Makerspaces: the Challenges

The presence of makerspaces in libraries presents new challenges and considerations. In many ways makerspaces represent a new frontier in libraries, leading librarians into uncharted territory where few have previously trekked or charted the way.  Therefore, it’s important to consider the following potential makerspace challenges as a “look before you leap” strategy.


While it is certainly possible to establish a school library makerspace without any significant costs in terms of supplies and space requirements, a developing makerspace will most likely involve extra expenditures over time.  Depending on the makerspace focus, certain equipment, resources and technology purchases can prove expensive.  For example, a number of makerspaces in both public and school libraries now feature equipment such as 3-D printers which involve not only the initial purchase of the device, but the cost of maintenance, replacement components, and consumable materials that require replenishing. Makerspaces can require an additional budget that many libraries do not have readily available. As Slatter and Howard (2013) report, library budget constraints create challenges in the purchase of expensive technologies for makerspace programming, as well as the funding required for extra staffing. According to Slatter and Howard (2013), “In times of reduced funding and uncertain budgets, another challenge for makerspaces is that they can seem an expensive indulgence” (p. 275). Furthermore, Moorefield-Lang (2015b) broaches the topic of responsibility for payment of broken equipment or replenishing consumables in the makerspace, noting that “the question of cost escalates when planning not only a policy but a maker learning space overall” (p. 363).

Moorefield-Lang’s (2014) review of six library makerspace case studies reveals that a primary source for makerspace funding originated from grants, with sources such as school budgets, foundational funding, and “friends of the library” groups providing the remainder of the needed funds.  However, in spite of these original funding sources, Moorefield-Lang (2014) notes that “future funding has to be considered to keep a makerspace running” (p. 592).  A further consideration is that makerspace costs may also grow as demand increases. For example, Burke (2014) shares the story of a public library that created a second makerspace music studio for adults to use, due to the popularity of their teen studio (p. 67).

In terms of makerspace costs, Martinez and Stager (2013) report on the $70,000 price tag for the MIT FabLab, providing an example of purchase allocations:

 Of the total, around 40% was allocated for major equipment purchases with another 10% for spare parts for that equipment.  Consumable supplies and electronic parts each got about 10% of the budget.  10% was spent on tools and another 10% on computers. The remaining 10% covered books, safety equipment, cleaning supplies, office supplies, and storage (p. 154).

Makerspace costs, from original purchases and maintenance expenditures, to future development funding, form a significant consideration for the planning and implementation of library makerspaces.

Staffing and Scheduling

Sufficiently staffing a library makerspace and providing programming can be challenging. As Moorefield-Lang (2015a) reports, librarians need to get creative with their staffing models when balancing the task of managing both a library and a makerspace. In many libraries there is only one person available to balance both responsibilities.   Makerspaces add new demands onto library staff, over and above their regular library programming.  For example, a library makerspace may require staff to test out new equipment, source out and purchase new products, or design new projects or classes. Making connections with community members, other makers and resource people is another necessary makerspace task that takes time and commitment. Makerspaces have the potential to be time-consuming ventures with added planning, preparation, training and purchasing responsibilities for library staff.

Scheduling makerspace activities and open “making time” can also pose challenges within a school library maker model. For example, many teacher-librarians at the elementary level have part-time positions and they often cover teacher prep blocks so there is limited time available within the school day to provide open or curriculum-integrated maker time. As Martinez and Stager (2013) suggest, “Time is the most precious of classroom resources…Making, tinkering, and engineering may require schools to undergo structural changes that support inquiry and project development over much longer periods of time than they are accustomed” (p. 52). Therefore, school makerspace models will also require creative staffing or supervision models to provide students with sufficient opportunities to become “makers”.

Staff and Patron Training

Both librarian and patron training are necessary aspects of library makerspaces, yet these training opportunities are not always readily accessible. As Moorefield-Lang (2015a) describes, “Training for maker learning locations continues to be difficult to obtain” and “most preservice librarians are graduating each semester not knowing the skills needed to maintain and serve in makerspaces” (p. 107).  Therefore, the impetus to obtain training, keep abreast of new technologies and trends and develop a professional learning network often lies with the librarian or library staff. Slatter and Howard (2013) also attest to makerspaces creating “a unique set of challenges” as “participants [librarians in their study] found it a particular challenge to translate the value and relevance of new and different programs and technologies to those who are used to a more traditional library model.  Indeed there was a steep learning curve for all” (p. 277).

Patron training is also essential to ensure that equipment is accessed properly and safely.  According to Moorefield-Lang (2014), patron use is often cited as one of the challenges created by the introduction of makerspaces. “User inexperience means that workshops, online tutorials, handouts, and overall information are important for their learning curve with this new technology” (Moorefield-Lang, 2014, p. 584). Makerspace training, for both staff and patrons, takes time, planning, dedication and consistency to ensure that the space and equipment are well used.

Neatness, Noise and Maintenance

Makerspaces, by their very nature, can invite “creative mess” and in some cases, maker activities have the potential to damage existing furnishings. For example, carpets, tables and other surfaces can be damaged with the use (or abuse) of maker tools on their surfaces.  These realities then beg the question: who becomes responsible for the upkeep of the space, ensuring order, tidiness and damage control?  According to Moorefield-Lang (2015b), some libraries have addressed these challenges with user agreements which require patrons to return the workspace and tools to their original state and place responsibility on the patron to use equipment with care (p. 363).

Furthermore, Burke (2014) asserts that some makerspace equipment is loud and may require a dedicated space with added noise reduction features.  The added complications of noise, mess and maintenance need to be addressed within the library makerspace blueprint.

Safety and Liability

Patron safety becomes a primary consideration when makerspaces provide potentially hazardous equipment that could cause harm when used incorrectly or without proper supervision. For example, many makerspaces provide tools like soldering irons, laser cutting equipment and sharp implements such as woodworking tools or saws. As Burke (2014) reports, for some of the more complicated makerspace equipment there should be a certification process in place for users who wish to use such items (p. 89).

Depending on the nature of the equipment and the maker activities offered within a library makerspace, the issue of patron safety can create additional challenges.  According to Moorefield-Lang (2015b), in addition to providing clear and consistent guidelines for equipment use, some libraries have established policies that prohibit the creation of items that could be perceived as weapons, or used commercially (p. 364).  Furthermore, as Moorefield-Lang (2015b) reports, some libraries address makerspace safety by requiring patrons to wear proper attire, use provided safety equipment (glasses and gloves) and sign safety or health waivers (p. 364). When there exists a potential for unsafe conditions to arise, safety protocols become a necessary standard to plan for in the creation of library makerspaces.

Liability and safety in the makerspace go hand-in-hand.  With the concern for patron or student safety comes the consideration of protecting your school or library institution. In her study of user-agreements in library makerspaces Moorefield-Lang (2015b) reports on several public libraries that include liability statements within their user-agreements, which release their institutions of any liability in the event that a patron comes to harm.

Copyright and Intellectual Property

A “grey area” surfaces with the newness of rapid prototyping such as 3-D printing in library makerspaces: there are concerns over issues such as copyright infringement, liability and intellectual property. Slatter and Howard (2013) report on the “unique challenges brought to the forefront by content-creation spaces regarding ownership of materials created at the library and legal implications” (p. 278).  Furthermore, Moorefield-Lang (2015b) reports that a number of libraries have addressed copyright and intellectual property rights within their user-agreements, placing the onus on the patron to ensure that he/she is respecting copyright law when creating products in the makerspace.

Within a school library makerspace, the responsibility to ensure that students are respecting copyright and intellectual property would most likely rest with the teacher-librarian. As Martinez and Stager (2013) advise, “Given the ever-changing and somewhat confusing legal landscape, we believe that the best way to teach students to respect intellectual property is to use common sense” (p. 107).  Martinez and Stager (2013) outline the following helpful guidelines for student makers:

  1. Don’t make dangerous things.
  2. Respect the requests of authors when you use their designs and underlying code, and if you aren’t sure, ask.
  3. Make your own designs when possible.
  4. Don’t try to make money using someone else’s ideas and hard work.
  5. Always give credit where credit is due (p. 107).

Resistance to Change

Finally, resistance to change can be a library makerspace challenge. As Slatter and Howard (2013) report, library staff can be reluctant to embrace change in their libraries while patrons can be hesitant to accept new directions in library programming (p. 277). Furthermore, Burke (2014) advises librarians to be prepared with strong rationale for library makerspaces adding the following caution:”Library makers must expect that makerspaces will be questioned in their communities and will not have an easy road to universal acceptance”(p. 157).  According to Slatter and Howard (2013), one means to address this change resistance to library makerspaces is by offering staff professional development and incorporating effective change-management models, while engaging community support in advance of implementation (p. 280).

Further Considerations

Assessment: With school library makerspaces the following questions arise: “Do we grade it?” and “How do we evaluate maker learning”? With regards to assessment and maker learning, Martinez and Stager (2013) argue, “Deep learning is possible even when adults abandon prejudices about the outcome of a project.  The emphasis should be on the process and creating conditions in which learners grow” (p. 82).  Furthermore, Martinez and Stager (2013) assert that the processes of making and tinkering do not fit neatly into school schedules, canned rubrics and test scores, arguing that “grading student work is likely to result in students being less willing to challenge themselves and to search for the easiest path to “done” rather than risk taking on another iteration of their projects” (p. 81).  Therefore, we should consider carefully the nature of makerspaces as a blend of informal and formal learning opportunities and whether or not these experiences should be or need to be assessed by traditional means.