The concept was straightforward; the logistics--complicated. We wanted to create four mobile maker space carts that could travel among four middle school libraries in our Knoxville, TN, district. We had applied for a $50,000 TeacherPreneur Grant, so we needed an idea that dazzled.
The themed maker carts would dock in each library for nine weeks. We wanted an art cart and a STEM cart, plus a production one, with tools for short films, podcasts, and stop-motion animation, and one dedicated to 3-D printing.
We also budgeted for items to stay in the library maker spaces--the docking stations. In addition, we had to consider support tools and/or accessories. If we got a sewing machine, must we order needles and bobbins? Probably. What about a book on sewing? Definitely. We bought STEM cart items, such as Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, with the confidence that we'd learn to use them. None of us had used a 3-D printer before.
Our group referred to a variety of published maker space lists. But without preconceived notions of what we wanted, we spent late nights researching products and scouting bargains, plus calculating how many of each item we needed. We became experts, finding which wireless microphone works best with iPads, for instance, and making sure we ordered instructional DVDs for screen printing or robotics.
We bought as much as possible from single vendors such as Amazon, Blick, and Maker Shed, to get orders moving. Our IT director determined that the ordering and payment process would run best from a school location, rather than district level. One issue was finding vendors who would work with purchase orders. Most have been great.
For the STEM and production carts, we purchased rolling storage trunks (40" long, 20" tall, holding about 225 pounds). The art cart resembles a flexible wagon. Next, we needed docking spaces. One librarian cleared a back room that has plenty of counter space, cabinets, and shelving, plus a sink for cleanup. Another freed up a spot by the circulation desk, allowing the librarian to keep an eye on activities. Still another created a DIY lab on a mezzanine.
The carts are docked at their first rotations, and we've been inspired by students' creations: a movie by seventh graders welcoming rising fifth graders to the middle school and podcasts on the topics of teen driving, for example. Students formed a club with the goal of becoming Arduino experts and peer instructors. We've shown them how to make a gummy-worm piano keyboard with Makey Makey--and collaborated with a math teacher to demonstrate the concept of cross sections using the 3-D printer.
We're fortunate to have support from our administrators and community. Not all understand the maker space movement, but they're curious. That's all we need.
The authors are librarians in the Knox County (TN) School District.