Makerspaces help kids gain confidence, learn skills and expand possibilities

When Young Adult Librarian Micah Newsome launched the makerspace at Columbia County Library in Evans, Ga, he hoped the monthly programming would give teenagers a foundation to explore new interests.

“There was a kid named David who came to my first session,” said Micah. “David was very hesitant to explore his interests. He wasn’t able to improvise or move forward with projects without explicit direction, and he also struggled to collaborate with peers.”

Three years later, David is a young adult who builds his own flashlights with the 3-D printer and parts he orders online, and helps others learn as well.

“Our goal is to encourage teens to use their minds,” said Micah. “When they develop new skills, see projects through from conception to completion and assist their peers, they are learning to think in new ways. Those ways of thinking will help them be successful for the rest of their lives.”

Makerspace programming typically includes electronics design, computer modeling, coding, 3-D design and a tangible end product. One of the first major projects was to create a large LED display using metal letters from a building, some hands-on electrical work and then program a microprocessor board to run light shows.

The makerspace began in 2014 when the library obtained a STEAM grant from Georgia Public Library Service, funded by the Library Services and Technology Act through the Institute of Museum and Library Services, to purchase a 3-D printer and electronics equipment. At first, patrons came in simply to tinker with the new technology.

“The 3-D printer is such a cool piece of equipment, but I’ve found that it’s the more everyday items that keep people interested,” said Micah. “The people who come back every month focus on electronics, coding and making something. We recently made a solar-powered Bluetooth speaker. People can use and enjoy it; it gets them excited.”

The library offers youth-focused makerspace programming twice a month to connect with kids who may not normally come to a library. The makerspace draws teens in, and then the library can engage their interest to come back. Sessions are usually completely full. Micah plans to continue growing the makerspace by adding lower-tech craft-focused programs, such as sewing and weaving.

Makerspaces and youth-driven learning through experimentation can help kids gain confidence and make friends as they discover new interests, develop talents and even potentially find a future career.

The makerspace is designed to be a collaborative environment that encourages participants to share expertise, solve problems and learn new skills. Micah is always available to assist with instruction and troubleshoot when needed.

“Through the makerspace, I’ve learned a lot about designing 3-D models, how to follow instructions to complete a project and how to improvise to make things work,” said David, now 17. “Now I have the confidence to put everything I’ve learned together to make my own projects.”

David attended a recent makerspace program and brought his younger brother, Jonathan, who is learning how to code. Their family is moving to another community this summer, and one of David’s first priorities will be to find his new local library.

“I’ll check out books and go to the programs. Hopefully they have a makerspace,” he said.