Tag Team Tech December 2017

Making the Case for the Portable Makerspace

Janice Scurio

Perhaps you’ve got a fully loaded makerspace at your library. Perhaps you don’t, but you’re interested in the maker movement and providing access to maker tools in your community. You’ve been given a budget to buy some gadgets to make engaging programming for children and teens – it may be large, small, or somewhere in between. So, now what? Will you have a permanent home for this equipment, or will you make it easy to store and retrieve when needed?

You probably already perform outreach. You promote the library’s services by traveling to schools, community centers, places of gathering, public events, and so on. If you’ve got a state-of-the-art-makerspace back at your home base library, how do you promote it to the community?  What do you bring? That could differ, depending on the event or audience. How long will you be at the event? Is a quick, rolling demonstration more ideal, or is an interactive make-and-take activity possible?

Have you considered attending (or maybe hosting) a local Maker Fair? The idea could be intimidating, especially if you may not be familiar or experienced with new maker technologies. Don’t think of it as having to learn something new, but rather, meeting people with expertise applying technology to solve modern human problems. But making isn’t just 3D printing and cutting – making also includes digital media production, crafting, sewing, knitting, and weaving. These are all ways to make and don’t involve buying expensive equipment or hours of staff training. Finding the right tools that work best for your level of staffing, budget, and local interest is easier than you think.

For a portable makerspace, smaller is always better – the more compact and lightweight your equipment is, the easier it is on your back (and budget). Of course, you’ll probably have to justify such a purchase. Beyond “all the cool libraries are doing this,” argument, owning maker equipment that is portable allows the library to extend its reach beyond its physical walls. This gives participants the means, tools, and knowledge to create useful objects to solve human problems – or simply create art for recreational purposes. Making is an inclusive process that is both a functional and artistic enjoyment, and doesn’t have to be limited to expensive equipment with high learning curves.


A 3D printer doesn’t have to be stationary and monolithic – there are plenty of transportation-friendly models that don’t take up a lot of space and are easy to use. The Deezmaker Bukito (http://bukito3d.com) is a (relatively) affordable, lightweight printer that can easily be stored in a tote or backpack and can be hooked up to a computer via USB in no time. At 6.2 pounds, the Bukito is easy to carry – you can even 3D print a custom handle for the machine if you feel the need for one. The Bukito is also unique in the sense that’s it’s one of the few 3D printers that can operate off a battery. However, consider that a 3D printer will need to interface with a laptop computer that runs Cura, a popular 3D printing application – so that laptop will need to be part of your pop-up makerspace arsenal. As for files to 3D print, you can encourage participants to bring their own STL files, or better yet, …bring along a just-as-portable 3D scanner.

The Sense 3D Scanner (https://www.3dsystems.com/shop/sense) is relatively affordable when it comes to 3D scanning technology. It’s handheld and works by waving the scanner over an object (or even a person). The scanner uses proprietary software to create an .STL or .OBJ file that can be loaded onto a 3D printer for production. 3D scanning does make for an interesting outreach activity – children especially will love to 3D scan themselves, which can be done in a relatively short amount of time. Printing, however, may not be as reasonable; a 3D printed figurine from a file originating in a 3D scanner, even in the lowest resolution, may take as long as three hours. If you’ve got a 3D printer back at your library, encourage participants to bring their newly scanned file to the library to print it out later.

A popular and ever-evolving piece of maker technology that has been introduced to the classroom is the 3Doodler (http://the3doodler.com/start). Once a Kickstarter project that received plenty of backing from excited investors in the maker community, the original 3Doodler has branched off into more classroom-friendly models ideal for smaller hands, eliminating hot parts from its original model. The various available kits are transportation-friendly, relatively inexpensive, and project-based, one kit for architecture, robotics, and product design. Possible quick demonstration projects for a 3D pen might include jewelry making – bracelets, rings, and charms are easily created from 3D pens. Product design is another popular use for 3D pens – they’ve been used to decorate and enhance existing objects, such as adding an ID card slot to a phone case.


Of course, 3D scanning and printing is just one form of making – you may have a digital media production lab instead of a space intended for the production of physical objects, and when it comes to creating a portable lab that can travel outside the library, that’s okay, too. A laptop or tablet loaded with the right software is key – free audio editing programs like Audacity and Garageband/iMovie (free on Apple computers) are user-friendly and accessible to all ages. Another great cross-platform, on-the-go music editing app is Soundtrap (https://www.soundtrap.com) which an educational license for a year runs $249 for 50 users, but allows access to loops, synthesizers, cloud storage for projects, as well as the ability to collaborate on projects with other users. Accompanied by a lightweight, high-fidelity microphone, you can create a pop-up audio recording studio wherever you go.

Otherwise, the tools and materials you bring outside of the library should reflect the services you offer inside of the library. Can users get access to a wider array of cameras, microphones, and other peripherals during a library visit? Be sure to mention that. Does your library host classes on DJing, mixing music, and podcasting? Pass out class schedules and inform them of where and when they can sign up.


A pop-up makerspace can serve several purposes – whether it fits into the routine of your regular programming or whether you use it as an outreach tool, your community can certainly benefit from having these easy to carry tools readily available. It will be ideal to have quick demonstrative activities, specifically ones that might solve potential everyday problems such as the modifiable phone case, or perhaps an attachable hook that prevents earbuds from being lost or tangled. Projects that inspire such thoughts as “I didn’t know that was possible,” or “I didn’t know you could do that at the library” are just as important. Memorable maker projects can happen inside or outside the library, no heavy machinery necessary.


Read about River Forest Public Library’s inaugural Maker-Fest which took place this past Fall, organized in collaboration with a dedicated teen volunteer: https://www.riverforestlibrary.org/2017/09/20/maker-fest-meet-ethan/

The original Kickstarter page for 3Doodler, which includes suggestions for projects: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1351910088/3doodler-the-worlds-first-3d-printing-pen

Janice Scurio is a teen services librarian in Madison, Wisconsin. With an extensive background in information technology, she has served as an expert advisor for other libraries looking to implement more youth STEM programming, such as Minecraft and LEGO robotics. When not at the library, she enjoys karaoke, eating sushi, running marathons, and making fun electronic music.



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