Launching a Makerspace: Lessons Learned From a Transformed School Library

Excitement about school makerspaces has been in the air, but many educators eager to create hands-on learning spaces in their schools still aren’t sure how to get started or why it’s worth the effort. New Canaan High School librarian Michelle Luhtala recently jumped headfirst into creating a makerspace in her library and documented what she learned, how her space changed and how it affected students along the way. Her experience was very different from elementary school librarian Andy Plemmons, whose makerspace started with a 3-D printer obtained through a grant and blossomed into a core teaching resource at his school.
Luhtala is blessed with a big library, but for most of her career it has been dominated by large bookshelves. Over time, Luhtala has pared down her collection as she increased the digital reading material the library offers, but in order to make room for a makerspace she cleared out 7,000 books. She might not have had the courage to make such a drastic change if she hadn’t had the firm support, and indeed push, from her principal to create a makerspace. Luhtala kept most of her fiction and donated a lot of the nonfiction, which kids are now mostly accessing digitally anyway.

While Luhtala wanted open space for big making projects, she also made sure her library has comfortable sofas, quiet study carrels and a few collaborative workrooms where students can meet. She also sent a letter to students at …