On Friday, May 23rd, Allison, Liz and I visited with some of the folks behind the Maker Lab at Chicago Public Library. (For those who are unfamiliar with the CPL Maker Lab, check out their blog.) They shared with us tips and best practices that they have learned along the way to developing the Maker Lab. Here are the things we learned that we feel would help other libraries with makerspaces or planning makerspaces.


 Mark Anderson with the 3D printers in the CPL Maker Lab.

Mark Anderson with the 3D printers in the CPL Maker Lab.


Core Materials and Tools - the staff recommends the following tools for developing your first makerspace:


  • UP Mini 3D printer - CPL staff find this printer (they have one) to be more reliable and easier to use than their Makerbots (they have three). It is also less expensive than the Makerbot making it a good alternative for libraries with a limited budget.

  • Silhouette Cameo Cutter (vinyl cutter) - CPL staff find that it is very reliable and can serve multiple functions. The only downside that it is harder to sell or get patrons excited about using. But once patrons use it, they really enjoy the process.

  • Inkscape - Free software that serves many functions including use with the cameo cutter.


For a full list of the materials and tools used in the Maker Lab visit their Google site which contains material lists, lesson plans, and other resources.


Staffing - One of the most interesting things we learned was about how they staff the Maker Lab. All of the staff work one day a week in the Maker Lab with the exception of one full-time Maker Lab person. Otherwise, they all work in other CPL departments and branches. The lesson learned is that a makerspace doesn’t necessarily have to be one or two people’s full-time responsibility. Sometimes a library will have to pull in talents and time from different departments to manage the space and instruct classes. And, in CPL’s case, the more perspectives involved, the more varied services they can provide.


All the Maker Lab classes and workshops are designed and planned by CPL Maker Lab staff. They hold one class each week just for other CPL staff. Don’t forget to develop your staff as well as the public.


Sign at the entrance of the CPL Maker Lab


Best Practices


How to design classes:

1) Get inspired. From Pinterest gazing to museum tours, make time for inspiration to strike.

2) Try it out. See what works and what doesn’t, and start finetuning for your audience.

3) Work with other staff to finesse. A team approach will allow you to start thinking outside of the box.

4) Write a guide. Class participants appreciate a visual aid. CPL staff said that some people will even look up a guide ahead of time in preparation for a new learning experience.


Tips for leading a class:

1) Give yourself plenty of in-class time. People will almost always need more time than you think to work.

2) Be flexible. Everyone will come in with different levels of knowledge, experience, and skills.

3) Make connections to other applications. Your students might not know much about cloud-based software or file management, so throwing in a little extra information on 21st century skills can be helpful.



1) Be careful marketing with buzz words like “maker” and “hacker” because people don’t necessarily know what these mean.

2) Sell your class or workshop with the end product rather than the tool or skill.

3) Make sure the participants leave with something, so they can show friends and family.


Know what your goals are, like:

1) Building interest in the library.

2) Seeding the creative and/or technology community. By paying artists and makers to lead classes in your makerspace, you are supporting the creative community.

3) Teaching 21st century skills to adults who missed formal technology training. The Maker Lab is focused on adults and introducing them to new technology; the goal is not necessarily supporting advanced maker activities.


Build good relationships with other staff, like IT, because you will need their support and assistance.


Creating partnerships is easier once other organizations and companies see that you have an audience. They will want to tap into your audience and they will approach you.




One big challenge is that it’s difficult to be an expert on one thing and impossible to be an expert on everything. But don’t let this stop you. You have to be okay with not being an expert.


Another challenge noted was balancing the day-to-day activity of the Maker Lab with the big picture. They advised it’s easy to forget the overarching goals and purposes of your lab when you’re bogged down in the details. So work towards seeing both: the everyday work of leading classes, talking with patrons, and making awesome stuff, and the reason we’re doing it: to empower patrons, connect communities and inspire a new way to use the library.


 Make It @ Your Library and CPL Maker Lab staff

Make It @ Your Library and CPL Maker Lab staff

Many thanks to Mark Andersen, Sasha Neri, and John Christensen for the tour and the discussion! All the great insights we’ve outlined here can be attributed to them.
(This blog post written with a huge assist from Allison Parker!)

Advice from Chicago Public Library's Maker Lab

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