Making Space for Creation

The Barrington Area Library has undergone an amazing transformation that has created spaces for everyone and introduced numerous new services. Touring the renovated library in late January 2015, my coworker and I were delighted with each new twist and turn. The thoughtfulness and the attention to detail is incredible and we saw numerous ideas in practice that we had previously been hard pressed to find examples of.

Makerspaces and digital media labs have become increasingly common and Barrington managed to find separate areas for each type of space when undertaking their renovation. Being one of the early adopters when it came to the move toward digital media labs provided some insight that allowed for the creation of a state-of-the art space that meets the needs of the community. Their experimentation with the small space that they had provided lessons that they could build on. The MakerLab follows suit offering unique equipment that meets the community’s needs.

Mike Campagna,
Digital Services Manager at Barrington Area Library

We asked Mike Campagna, Digital Services Manager at Barrington Area Library, to provide insight around how they approached the development of their MakerLab, Studio Kids and Studio 1

Mike’s Library Story (in his own words)

Inspiration for Our Spaces

The MakerLab and digital studios are spaces for patrons of all ages to create digital projects, useable objects, and working prototypes in a fun and safe environment. It’s very exciting to offer technology that enables our customers to use their imaginations and shape their ideas.

The vision for these spaces was charted by an interdepartmental team who focused on ways to maximize budget, space, and access to emerging technology. Working across four departments helped us address priorities by reflecting on what had previously worked and what needed improvement.

Getting Things Started — Learning From Our Past

Like many libraries, [in our old space] we made the choice to repurpose an existing space, seeking to demonstrate that a large-scale renovation is not necessary to make effective changes in the present. Our [major] renovation occurred four years after the initial launch of the Media Lab, but by starting small we already had information and experience to draw upon when a renovation became a reality.

We learned that all ages wanted access to a digital studio and young people tended to come in groups, whereas adults tended to use the space on an individual basis. This allowed the management team and architects to plan for two separate digital studios; one for children grades 8 and under, Studio Kids, and another for patrons in grades 9 and up, Studio 1.

Test and Learn

Even with the previous experience with the Media Lab, we continue to experiment in our digital studios. We tested the color of the chroma key paint, deciding green was the best. We have a microphone in Studio 1, so we also purchased one for Studio Kids, but we found that was more of a distraction and the audio quality on the computer was good enough to eliminate the need for a microphone altogether.

Mike helping patron Mike Jenkins

We are continuously learning and streamlining processes in the MakerLab. Initially we were interested to see if the DIY nature of the technology would lend itself more to an independent learning process, but we have determined that many in our community feel more comfortable with a structured approach to learning.

We have expanded MakerLab programming and started an Open Shop program where patrons can come in to work on independent projects, but with staff member available to help and answer questions.

Our experience with the Media Lab informed improvements to our digital studios. We knew better lighting would improve the “green screen” effect. The lights are now scooped to throw light at the wall, illuminate subjects more completely, and minimize shadow. Another feature we wanted to improve was to maximize the filming area. Studio 1 and Studio Kids include chroma key paint on the walls and the floor to accommodate for wider angles and more usable space. Importance was also placed on location, with convenient access to a nearby service point.

Funding the Program

We were able to build the initial cost for the MakerLab and digital studios into our renovation budget. While we have a dedicated space with multiple 3-D printers, a laser cutter, and a vinyl/paper cutting machine, I let every librarian who visits know that this can all be scaled. It all comes down to the creativity and ideas. Right now, I’m extremely excited about the “floor piano” project Adult Services Librarians Gwyn Stupar and Lizzy Klinnert are working on. They are using a $40 piece of hardware called MaKey MaKey™ to create an oversized piano, like the one from the movie Big. There are always options within your budget, and a creative staff always helps!

Meeting Community Needs

One of the best indicators [for discovering community needs] is past use. Because we started out by transitioning a study room to a Media Lab, we had statistics to point to. The room was used 493 times in the first year, demonstrating a need for scanning, video editing , podcasting and audio recording, and other uses. Our existing programming also showed us opportunities.

The Youth Services tech programs reached registration limits for the LEGO® WeDo programs, so we purchased a kit for the MakerLab. More feedback came from the Youth Services staff who spotted trends like the Rainbow Loom, which was one of the first MakerKits purchased. This foundation of programming and feedback from our customers gave us great insight about what would be successful in the MakerLab.

A visit to the high school was also a crucial component. We wanted to see what hardware and software was already in place so we could incorporate those elements into MakerLab and the digital studios. Now students have the option to work with some of the same technology here at the library as they do when they are at school.

Lastly, we wanted to anticipate needs and surpass the expectations of our community by incorporating a broad spectrum of emerging technology and MakerKits. To get an idea of the landscape, staff visited the Chicago Public Library, Museum of Science and Industry’s Fab Lab, and Pumping Station: One, a Chicago makerspace, and explored many online resources.

Programs for All Ages

I’ve made mention of hardware and software, but we have a tremendous variety of analog and digital creation opportunities in the MakerLab. A driving point in planning the MakerKits was to offer both high tech and no tech options. Our most popular MakerKit is littleBits, magnetic components that snap together to make circuits. We added spare parts from an old LEGO Mindstorms kit so makers can build different creations that actually move, light up, and make noise!

Gwyn Stupar with Mike Campagna

Adult Services Librarians Gwyn and Lizzy have really championed the programming, developing a wide range of programs that have struck a chord with our community. Programs like laser-etched jewelry, arduino 101, DIY wedding, upcycling your bakeware and 3-D modeling are fun and fresh, really resonating with our users. We see all genders and ages represented in the MakerLab. In fact some of the best learning comes from kids explaining what they are working on to adults.

Many of our programs require registration because of the size of MakerLab and the popularity of the programs, but we have offset that by having additional Open Shop programs that are drop-in for Barrington library cardholders. We also schedule volunteers on Fridays and Saturdays, who are available to answer questions and provide guidance.

Input and Inspiration

Input comes from across all levels of the library and patrons. I frequently get emails, tweets, and messages alerting me to new pieces of technology we should add to the MakerLab. I love the input from everyone and it expresses the power of making. It gives everyone ownership of the space and once they make a project, they get an idea about how to make another and try another technique.

All the options definitely make for some tough choices. We want to continue to inspire and provide opportunities, yet at the same time we need to make the best use of resources and fully explore the many options that already exist in MakerLab.

There are so many great websites I like to go to, and my colleagues constantly put new projects on my radar, as I search for the next item for the MakerLab.  A few places for inspiration and project ideas:

Addressing the Challenges

Our goal is to empower patrons to learn the hardware and software so they can work independently: however, we know we have to provide the right framework to get to that level. Offering a variety of programs and volunteer support for the digital studios and MakerLab has enabled us to provide some of the initial instruction and give patrons a start. Additionally, we have bolstered our digital services securing new subscriptions to the online learning portals and Gale Courses, as well as utilizing free websites like Instructables and Thingiverse.

Getting the Word Out and Gaining Popularity

Photos and projects shared via social media and digital signage have been successful in spreading the word about the spaces. Programming and staff demonstrations in the lobby are also very helpful. Having a fun giveaway item from the MakerLab during the demos is always a plus!

Every month, we feature a different drop-in maker project to get people curious. We like going outside the building to interact with community members as a way to promote services. We are scheduled to exhibit at a business and education expo at the high school this month. It’s the perfect opportunity to speak directly with potential new customers about library resources and the digital services we provide, as well as the expertise of librarians.

Some of our most popular programs have been:

  • Making your own puzzle
  • Pet tags
  • Luggage tags
  • Garden stakes
  • Upcycling your bakeware with custom etching
  • Designing custom holiday ornaments
  • Making your own iron-on transfers with the Silhouette Cameo

Advice to Others

Reach out to the experts and build a personal learning network. I have learned a great deal about the technology and applications by visiting and speaking to employees at institutions like Pumping Station: One, Chicago Public Library, and the Museum of Science and Industry’s Fab Lab. The instructors as well as the customers at these locations were eager and enthusiastic to explain applications and tell us about their projects.

The experiences we are able to provide to our patrons don’t come from getting the most expensive piece of technology. Success comes down to having a creative and imaginative staff who can execute the ideas. We are fortunate to have great staffing and great tools and feel we are building something really special in Barrington.


Janet Nelson

Janet Nelson

Janet is the former Director of Library Engagement and Solutions at Demco. She managed and developed relationships with key industry leaders to understand changing library trends and services.