Working with the MakerBus we’ve had to learn how to do a lot with very little. This is the first instalment of a three-part series exploring how to create library makerspaces with very little (the $100 makerspace), moderate (the $1000 makerspace), and a ludicrous (the $1,000,000 makerspace) amounts of funding. Follow along as we share our experience and insight about how to make the most of your funding to create an awesome space for creative play.
Creativity is priceless
When it comes to creating a makerspace, large amounts of creativity can easily overcome not having large amounts of money. With the proper mindset, even a ream of office paper can provide a library makerspace with endless possibilities.
This summer we ran several pop-up makerspaces at local London libraries. One of our activities used white printer paper, yarn, duct tape, and a three hole punch to teach learners how books were bound during the Middle Ages. Learners were given three sheets of paper, a small amount of yarn, and piece of duct tape and by the end of the session could take home a small medieval-like notebook. We ran this activity at 15 different libraries with about 200 total learners using one package of printer paper, one third of a spool of yarn, and two rolls of dollarstore duct tape.
The maker movement is about embracing the limitless creative potential in everyday objects. Have a look around your library and see what types of surplus items you have laying around. Old books are a great resource for a library makerspace. Have a look at this tutorial for turning old hardcover books into purses for just one example of how old books can be given a new life.
Your community is also a fantastic resource for maker materials. In London we make it known that if community members have a lot of a material cluttering their house, we would gladly take it off their hands. One local restaurant has started donating old wine corks. Boiling these corks makes them easy to slice into small rounds which can then be decorated and turned into a number of different jewelry charms. Another community member gave us a giant box filled with soda pull tabs. With a little patience, these pull tabs can be turned into chain-mail for Halloween costumes.
People are always willing to donate unwanted items to a good cause, invite your community to help stock your makerspace.
When designing your $100 library makerspace, keep these three pieces of advice in mind:
Think before you buy
When creating a makerspace on a budget, ask yourself this question: Do you really need that _______? The maker movement is about more than technology, don’t feel like you need iPads, or laptops, or 3D printers to create a successful makerspace. If you don’t have a specific use for a piece of technology (or the time and drive to learn how to use it), don’t bother spending your money on something that might never get used.
Instead, focus on spending your money on essential things – scissors are always needed in a makerspace and you can never have too much duct tape.
If money is tight, focus on things that you can buy a lot of for very little money. Sites like eBay and AliExpress will quickly become your friend. At the time of writing this post, you can buy 100 assorted colour LED lights for $2.20 (including delivery). While there is a degree of risk using these sites (if a deal seems to good to be true, it might be), it’s safe to gamble $2.20 if you have a good chance of receiving 100 LEDs.
Pre-assembled kits are attractive because they save the time of finding the individual parts, but it’s often considerably cheaper to buy the component pieces. Think about whether you have afford convenience or if you’d rather spend more of your own time to save money.
If you build it, they might not come
Don’t expect people to immediately flock to your library makerspace. Working with the MakerBus in our community, we talk to thousands (if not tens of thousands) of people at various community events throughout the year and of those thousands of people, very few have heard of the maker movement before. Creating a library makerspace is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take time to build an awareness in your community about what a makerspace is and why people should use it.
This gets back to our first and second points, thoughtful creativity is the most important part of creating a makerspace. We’ve seen a number of institutions that think simply putting a 3D printer in a room is enough to build a makerspace. The single most important element of a makerspace is community – that’s something that no technology and no amount of funding can replace.
Talk to your community
Our last tip for building a $100 makerspace is to talk to your community. If you’re community has an existing makerspace, talk to its members. They will be an invaluable source of advice and experience. Invite your community to actively participate in the design of your makerspace and its programming.
Every single person is a maker in some respect. Talk to people about what they make, how they make it, and most importantly, why they make it. You’ll hear about what works, what doesn’t, and how to do it as cheaply as possible.
Remember you’re not just creating a library makerspace, you’re creating a maker community.
What I’d buy with a $100 budget
$10 – 500 LED diodes (red, blue, white, yellow, green)
$13 – 100 3V batteries
While batteries are at best a temporary investment, having a number of batteries on hand is never a bad thing. They can be used with the LEDs to make throwies, combined with unwanted electric toothbrushes to make brushbots, or used in any number of different projects.
People are using GoPro camera for awesome and creative projects. While a GoPro camera costs anywhere between $125 and $400, you can replicate many of these creative projects using a $13 mini video camera. Sure you’ll be sacrificing some video resolution, but these mini camera are a great way to encourage learners to experiment with different ideas for making their own movies.
$25 – Dollar store budget
When you’re building a makerspace on a budget, dollar stores will quickly become your friend. Save some money in your budget to buy critical supplies like scissors, construction paper, tape, hot glue guns. If your library already has these supplies, view the dollar store as a hacker’s paradise filled with inexpensive objects that can be taken apart and remixed. Go on a website like Instructables and search their many amazing dollar store maker projects and you’ll be amazed for the projects you can have in your $100 makerspace.
$30 – MaKey MaKey
If you want to see someone’s face light up, show them a MaKey MaKey. This small circuit board runs a 2V electrical current through conductive objects and allows you to turn anything that conducts electricity into a button for your computer. MaKey MaKey has a fantastic video on their website showing off the device’s near-magical ability to turn everyday objects into musical instruments (NOTE: you will need a computer to use the MaKey MaKey).
$9 – Used Vinyl Records
Used vinyl records can be found in nearly every second hand store in Canada. If you buy a handful of used records, you can make amazing homemade record players using only a sewing needle and a rolled up sheet of paper. This tutorial shows one way of making a DIY record player. I love this project because it’s so easy and gets learners to engage with old technology in new ways. Young learners love this project because they get to make noise; older learners love this project because they get to take a funky trip down memory lane.
The last thing I want readers of the post to do would be to run out and buy everything on my list – view this list as a starting point for building your own original and amazing library makerspace. Use these ideas as a framework and use these web resources as a starting point.
Necessity and creativity are the two strongest forces in the world. Don’t view a small budget as a barrier, view it as a challenge to build the coolest makerspace you possibly can.