10 Questions to Ask Before You Plan Your Library Makerspace

The term “makerspace” means different things to different people and to different communities. Our firm has designed several makerspaces, and each one is different than the next. The first step to creating a library makerspace is defining who your target audience will be and how the space will be used. Equal thought should also be given to how you will staff and operate the new space. Use the following questions and guidelines to help define and create your makerspace.

Defining the Space

1. Who might use the space?
We have worked with several libraries with varying ideas on who would actually utilize a makerspace, based on patron interest. Most libraries want the space to be used by people of all ages, from toddlers to senior citizens, while others have found that their younger patrons are most likely to use the space. Understanding the audience will help you tailor the use of the space and potentially inform where it belongs in the building.

The Forge at Ela Public Library (IL) is an open space with large expanses of glass for learning and placing work on display.

2. How will it be used?
You probably have some thoughts on the types of activities you envision in the space. Inviting potential users to give feedback on their interests through surveys or focus groups is a great way to refine your vision and ensure you are creating a space that meets their needs. Ask yourself (and your users) the following questions:

    • Will the maker activities require technology, such as a 3-D printer, laser cutter, vinyl cutter, high-end software, and AV equipment?
    • Will we need space for crafting and the arts, such as sewing, painting and scrapbooking?
    • Will we feature shop equipment or other potentially loud equipment?
    • Will the space feature STEM kits or be used for collaborative projects?
    • Is this a space to store unusual items that may be checked out, such as telescopes, cooking apparatuses or kayaks?
    • Will it be used for cooking demonstrations or other training classes?

Understanding the answers to these questions and how they apply to your library will determine the potential size and environment of the final space. We have found that a versatile and flexible plan can accommodate most types of activities.

One of the challenges of space for The Makery at Elmhurst Public Library (IL) was to create something bright and welcoming in a basement with no windows.

This small nook makerspace in Waucanda Public Library (IL) is located within Youth Services and is defined by a colorful hard surface floor and lower counter. The staff places all types of materials out on counters and encourages activities such as facepainting throughout the day.

3. Where should the space be located?
The answers to who will use the makerspace and how the new space will be used will greatly impact its placement in the building. For an all-ages makerspace, plan it in an area that is accessible to everyone and is also along a normal path of travel. This allows it to have the most visual impact and generate excitement with a sightline to the activities without disturbing seating or collection areas.

We’ve seen success placing the area near the lobby, the new materials area or near the library’s large meeting room, as in the cases of Ela Area Library and Indian Trails Public Library District.

Other factors to consider are noise from shop equipment, in which case you might consider locating it in a basement area of the library, similar to the Elmhurst Public Library.

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The all-glass entrance system to The Launchpad at Indian Trails Public Library (IL) allows for the learning to be on display.

In the case of Wauconda Area Library, a small maker/craft space was planned to be used only by children, so it was placed directly in the youth area, and Arlington Heights Memorial Library’s makerspace is located within the teen room to accommodate the primary users.

Indian Trails Public Library District has separate makerspaces, including one for all ages, a collaborative/crafting area for middle schoolers, and a craft area for children.

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4. How will we staff the space?
The space size and location may also be influenced by staffing availability and expertise. If there will be dedicated staff, the makerspace can be large and fully equipped. But if a library does not have anyone with expertise or availability to staff the space, then it might be better suited to being a flexible meeting room where pop-up activities and programs can take place. Or, the space can be located within a youth or teen area where it can be monitored, allowing staff to assist patrons with the activities.

Creating the Space

5. What will be our storage needs?
Once it is determined how the space will be used and what equipment is needed to support these ideas, then storage needs can be assessed.

In our experience, general rules of thumb include planning for 30-inch-deep counters, both high and low, which can accommodate most equipment; providing ample floor space dedicated to plotters and/or laser cutters; and providing space for a sink.

You will also want to consider what types of safety equipment you will need and where you will display and store the items.

The equipment and projects at The Launchpad are stored in metal mesh lockers that show off what’s happening in the space. This draws interest and promotes that tools that are visible to people.

Typically, we will design the spaces with both enclosed storage for items that are not meant to be seen or used at all times and visible storage so that patrons can see everything that is available for them to use. This may include sewing machines, embroidery machines or some of the unusual items available for checkout mentioned above. A good example of this is the perforated lockers we created at Indian Trails Public Library District specifically for this purpose.

6. What will be our mechanical and electrical needs?
Some types of equipment, mostly laser cutters and 3-D printers, need additional ventilation beyond a typical meeting room environment. We have accommodated this in several ways, either through adding ventilation when available or through self-ventilation options, which require additional floor space.

Lots of outlets should be placed along the counters and along the walls, and electrical floor boxes that provide power to tabletops are also useful. As an additional option, we have used ceiling-mounted retractable cord reels for power, which have an industrial look and are extremely useful when rearranging tables below.

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The A/V section of The Makery features overhead power and made use of some low duct work to visually define the space.

7. What will we need for staff space?
If someone is going to be staffing the space, then a service desk of some sort will likely be needed. This could be a typical service desk, or it could be an instructional table within the space. An office directly adjacent to the space may also be needed.

8. What will be our display and AV needs?
Some space should be dedicated for display. You might want to display instructions for projects, flyers, items made in the space or posters advertising programs. Some combination of slatwall, magnetic surfaces, writing surfaces (chalkboard or whiteboard) and display cases usually works well. A large monitor or a projection screen can be used for programs or for instructional display within the space.

The A/V workstation at Winnetka Public Library (IL) is fully wired to act as a display monitor for video conferencing.

Slatwall at Winnetka allows for visual display of projects.

9. What will we need for enclosures and flooring?
Makerspaces are typically completely enclosed, although not in all cases. The enclosure could be an all-glass system, and if desired, it could be a retractable wall to create an open, inviting area within the library when it’s not being used as an instructional space.

Typically, some type of easily maintained, moppable flooring, such as sealed concrete or vinyl flooring, is desired in makerspaces.

The new digital media lab, nicknamed “The Thing,” at the Lincolnwood Public Library (IL) is a single room located in youth services with a panelized wall material that both reduces and redirects sound.

Indian Trails Library Tween Space features a collaborative craft table with a hard surface floor.

10. What will we need for furniture?
The furniture provides the flexibility, functionality, aesthetic and the user experience in the space. We’ve seen success with a flexible design and furniture that allows for easy reconfiguration of the space. Tables on locking casters or fliptop tables are useful when you need to completely clear the room or when you need to reconfigure the space from an instructional environment to a group work setting.

Table height can also define the experience. Tables at typical task height are universal to all ages, and they are easy to move. If the space is small, and mostly used by teens, then tall tables can be a fun option. Tabletops should be durable and should be a material that looks great when marred. Reclaimed wood, butcher block and lab tops look great when heavily used and provide a work-shop aesthetic. Plastic chairs are easy to clean and can provide color in the space. We typically do not use casters on chairs in makerspaces because they move a little fast on a hard surface floor.

The new maker tables at The Launchpad are on casters and can be reconfigured easily, which makes for a versatile space.

The open shop and worktables of The Makery make work contagious. The space is both programmed and open to everyone.

As we mentioned above, all makerspaces are different. There are many considerations that will need to be taken into account when planning your space, including your existing and available space, funding, staff resources and your user’s wants and needs. But by asking yourself the questions above, you’ll be able to devise a master plan for creating a makerspace that provides new, exciting services to your library users.

Author

Tiffany Nash

Tiffany Nash

Architect
Tiffany Nash is a licensed architect with over 23 years of experience and is an established speaker and an expert in library design. She has completed the masterplanning and design of many successful library environments and feels that collaboration, as well as understanding the wants and needs of the libraries and individual users during the design process, is integral to a successful solution. Tiffany graduated with a Master of Architecture from the University of Michigan. She also received a Bachelor of Science in Architectural Studies from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and studied abroad at the Ecole d’Architecure et Urbanism in Versailles, France.
Tiffany Nash

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