


Book Review

Descriptions of Heaven by Randal Eldon Greene is the story of a small family dealing with an impending grief. Death looms large in this novella, where the protagonist, Robert, must say goodbye to his wife, Natalia, whose body is riddled with cancer. Several poignant scenes stay in the mind long after the words pass, including when the couple takes their young son to their annual pumpkin patch visit and Robert encounters an old friend. A cerebral read, Greene’s ethereal prose matches the heady topic, and his characterization is impressive, especially considering the truncated format. I knew the ending before I began, but in this case that isn’t a complaint. In fact, had Greene done otherwise, I would have felt cheated as a reader. When reading Descriptions of Heaven, make sure to have your dictionary nearby because you’ll definitely need it. Greene’s offering is a strong contribution to the literary fiction genre and portends a promising career for this young author.

Ranganathan & the 21st Century Library

I did a “Tech Talk” for a class I’m currently taking, and I thought I’d put it up here in written form on my blog (that I’ve ignored lately).

S.R. Ranganathan

You’ve probably never heard of him, but this guy is one of the foremost leaders of my field.  You see, I’m a teacher librarian, and S.R. Ranganathan is regarded as the father of library science of India.  Now I’m not Indian, yet his 5 laws of library science are as relevant today as when he articulated them in 1931.  In fact these laws really encapsulate my philosophy of what my library should be.

I’m Christine Sturgeon, and let’s re-imagine libraries for the 21st century.


Chicago Architectural Photographing Co. photo.

Listen, I get it.  Libraries?  Who needs libraries when you can get information at the literal push of a button?  And librarians?  Oh right, those women who shush if you’re being too loud and who wear cardigan sweaters and reading glasses and their hair in a bun.

OK, so I resemble that remark.  But let me say two things.  Men can be librarians, and I don’t like to shush.  I mean, sometimes it’s necessary, but I really try to avoid it.  And the thing is, libraries are a lot more than repositories of books these days. If you haven’t been to a library lately, you’re missing out.

shushing librarian

And librarians?  We’re much more than our stereotype.


So back to Ranganathan.

He was a mathematician-turned-librarian who actually hated his job at first.  He was used to being a college professor and the traditional library was just so quiet and lacking in energy.  So he went off for training overseas and he came back with a newfound vision of what his library should be.  He wanted it to be the intellectual and cultural center of his campus.  He was definitely a man ahead of his time.

But he was a man of his time, too.  He traveled by steamship and he corresponded with Melvil Dewey, the other father of library science.  And you’ll notice he’s a bit old fashioned in his language, but we can fix that.

So here’s the first one.  Books are for use.

Books are for use

Image from

Like I said, libraries are a lot more than books, so let’s change that to

Library resources are for use

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I mean, I love books, don’t get me wrong.  I want a strong print collection, and there’s nothing better than preschool storytime.  But we’re more.  I know of libraries here in Iowa that check out vegetable seeds or laptop computers or bicycles or puppets or cake pans.  In my own library, we have a 1,000 books before kindergarten program and we check out backpacks to little people with 10 preschool level books to be read to them at home.

So here’s the second law.

Every reader his book

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Again, it’s not only books, and we’re not all men.  So that becomes:

Every patron their library resource

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Sounds simple enough.  If you come into the library, you should be able to find what you’re looking for.  My high school’s science teachers have their students read a literary nonfiction book on a science topic over the trimester, so we have over 100 books, everything from Silent Spring to The Physics of Star Trek. 

And the PE teacher, Mr. Harman, he wanted to better communicate with a student who uses ASL, so I asked a friend and he suggested I get these cards:

ASL flash cards

Image from Amazon

And I did, and these are available for checkout in my library.  So yes, sometimes resources are books, except when they’re not.

Then there’s my daughter, with me, and she had a high school reading class.  She had to do a project on a book she read, and she read World War Z.  She decided to do a zombie puppet show, and she found a Youtube video that showed her how.  A trip to the fabric store and $80 later, she’s ready to go.  But there was a problem.  Now this is important.  I want you to know I’m a woman with a sewing machine, but I’m also a woman who didn’t know where her power cord was.  So what to do?  Abby went to the home ec teacher and used one of hers. Great.  The thing is, what if Abby didn’t have a study hall?  What if they didn’t get along?  What if the home ec teacher was really territorial about her tools?

Instead, what if we have a space in the school where kids can use resources like a sewing machine, a video camera, a 3D printer, a vinyl cutter, to do school projects.  To do things for 4H or Girls Scouts or just because they want to.  We have a place like that and it’s called a


Image by Josh Anderson, used with permission

I have a makerspace in both the elementary and secondary libraries, and libraries across the country are increasingly putting them into their spaces.  I think it’s changing the very definition of libraries and doing so in a positive way.

So here’s the third law:

Every book its reader

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Just a little tweaking, and we get

Every library resource its patron

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Which this just means, we try not to waste money.  The things we buy we buy because someone asked for it, or we believe with the right marketing, that they’ll use it.  So that really puts the responsibility on us.

Now the 4th law:

Save the time of the reader

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Again, we’re not just about books, so that becomes

Save the time of the library patron

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One big way of doing this is thinking about how we organize our books.  I use the bookstore model, so fiction books are organized by genre, like mystery or romance or whatever.  So when I have a class of 25 5th graders come in who each need a mystery book, I don’t have to rack my brain to remember who wrote Encyclopedia Brown (Donald Sobol, as if), and just point them to the mystery section.  And nonfiction is done using not Dewey Decimal – sorry, Melvil – but the BISAC method, like bookstores use.  So there’s cookbooks and philosophy and travel, and these are all put alphabetically by topic.  Frankly I think it’s a lot easier to find a book in my library than a bookstore!

And of course the makerspace saves time for patrons.  Not having to rush around to find who has a sewing machine you can borrow has its advantages.

The fifth law then is

The library is a growing resource

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And this one needs no changing.

This is why I think Dr. Ranganathan was brilliant.  Even 85 years ago, he understood that the library would change.  I frankly believe he would approve of seed libraries and 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten programs and makerspaces.  For libraries to be relevant in this century, we have to continue to grow.  And to all of you I say, come to the library and check us out.

The library - a great place to get checked out

Image by Mental Floss

Book Lovers Club

Someone asked on a teacher librarian listserv:
After seeing the excitement for Battle of the Books, I am convinced I could easily find a handful (to start) of upper elementary students (thinking grades 4-6) to start an elementary book club. I’m thinking they could bring their lunch in and we can eat and discuss their books – nothing formal or fancy, just relaxed and something extra for them to look forward to each week.  Does anyone have any experience with implementing a book club for students in these grades?
And per my usual, I started to write a long reply.  But I think it’s better as a blog post!  So I’ll just respond with a link to this.
Here are my kids in the spring of 2001, vacationing in Jekyll Island, Georgia:

Oh, aren’t they cute?

On the way home to Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee . . .
. . . we stopped at the Jimmy Carter National Historical Site in Plains, Georgia:

One thing at the historical site in President Carter’s old high school (which became his presidential campaign headquarters) was a picture of his principal, a steely woman named Julia Coleman, and mention that she helped lead a “Book Lovers Club.”  Huh, my kind of group, I thought.  I loved books, too.  That got me thinking.


So after spring break, the kids went back to school.  My two older daughters were in a combined 3rd-4th grade, and the teacher had asked for parent volunteers to help proctor the standardized tests.  So one day, my husband came, and the next I did.  (We were there in case someone had to leave the test all of a sudden, so Mr. Shafer could stay with the rest of the class.)  Of course, we brought books to read, in fact, I brought two, as I had just finished reading a book and I wasn’t sure which book I wanted to read next.

A little girl with a very strong Southern accent said, “Gosh, Libby!  Your daddy reads, and your momma reads too?  That’s weird!”


That’s weird!

And then THAT got me thinking more.  I decided I should start a book group for children, so naturally, I went to the librarian.  This was my children’s first year at Charlotte Elementary, after first enrolling them at Vanleer Elementary (this was after a few years of homeschooling).  The librarian there, Sandy Buckner, was awesome.  And I had in the back of my mind that someday I’d be a librarian.  I’d done some cool programs with Mrs. Buckner, and she liked me.  (She retired in 2005, and I wrote her a few years ago to tell her I became a school librarian, too.  She responded, a letter I cherish.)

So I went to this school’s librarian, who shall remain nameless.  (I checked; she’s not there anymore.  Good.)  She was extremely negative, responding, “How will you get many copies of the same book?  Our kids are poor!”  (Okay, point taken, there are poor students everywhere (though this school had nothing on Vanleer), and in no way, shape, or form, was this going to be a cost to parents or kids.  So that did help me recognize an issue I needed to address.  But honestly, woman.  You are a librarian.  Be a problem-solver.  [Another aside.  Once my girls had both forgotten their pencils to bring to Library class.  Because, you know, worksheets.  And she said to the whole class, “Oh, I guess the Sturgeons can’t afford pencils!”  I put this blog out on my signature line for my work email, so I’ll stay classy and won’t use the language I really want to use about her.  But that is not how you treat children.])

So I went to Ernestine Adams, who at the time was assistant principal.  (She’s now the director of elementary education there, which, I should say so, because she’s amazing.)  She’s a smart lady and knew a good deal when she saw one, so yes, of course I could start a book group, where kids could participate for free.  And get free breakfast treats too because yeah.  It was before school and I love donuts.


So, yes, I went to my personal hero, mentor, and friend, Tori Ross, a children’s librarian at the Edmondson Pike Branch of NPL, and she hooked me up with a new library card (I didn’t want to use my personal one, because you know, 25 item limit.)


It’s been 14 years and she hasn’t changed a bit.

We started the next fall, and the Book Lovers Club was open to fifth graders.

We read great books, like A Year Down Yonder, Black Beauty, A Single Shard, and Because of Winn-Dixie (among others).  I gave the students some options – books I could get 10-12 copies of – and the kids chose.

We met once a week before school.

One teacher came.  She didn’t know it was for kids, but we liked having her and encouraged her to come.  She mostly did.  Every week, about 10 students came, though there were some who didn’t come every time.
We made the yearbook!  I’ll post a picture when I find it.
At the end of the year, I made a book diary for the kids.  My daughter kept hers.

Poor Libby, we tease her about her handwriting.


Hey give me a break, it was Microsoft Publisher in 2002. I liked funky fonts and border art, okay?

All in all, it was a great experience, and I’d do it again.  If there wasn’t like, makerspace, and high school classes, and video production, and 1KB4K, and a thousand other things getting done and not getting done.
But things are different, too, so here are some things I’d do or have to consider:
*Was I so successful because I was an outsider?  Or because I’m just me?  wink  I would consider finding a parent volunteer to help, anyway.
*How to get the books?  Without a big public library system nearby, I’d have to rely on the AEA or borrowing from other school libraries, but that’s not going to get me very current books.  Maybe I’d fundraise to get new books?  Maybe if we did it monthly instead of weekly, the school would fund it?
*These days, I could get some titles as ebooks with unlimited simultaneous access (if I’m lucky).  But even if I can get books the kids want to read, who wants to read a novel on a Chromebook?  A Kindle is one thing, a Chromebook is quite another.
*Could I get as many students to participate?  The 10 or so regulars I had was a great number, but this was in a school with five classes per grade, i.e., about 125 students.  So 8%?  Is it worth the trouble in my school if I get only 4 students?
I don’t remember if that little girl who exclaimed that it was weird that my husband and I both read books participated or not.  I hope she did.  I do know that many of the kids didn’t have parents who read at home, and for that, I think I made a difference.  I should have continued to do it, but you know, life.
So, do you do a book group for students?  How do you get several copies of new titles?