Getting Buy-­in for Your Makerspace

Graves_Getting-Buy-In-and-FundingAs the maker movement sweeps the nation, many school librarians are in the early planning stages of incorporating a makerspace into their current programming. Some libraries are struggling to get buy-in and funding from administration, while others are still figuring out how to transform their space. What are the right tools you need to get buy-in and jumpstart makerspaces in schools?

Pathway to Purchasing

First off, it’s not just about getting funding, but knowing who to buy from and getting them approved in your district. The first question you need to tackle is, “How do you go about getting vendors approved?” Every district is different, so work with your director, your purchasing department and your bookkeeper to find out how to get vendors added to your library bid list. If your district utilizes “sole source” companies, email companies like Sparkfun, littleBits, Orbotix (for Sphero) and the JoyLabz (for Makey Makey) to request “sole source” letters. You may have to explain the purchasing process in your district to the company you’d like to add to your bid list. Ask the company to fill out the paperwork your district requires to become an approved vendor so you can purchase the items you desire for your library makerspace.

Funding Makerspaces in Schools

Graves_Grant-IdeasOnce you have the vendors added, how will you actually get funding? First, search and apply for grants that apply to you. You should aim to write at least two grants every year — one for makerspace resources and another for extra books, because you can never have enough books. Look for state-specific funding and target smaller grants, as they are easier to attain than larger competitive giveaways.

If you are having trouble adding vendors, or your grants do not get funded, consider crowdsourcing your funding by writing a grant. DonorsChoose has a plethora of vendors, so you can purchase many items that may not already be approved in your purchasing department. Do not be embarrassed to crowdsource your makerspace items for your library. Share your DonorsChoose project with your friends and ask them to share it with friends and family. If you are requesting technology, you should get a promo code that will match donations (check DonorsChoose for promos), and remember that the promo code only lasts a week. So push your family, friends, colleagues and school administrators to share the link with the code and get your project funded while you have an anonymous matching donor that first seven days. You’ll only have to raise half the money! (Note: You may only get a matching donor once a school year, so use it wisely!) Diana Rendina has some great tips on writing DonorsChoose projects over at

Need Help Getting Started?

Download Demco’s How to Start a Makerspace Guide for tips on funding, getting buy-in, low-tech and high-tech tools and more.

Sharing the Great Things Happening in Your Library

Share what you are doing on social media. The more you publicly promote the projects and learning that are happening in your library, the easier asking for and getting money will be!

Once you make some changes and get your makerspace programming in place, start spreading the word. Email your communications liaison or directly contact your local paper or news channel to see if they would be interested in visiting your library and doing a story on it. In your communications and publications, be sure to include all aspects of programming to show you are a well-rounded library and you still love books. I keep a list of mentions on my blog to showcase my library presence in the news.

Another way to share what you are doing is to open your library doors! If people want to visit your space to see why kids like coming to your library, let them come and visit. Show school board members, parents, teachers, colleagues and community members the resources you have and what you do with them. Always have a few examples set up in your library that make this easy.

At our library, my students made a noise exploration/interactive column next to my book drop that was powered by Makey Makey™. Our bookdrop also featured a pressure switch activated by Makey Makey that played a sound when a book was turned in. So when we had visitors, I could easily show them how the Makey Makey worked and what my students made. Plus, I could usually snag a kid and ask him or her to explain the power behind the Makey Makey.

Not only will projects like these be great learning opportunities for students, but when the time comes to ask for money, you will also have already shown that you know many great ways to make each dollar go far!

Jumpstart Your Programming

Graves_Jumpstart-Library-ProgrammingOne way to jumpstart your makerspace programming is to integrate technology into everyday library life. If you aren’t doing this already, promote new books on Instagram. Post grams of students reading, or even create short videos about books and your library and then share them on YouTube. Take all of your new media about books and display them on a presentation TV or on digital frames around the library. Follow library trends on social media and learn how to do innovative things you see other libraries creating. If you see libraries creating something you like, such as stop-motion videos, then take some time and learn how to make your own. Not only will you have a new skill you can teach your students, but you’ll also gain a new station for your makerspace. For example, simply set up a basic how-to for creating stop-motion videos, and set up an iPad® on a tripod for your new stop-motion station.

There are also ways to combine literacy promotion with making. One of my favorite borrowed ideas from other libraries is making “bookface pictures.” This is where you try to line up your face or other body elements with book covers. Although it sounds simple, there is an art to making these pictures. Plus, it became a #funfriday activity that helped me engage with my teenage patrons. My students enjoyed making #bookface pictures so much last year that my library was actually mentioned in the New York Times! Yes, our makerspace is thriving and fun, but we try to keep our love of books first and foremost.

Make use of your new Makey Makey so your book drop can “thank” students when they return books; the looks on their faces are priceless! You can even get students to create book promotions with Makey Makey by creating a switch on the book. Imagine a book giving its own book talk! More details on how to do this are on my Interactive Room Lesson at

You’ve Got Resources, Now What?

Graves_Integrate-TechnologyYou’ve acquired funding and your cool stuff has arrived — now what do you do? Open the boxes as quickly as you can and get the materials out into your library. Do not be tempted to wait until you have time to figure out how things work. Set them out and let kids help you figure out how things work. Designing, failing and improving is part of the thinking process we want students to embrace.

In Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager’s book, Invent to Learn, they lay out the design process that my students use: Think, Make, Improve. You can use this process as well. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to have a hard time figuring things out. Let the students see that you are okay with not knowing how to do something. It will help them learn how to let go of the fear of failure. We need students who are not afraid to try new things and students who can create things of their own invention. This is a small part of what Jay Silver calls “invention literacy.”

Silver defines invention literacy as “the ability to read and write human-made stuff, from toasters to apps. People think inventors perform magic, but it is not any more magical than reading and writing a sentence. There is a grammar to inventing, from mechanical tools, to design thinking, to electronics and beyond (coding is only one of many parts). There is a literature of inventions all around from which to draw inspiration. Just as Thoreau read Emerson’s writings, so too did Edison read Tesla’s inventions.”

More tips on facilitating invention literacy:

  • If you’ve bought some Makey Makeys, set one up and let them play some sound effects. Bask in the giggles and smiles.
  • The next week, set up the Makey Makey a little differently with different materials and a different purpose, such as playing a video. Watch the students revel in its awesomeness.
  • Once you’ve done this a few times, begin to guide your students with a design (this Makey Makey Challenge worked well with my middle-schoolers last year).
  • Give them a little bit of guided instruction on the design challenge or another challenge, such as creating an obstacle course for Sphero, let your students loose.
  • After you have established a culture of making where students are literate in a medium, step back and let them create.
  • Stay nearby so you can help if anyone gets frustrated, but try to let them solve most of the problems on their own.

Making Connections

Graves_Making-ConnectionsMake connections with mentor experts and maker companies, and give your students the opportunity chat with them, as well as other students around the globe. Get ideas from others and share what your students are doing on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Then set up a Skype or Google Hangout to let students discuss some of the things they’ve made. You can even have your makers teach other students through Skype or Google Hangout how to make something. Talk about empowerment — students learning from students!

Securing Buy-in

Once you start doing all these things, it is fairly easy to get buy-in from administration, parents and teachers. Sometimes stakeholders just need to see you doing things that you said you would accomplish; then they’ll happily support you.

Invite stakeholders, administration and parents to come by the library during big events. Tweet to your principal or tech director, or even tag them on Facebook to let them know about awesome maker events and finales. Once your administration sees why your library is so busy, they will want to stop by more than they ever did before. This is a good thing. Show them something awesome every time they come in. If they come in while it is slow, show them some projects students are working on, share an idea you have, or describe a lesson you are working on with a teacher. Talk about how books are flying off the shelves as well.

Always, always, always, show them that the library is a makerspace, but you are still focused on promoting literacy (including digital, coding and invention literacy), which makes you an integral instructional partner on campus.

Examples of Makerspaces

Share these varied examples of makerspaces with your administration and your Makerspace Steering Committee:

  • Check out the transformation I made at Lamar Library. You can also track some of my progress on updating my new-to-me school library at Ryan High School.
  • Diana Rendina’s Making Your Library EPIC presentation is phenomenal, and her blog, Renovated Learning, is a must to favorite and read.
  • Andy Plemmons does a great job of integrating making into the school day curriculum. Plus, his collaboration with UGA mentors might inspire you to create your own mentor/mentee groups!
  • Karly Moura is a great tech teacher at Sun Terrace Elementary and recently created a Stem Lab and Makerspace for her elementary school students. She is sharing her great ideas daily!


Colleen Graves

Colleen Graves

Teacher-Librarian at Ryan High School, TX
Colleen Graves is a middle school/high school librarian, obsessed with learning commons transformations, makerspaces, technology education and making stuff. Colleen brings a passionate, artistic energy to the school library world. As a connected educator, she brings the global community to her students on a daily basis. She blogs about makerspaces and libraries at and is happy to announce that she is co-authoring two books for maker librarians to be published in 2016. Colleen was awarded the School Library Journal School Librarian of the Year Co-finalist Award in 2014, named by Scholastic as one of the Top 10 School Librarians to follow on Twitter in 2015 and was named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker in 2016. Look for her upcoming book, coauthored with Aaron Graves, The Big Book of Makerspace Projects: Inspiring Makers to Experiment, Create, and Learn. You can follow Colleen @gravescolleen on Twitter and Facebook.