School Libraries Becoming Beacons of the Maker Movement

While more than half of school libraries in the United States and Canada (55 percent) offer maker programs to students, STEM isn't necessarily the biggest focus. The most common offering for almost four in five respondents to a recent survey (79 percent) was arts and crafts. That was followed by coding and programming, delivered at 58 percent of the programs with maker activities. From there, nothing else was provided in a majority of libraries. The sweet spot for makerspaces appears to be middle schools. The survey found that 61 percent of those libraries provide access, compared to 55 percent of elementary schools and 49 percent of high schools.

The survey was undertaken by ed tech company littleBits, which worked with a team of researchers from School Library Journal. The goal of the project was to better understand how school libraries are changing to undertake a role in education innovation. A total of 426 people participated. littleBits sells a platform of electronic building blocks that enable students to make inventions by snapping together components

While nearly half of survey participants (48 percent) reported that maker activities are offered during free periods, almost two-thirds (63 percent) takes place during whole class instruction. And a third (34 percent) said they offer maker activities before or after school.

Maker activities in school libraries. Source: "The Role of School Libraries in the 21st Century Maker Movement" from littleBits Education.

Maker activities in school libraries. Source: "The Role of School Libraries in the 21st Century Maker Movement" from littleBits Education.

The two biggest drivers for librarians on figuring out what to offer has to do with availability of the materials (79 percent) and their cost (78 percent). Also mentioned by most respondents: the time for planning and executing the activities (61 percent), and alignment with curriculum and assignments (52 percent).

Among school libraries that haven't started a maker program, the biggest obstacles cited were the lack of funding and lack of supplies (both reported by 43 percent) and "uncertainty around how to start (31 percent).

Interestingly, the survey found that librarians and teachers don't necessarily coordinate on what maker activities should take place. While most (67 percent) said they work with "some" or "a few" teachers, a quarter (26 percent) said they did no coordination at all.

While the survey report offered myriad tips, the authors emphasized three recommendations in particular:

  • To provide professional development to librarians and media specialists so that they can lead maker-related innovation in their schools;
  • Schedule school meetings so that librarians and teachers can interact more frequently; and
  • Rethink the design of the library to better integrate maker tools, collaboration among students and opportunities for knowledge sharing among students, educators and community members.

The full report is available with registration through the littleBits website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.