5 Tips for Makers on a Budget from a Teen Librarian

"Teen Librarian Toolbox" blogger and SLJTeen Live! panelist Karen Jensen shares some ideas and resources for low-budget maker spaces.
Like many librarians, I am asked to do library programming for teens, but without a large budget to make this happen. When I went to my administration and asked about turning my teen space into a maker space, money was a huge concern. We don’t have a lot of the high-tech gadgets that can be found in a lot of traditional maker spaces, but we do have a really great space. Here are some tips that helped us with our teen making and programming on a budget.

Invest in tools that can be used in multiple ways

The best tools are those that can be used many times. For example, littleBits can be combined with a wide variety of different products. They can be paired with LEGOs to make a rotating carousel or a car that moves. Teens can make a robot out of cardboard and use the littleBits to give it LED eyes. LittleBits was a big initial investment; the most basic pack starts at around $100, but you can use it over and over again. Over time, the cost balances itself out. Some basic kits from littleBits and Hummingbird Robotics can be a great gateway into basic robotics; they allow teens to be creative in building their robots and to explore the technology part of it as well.

A teen uses items from the Make Electronics kit to make an old remote control car into a new robot.

Think upcycling

We have a regular “tech take apart” station, where the library and library staff donate discarded electronics for tinkering. We have a very skilled teen who has come in and turned those parts into objects like a flashlight, a remote control robot, and more. He uses a basic Make Electronics kit and is always teaching staff and any teen that comes in how to be creative with the bits and pieces found in old tech. We take trash and turn it into treasure. You can also buy things like MakeDo Cardboard Construction pieces, which allow teens to turn all those book boxes into fantastic works of art. Add some littleBits or a Hummingbird Robotics kit, and patrons can make art that moves or lights up.

Cardboard and MakeDo Construction pieces are turned into a knight’s helmet.


Low tech is still tech

Librarians can teach skills like basic circuitry by using things like a Paper Circuit kit. In fact, there are plenty of resources online, and you don’t even have to buy a full kit— copper tape, LEDs, and coin batteries are all you need. It’s not an upscale electronics kit, but it gives librarians a fun and creative way to teach teens some basics about circuits. To fit your budget, look for low-tech ways to do the high-tech activities you see in other maker spaces.

Scrapbook paper and Paper Circuits are used to make simple electronics and light up cards.


Arts and crafts IS still making

When we think making, the focus tends to be on technology. There is a lot of cool technology out there for maker spaces to be sure, but good old-fashioned arts and crafts still qualify as making and inspire creative thinking and problem-solving in teens. Adding some low-cost traditional arts and crafts can help fill in the gaps for those of us with smaller budgets. Some of our best making days have involved sitting around a table with scrapbook paper and pens and seeing what we create.

A group of teens and the teen maker space assistant use scraps to make buttons.


Start small and add when you can

You don’t need to have everything all at once. My maker space now has 62 stations that we can rotate in and out. These were built up over the course of two-and-a-half years and include using many of our resources in multiple ways. And we have very cheap resources. We do not have a 3-D printer or laser cutter. In fact, the most expensive piece of equipment that we own are our button makers (from American Button Machines), but we have a good time and feel like everyone who steps into our space learns a lot while being social and creative. Teens don’t look at the cost; they value the experience and the final product. See also:

Maker Space: MakeDo Cardboard Construction Kits

Small Tech, Big Impact: Designing My Maker Space

Maker Space: 5 Low or No Tech Activities for a Teen MakerSpace

Karen Jensen is a blogger at “Teen Librarian Toolbox” and a teen services librarian at the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County in Ohio. She will be speaking more about “Making On a Budget” at SLJTeen Live! on August 9.   Save Save Save Save Save
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