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Makerspaces in Libraries

Underlying Challenges of Having a Makerspace in a Library

  • Public Library - Client
  • | Team of 4
  • | 09/2016 – 12/2016 (3 months)

Our client is a public library in Michigan. Intent on building new relationships with patrons interested in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) education and/or entrepreneurship. However, they does not have any current indications as to how a makerspace would be perceived, what technology it would require, or how much work and time investment would be needed from staff members. We finally dentified major problems and provided recommendations with a paper report and presentation.

Contexual Inquery
Background Research
Affinity Analysis
Project Manager


Our client’s library serves many municipalities and a large region in Michigan. As public needs have changed, the library has prided itself in changing with them. A makerspace would allow them to fulfill community needs as they relate to technology and content creation. It helps in the sharing of ideas and is a catalyst in raising the technical knowledge in a community.

What might be some of the challenges or concerns if the library were to follow through with a makerspace?

Project Challenge

Diverse group memeber background; schedule a tight plan


What were our contributions


  • Librarians’ Current Workloads Pose a Challenge to Increased Responsibilities.
    • Library staff members have enough work to fill their hours.
    • Reorganization of jobs may affect the workload.
  • Process Management Could Cause Difficulties in the Onboarding for New Roles.
    • The training process for new staff is informal.
    • Informal management of process documentation.
    • Current staff is lacking in formal technology training.
  • Users’ Makerspace Needs are Diverse.
    • Address current demographics in community.
    • Hard to attract youth participation in library events.
    • People in different roles have different expectations.
  • Resource Limitations are a Challenge for Building and Running a Makerspace
    • Budgetary constraints are a common problem.
    • Client’s library coordinates with community partners for sponsorship.
    • Challenges in space allocation.
  • Community Collaboration and Support Plays a Crucial Role in Patron Engagement
    • Entrepreneurship/professional resources are important for retaining local makers.
    • Users can form mutually beneficial relationships at a makerspace.


In light of these findings, we made recommendations to direct our client on the possible creation of a makerspace. When necessary, we provided examples to other libraries and organizations that have followed these steps as well. These recommendations consist of:

  • Scope the Initial Makerspace Services.
    • Select specific makerspace audience.
    • Survey target audience regarding features.
    • Prioritize critical technologies and services.
    • Motivations for makerspace usage.
  • Finance New Services
    • Support from (1) partnerships, (2) grants and (3) sponsorships.
  • Consult Community Experts.
    • Create advisory board of community makers.
    • Consult local makerspaces about training.
      • HYPE Teen Center of Detroit
      • Secret Lap of Ann Arbor
    • Connect with Online Maker Communities.
      • MakeIt@YourLibrary
      • Make: magazine
      • Makerbridge
  • Fulfill Additional Makerspace Time Responsibilities.
    • Redefine staff responsibilities.
    • Recruiting staff & volunteers.
    • Provide instruction next to the equipment.


How we got the insights

To better understand the context, uncover the potential issues of developing a makerspace in our client’s library, and provide concrete, actionable recommendation to our clients, we executed our project in three stages: gathering data, analyzing data and generating recommendations.

Gather Data: Contextual Inquiry

After the initial kick-off meeting, we started our “Contextual Inquiry”:

  • Date: October 25 and October 30, 2016
  • Location: client’s library
  • Interviewees: 4 (2 library staff members; 2 library patrons)
  • Duration: 60-90 mins

In addition, since most of our interviews were conducted during the daytime, we visited the library in the evening to observe the environment, activities and people’s behavior and interaction so as to gain more understanding of the daily usage.

Visited the library in the evening.

In the meanwhile, we also did background research that covered the topic of exploration of makerspaces in libraries, our client’s targeted communities, the emerging trends in library services, and marketing plan in libraries. This research provided our team supplemental information to understand the context deeply and provided more inspiration for final solutions.

Gather Data: Contextual Inquiry

We interpreted the interview notes and annotated them for further analysis. Then we put “annotated notes” on Post-It notes and produced an “Affinity Diagram” by sorting related content and clustering them into several groups for easier management and analysis. We identify five major themes above.

Conducting affinity analysis.
Affinity Diagram
Affinity Diagram
Gather Data: Contextual Inquiry

Propose Recommendations

Finally, based on background research and findings from the affinity diagram, we brainstormed to generate several possible ideas from various perspectives. We then prioritized the solutions, focusing on the most valuable and actionable recommendations with further reference resources.


What did I learn

Things Learned

  • Define the problem & a actionable scope.
  • Don’t select a research method before addressing the problem.
  • I’m a web thinkers rather than a bouncers.
  • People’s change go first then come with technology.