MākMō Mobile Makerspace Making Impact in Los Angeles

Four customized vans bring makerspace programming and spark education and partnerships in Southern California.

The County of Los Angeles Public Library takes its makerspace on the road in style with four customized MākMō vans that bring STEM programming and maker learning to the community.

“We were definitely looking at them as a way to get access to all of our communities that don’t otherwise have access to this type of newer technology or maybe kids whose parents don’t even know this type of stuff exists,” says Jesse Lanz, library administrator for adult and digital services for the system. “Thinking long-term, there’s a huge demand for STEM careers, so sparking interest in youth for those activities was important for us.”

The pilot program, which began with the first van rolling out in December 2016 and reached its full fleet of four in September 2017, has been a success, introducing kids and adults to technology, reaching people who don’t go to their public library, and creating and expanding library partnerships.

“It allows us to get to all of the places and meet the people where they are and also take technology outside of the library because we know there are lots of folks in the community that unfortunately are not coming into the library so this is a way to taking the library to a set of people who might not think of going to a library,” he says. At quick stops and large events—set up indoors or outside—the vans bring the maker education philosophy with them.

“The majority of things we do are self-directed,” says Lanz. “We give a very small amount of instruction, an introduction, then give [participants] the space to let them figure it out. It’s important to have that kind of self-directed learning and trial and error.”

Everywhere it goes, the MākMō program seems to spark curiosity, at the very least. It has had perhaps its greatest impact where it created or expanded library partnerships. Just showing up has brought programs the system hadn't sought. “Sometimes there may be some serendipity in going to a more general outreach, because you never know who you are going to meet,” says Lanz. “We went to a health fair, made contact with a father of a couple of children. He told their school principal. We got invited to their school, and now we routinely do programming at that school.” The library system already had an existing relationship with the county’s juvenile detention facilities but adding the mobile makerspace has changed that partnership for the better. “It has definitely expanded our partnership, has maybe reinvigorated our  partnership,” he says. “We’re not just confined to the library.” The response has been overwhelmingly positive. “The probation staff has been really enthusiastic about it and certainly the kids are really enthusiastic about it,” says Lanz. “When you talk about incarcerated youth, you’re talking about folks who are disadvantaged, don’t’ have access to these kinds of things." While the program provides access to books, obviously, the "real point" Lanz says, is to show them what a library has to offer when they get out. "The MākMō is another way to show these kids that not only is their library a welcoming space for them, but it’s not just for books—there are more things to learn and more ways to interact with your library.”

While the LA County system is huge—87 branches serving more than three million people spread out over more than 3,000 square miles—Lanz offers advice applicable for any size library or system looking to start a mobile makerspace program.

Custom vehicles aren’t required. “The vans are very cool and a neat way to signal that there’s something interesting happening, but we often do programs and the vans aren’t there. Our staff brings the equipment in a different vehicle.”

Details make a difference; confirm in advance. “Is there power? Do we know where we’re going to be parking? Is it a level surface? Is it a clear traffic pattern or are people coming from all directions?”

Fancy technology isn’t needed. “You can start with things that are relatively low-tech and figure out how to add STEM elements.”

Programs must scale. “Something we would do in a scheduled library visit, we can’t do when we go to outreach events. We often have a very vague idea of the number of people showing up, and they may only spend a couple of minutes before going to the next booth.”

Lack of tech expertise is okay. “You just have to be curious and willing to try new things and do a little bit of research on the front end to learn about something new.”

Flexibility and willingness to relinquish control are key. “You have to be willing to give people the basics and let them take it and run.”

Some tech doesn’t travel well. “3-D printing is not good outside—it is temperature and wind sensitive—and Ozobots don’t work in the sunlight.”


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