Making library makers: A practical guide to developing digital making opportunities through openness and collaboration

This is the readable version of a talk that Carlos (Makercart) and I gave a talk at the recent CILIP 2016 conference in Brighton.

First, a bit about us. Carlos is the creator of the Makercart project, a pop-up makerspace for libraries and other community organisations and Kate is co-founder of Artefacto, a creative technology agency that works with libraries, galleries, archives and museums. We collaborate on various makerspace and making type projects and training for libraries.

Makerspaces in libraries

What’s a makerspace? Well, if you ask 100 different people to define makerspaces, you’ll likely get 100 different answers. For this talk, we went with a bit of a library-convenient definition provided by the awesome Library as incubator project:

“Makerspaces are collaborative learning environments where people come together to share materials and learn new skills”.

And so while new technologies that are associated with the maker movement, like open hardware devices, 3D Printers etc, are important, arguably the most important part is the collaborative learning, sharing and new skills part of the equation. Just putting a 3D printer in the corner doesn’t create a makerspace. There needs to be knowledge sharing and a culture of collaboration that you build into that space.

And this is perhaps why there’s been such an easy affinity between makerspaces and libraries.

Knowledge sharing and access are already in the library wheelhouse. I’m sure it’s not news to anyone here that libraries are at a particularly difficult junction right now — with massive funding cuts and staff reductions while at the same time being asked to do more and be more for their users. So while we can be skeptical of any new demands for libraries to do even more things, I think we’ve got a huge opportunity here for libraries to reimagine how we tackle digital literacy and digital exclusion.

And digital exclusion is a huge issue. The latest figures for the UK is that 12.6 million adults lack basic digital skills and 5.8 million adults have not accessed the internet at all.

But what do we mean by basic digital skills, and how do we provide training for skills that will keep changing and evolving as rapidly as the technology does.

It’s not about teaching specific skills and using particular software, but about how we create environments and experiences that support and enable learners to engage with new and emerging technologies confidently, creatively and critically.

And that ‘critically’ is important. Libraries are at the heart of this – providing access to people who otherwise don’t have access and support for those looking to gain this knowledge.

These skills need to be future-proofed as much as possible. And a creative collaborative learning environment is key to this.

Being able to access emerging technologies, to try things out, and even to break things on occasion.

Forming partnerships is a potential way forward both in terms of service provision and skill-sharing.

LibraryMakers and the Makercart are two projects that are attempting to do this in their own ways.

First, Carlos will talk about how the Makercart project came about and then Kate will talk about the LibraryMakers project.

The Makercart project

The story of the Makercart starts over 2 years ago (Spring 2014). When watching the news late at night I discovered about littleBits, a modular magnetic electronics prototyping tool for over 8’s. As an educator I could see the potential of such a tool and it got me started on my Maker Education journey. Through littleBits, I learned about STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Design, Maths) and found the book ‘Invent to Learn’ by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stagger. This book is an amazing resource for Maker Educators!

I visited London’s makerspaces, visited Brighton’s Mini-Maker Faire and other events such as the Festival of Stuff at the UCL Institute of Making. I became fascinated by what I saw, the educational potential and it got me thinking… “we need a makerspace in every neighbourhood”.

Soon I realised that a makerspace requires a lot of space, equipment and staff, so I started to look into portable, mobile makerspaces… and developed the Makercart concept based on what others have done and shared.

After drafting the initial Makercart idea, I started to skill up: build my 3D printer at the newly opened London Fablab, took an Arduino course with Massimo Banzi at Makerversity, subscribe to Make magazine and started collecting books and researching into the people, projects and tools used in makerspaces which carries on to this day…

I built the first Makercart prototype in early 2015 and took it to the CITYLIS unconference in June that year. During this event I met some of the most interesting librarians around, it was a moment of pure serendipity!

When developing the Makercart I had schools in mind (and still do) but the reception it received from librarians was amazing and am now working with Librarians I met there!

Guildford library are the first library to acquire a Makercart. We’re currently in the process of training staff and volunteers and together we are delivering a summer maker program for children. The people who have come forward to volunteer are amazing and there are ambitious plans to transform the library into a collaborative environment with technology at the centre of it.

So what’s in the makercart? There is a 3d printer, digital cutter, electronics, micro-controllers and robotics. But most importantly: the people (staff and volunteers) and projects you can do with it!


LibraryMakers was initially created as a way for us to share our documentation and other resources we’ve developed in delivering maker events and training. We saw that there wasn’t really a way for library staff new to this space or looking to get started with making to learn about the technologies involved and to share ideas.

And it’s an early iteration of an idea that we are keen to make more collaborative and more community-driven. I

t’s currently a static site, hosted on Github. You can report issues, request features or content or add comments to different pages on the site.

We’re not 100% tied to this approach going forward and always welcome feedback and ideas of how we can improve things. We’re also developing an online course for people interesting in library making, you can find out more at

If you’re interested in finding out more about these projects or want to discuss library making with us, please get in touch. @katelomax @Carlitosi71