Making Your Makerspace Work | Part 4

The following is an abridged transcript of a lecture I gave for an ALSC online workshop I taught from 2017-2018.

This week, I want to talk about programming – not in the computer sense, but events that we facilitate for our users. I’ll break these down into 3 categories and briefly share my thoughts about each. There may be some expected crossover among categories, but I think it’s helpful to take these distinct approaches to programs. Of course your mileage may vary – so do what works best for your space and your users.

Passive Programming

Passive, drop in, take it and make it – whatever you call it, these are events that you plan out in advance that patrons can just pop in and do quickly on their own time. These can be themed around certain holidays or events, or they can be around a specific activity. At Xavier, we have the alliterative “Maker Monday” (which is hardly a unique title, but it gets the idea across). Each Monday, we set out all the materials needed for students to complete an activity either between classes or on their lunch break. We plan each week for the semester in advance for our sanity, but feel free to just have materials at hand that you can bring out when you feel like it. Maybe for the after school crowd, or for story times. Our most successful Maker Monday by far has been ceramic Sharpie coasters. It takes about 10 minutes from beginning to end and patrons have something practical that they can use in their daily lives. Keep these activities quick, fun, and accessible. If it takes too long to complete an activity, patrons will lose interest and move on to something else. Save the more advanced or complex tasks for the next category – which brings us to:

Scheduled Workshops and Events

Scheduled events take a lot more planning. These often include purchasing special equipment or materials. Depending on your situation, it may also require participants to register in advance. Your policies may require all events to be free – keep this in mind when purchasing materials and shop around. Amazon does not always have the lowest prices. If you charge for events that require special equipment, most people who register will show up as they have already made an investment.

Have the same event at least twice – even if you have zero participants the first time. Oftentimes, people will only hear about an event after the fact so it is important to give them other opportunities to attend. This is a good way to build buzz in your community. Make people feel bad that they missed something awesome, and they will make sure not to miss it again.

If your event requires setup, prepare well in advance. Move the furniture, test the projector, gather the materials, test the electrical outlets or software your patrons will be using. Always have a backup plan. Web sites will go down when you need them, computers will crash, power will go out, 3d printers will fail.

Promote the heck out of these. Social media, your PR department, local newspapers, word of mouth. Contribute a blog post for your organization’s blog.

Schedule consistently. It’s fine to experiment with different times, but when you find something that works, stick to it. I have had a lot of success with children’s or whole family events on Saturday mornings. Adult events, mid-week evenings. If your area has a large home-schooling population, mid-week mornings or afternoons generally do well. Again, every community is different – see what works and don’t be afraid to experiment with times. Even after-hours or late night events can be successful as it gives the participants and sense of ownership of the space.

If you require registration, only open registration a week to a month prior to the event. Any longer than that, and people will forget they registered and not show up. It’s usually fine to overbook for an event – if I can support 20 participants, I take registration for 25 + a wait list. 

Going on the Road – School Visits and Maker Faires

Outreach of all types is vital to what we do – sometimes we have to go on the road. These trips are always a pleasant change of pace and they show others that we are active participants in our communities. Make connections with teachers at other schools – even schools that don’t have makerspaces. Talk to other library systems. Do regional events like maker faires, book shows, or county fairs.

Have a few planned, canned events that you can facilitate at any time with minimal preparation. Have them pre-packaged with detailed instructions should someone else ever need to facilitate in your absence. If you work in a larger library system, it can be helpful to ask for coverage while you are out and about. Be actively involved in community planning groups and STEM organizations. Think outside of the box and go to events that don’t necessarily fit under the traditional umbrella of schools and libraries. You will be surprised who you meet and what relationships you cultivate.

Most importantly – have fun doing it.