Your Library Can Support Makers Without Having a Makerspace

Some school and public libraries around the world are setting up makerspaces or creative tinkering spaces, but not every library has the space or budget to do so. How can your library support makers without having its own makerspace? There are lots of ways to do it. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Offer Online Training

First, you'll want to make sure that your library subscribes to MAKE magazine. That's a given. 

Beyond that, your library might consider offering the online training service to patrons. That's one way to boost digital competence for the youth and adults in your area. Along these lines, see this recent Library Journal article about Lynda's at-home access for library users.

Of all the digital trainings offered by, the one that offers the highest practical value is the training for Apple's Motion software — $50 software that lets you do powerful "eye candy" storytelling. This is the kind of storytelling someone might use in a crowdfunding campaign.

Support Local Creative Projects

That's another way your library can support makers: invite and facilitate crowdfunding campaigns for creative projects by people in your area. Just today, a crowdfunding campaign in Australia raised $2 million in two days for its Flow Hive invention. It would have been sweet if the local public or school library were involved from the beginning on that project.

Support Young Programmers

Your library can quite easily support young computer programmers in your community, too. Find out if there is a local CoderDojo computer programming club in your area, and if there isn't one yet, your library can help to catalyze one.

You can also buy some books to support such clubs. I've found that No Starch Press publishes some of the best books in this field. (See my recent video review of JavaScript for Kids.)

Get Involved in the Open Source Movement

The maker movement and open-source software movement are close cousins, and there are dozens of ways your public library can be supportive of open source. Does your library have the excellent LibreOffice office suite installed on all public computers?

Offer a fun workshop for kids on using callouts (also called "speech bubbles") in LibreOffice Draw to make animals in photos from the web speak. A few years ago I taught a workshop on this at the annual American Library Association conference. (See an example of this.)

Teach Your Community New Tools and Skills

Getting the maker movement going in your library might involve trying out new creative tools or entrepreneurial programs:

  • Make sure all your public computers have the Inkscape vector graphics program installed. It's a free equivalent of Adobe Illustrator. By the same token, make sure all computers have SketchUp MAKE installed — a free and fun 3D drawing program.
  • Another way of boosting the maker spirit in your town is to ramp up the entrepreneurship trainings and information flow. I highly recommend the new book Create Your Own Online Store in a Weekend. But your community can start dabbling in e-commerce in less than five minutes using Gumroad.

  • Do the people in your community know how to set up a YouTube channel? If they have an existing YouTube channel, have they turned on YouTube Fan Funding, which allows their fans to send them donations using Google Wallet?

Do folks in your community have skill creating screen casts? My favorite screen-casting program is ScreenFlow, for the Mac, but more and more I'm using the free program VokoScreen, for Linux. See my sample VokoScreen screen cast. The maker screen cast I'm most proud of is Adding the roof to an art museum in Google SketchUp.

Promote Physical Making

The above tips are focused on digital making, but your library can also easily promote physical making. Have a monthly "show-and-tell" event where youth and adults can bring in creative projects they made at home. Set out a cardboard box at your library to collect cardboard tubes (from paper towels and toilet paper) for youth to use on a "Build It with Cardboard" day. 

I saw a delightful cardboard tube structure affixed to a wall at a mini maker faire last year. Kids would drop marbles into the top of the structure and watch the marble drop through the tubes. The cardboard tubes were taped to the wall — and easily removed after the event.

The best ideas for your library to support makers do not come from me, though. The best ideas will come from members of your community. Ask them how your library can become more maker supportive and then follow the suggestions that are most feasible and most likely to bring value to your community.

Phil Shapiro works as the public geek at a public library in the Washington, DC area. Check out his MAKE magazine blog posts and his blog posts. Reach him via email at and on Twitter at @philshapiro

Image: Josh Burker / CC BY-NC-ND


I am earning my MLS and have been reading a lot about makerspaces. This was a great article - it provided ways for librarians to foster creative learning in the library when their budgets are tight.