Designing Customized Maker Experiences Across Multiple Locations Focused on Space and Staff

By Corey Wittig of  The Labs @ Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh  has been supporting The Labs teen makerspaces at 5 of the 19 library system locations since 2012. The goal since The Labs inception, however, has been to work toward spreading programming equitably across the entire library system. How can we create flexible designs that enable making to happen in libraries of all sizes? How can we integrate The Labs model of mentorship and making into programming and services in all CLP locations?


The Labs @ Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has been running at multiple sites since its inception in 2012. As of 2016, the program exists at five of nineteen library locations, though it has been a goal since the program’s inception to work toward spreading programming equitably across the entire library system. In this post-emergent phase, with established practices in place and a clear need to engage more staff, youth leaders and volunteers, we have begun the process of incorporating the methods and resources of The Labs into libraries across the system.

We are addressing these needs of our evolving program in a couple of key ways. One is to realize that space and structure for programming can look different at each location. Whereas programming was originally identical at each site (featuring the same equipment, one weekly drop-in workshop, and one Open Lab session all facilitated by the same mentor) it has begun to evolve to reflect the space, staff and character of each location. The second way has been to begin the work of bringing more staff, youth and volunteers into the fold by providing various forms of professional development and incentives to support learning and engagement.

Maker programming customized to the size of the library and interest of the community is key. Through offering programming at multiple sites, we have realized that making as a core element of library services means it cannot only happen in fully equipped makerspaces — it also has to work in small neighborhood libraries and be relevant to staff and patrons at those locations.

Take CLP – Beechview, for example — a small, but newly renovated Library south of Downtown Pittsburgh. Beechview is a working class community with a well-used library and dedicated staff. When The Labs expanded to Beechview in 2015 the first order of business was setting up meetings between The Labs’ staff, employees of the location and the Facilities Department to find a way to add flexible furniture solutions for the display and storage of standard Labs equipment (iMacs, sewing machine, etc.) to a library smaller than any previous program location.

Facilities contracted a local furniture maker to create a custom-built table with plenty of storage and space for computers for the Teen Space. This ensured that equipment would be out and visible to users and staff alike, but could remain well-organized and be put away when not in use. Because it has wheels, the table can even be taken to other parts of the library so the Children’s Librarian can introduce making to younger library users. This relatively simple solution was nevertheless an important step in proving a library makerspace can fit into any building.

The Labs program launched with part-time mentors, hired from the local community of creative types, facilitating all programming by bouncing between numerous libraries, focusing on their particular interests and skills. This model had significant challenges and didn’t satisfactorily involve CLP Teen Specialists in programming, meaning the skills and knowledge of mentors did not always enrich the rest of the staff.

In order to spread The Labs’ reach in the post-emergent phase, CLP began the process of including more staff in programming through small group training sessions and co-facilitated programming. In order to make this a reality, Labs mentors stopped moving between so many sites. Now they are embedded staff at a particular location focusing on relationship building with youth and Teen Services staff at that library location.

With embedded mentors regularly working with neighborhood location staff, we are now able to better reflect the interests of local users in program and equipment offerings as well as program structure. As we seek to expand programming to all CLP locations over the next five years we realize that The Labs team of four mentors is not enough to support programming across all library sites. This means Professional Development in soft-skills (focused on relationship building with teen patrons and frameworks such as Connected Learning and HOMAGO) and hard-skills (focused on creating a familiarity with a wide array of maker activities) must be made available to staff as we expand to new locations and transition out of old ones.

We do not expect all library staff to become experts in making. Even our Labs mentors don’t consider themselves to be experts! Instead, we seek to continue to travel down this path of offering opportunities for professional development that will encourage a dispositional shift in staff at all locations. We believe that, in learning how to support maker programming, staff will start to identify as mentors who expect to actively learn alongside youth in the library.

Related Resource:
Making Noise at the Library – Remake Learning Playbook case study on The Labs @ CLP.