This post was originally posted on the LAIP in March 2016. It remains one of our most popular!

Today we have an interview with Colleen Graves, a 2016 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, and a school librarian/maker who has brought a makerspace into her school library. Enjoy!

LAIP: Tell us a little bit about yourself! How did you end up a maker librarian?
CG: Whew! What a journey! I graduated with an art degree in 2002 and quickly realized I needed a real job alongside “starving artist.” So I went back to school and earned my Masters in Education and started teaching English Language Arts in 2003. You may or may not know this, but my husband is also a librarian. I thought he had the best job ever because he was surrounded by books all day, but I didn’t think I had the organization skills to be a librarian.

At that time, tech was not very prevalent in education. We still used overhead projectors, and we only took students to computer labs to make PowerPoints and type papers. As I continued to teach ELA for 9 years, I integrated technology into my student’s work as often as possible. Then I moved up to high school in 2007, I began to experiment with what was dubbed “Web 2.0” at the time. My kids wrote book blogs and shared creative writing online, and even collaborated on Googledocs in 2007! The kids thought I was crazy! I still remember a student signing my yearbook, “Thanks for teaching me to write a blog, Mrs. Graves, it was fun, even though I doubt I’ll ever use it again!” HA!  

It was also around this time that I noticed a change in librarianship. Librarians began to become tech leaders on campus (or at least the #superlibrarianhubs did!) I was actively sharing lessons with other teachers and quickly becoming an instructional leader on campus so I decided to go back to school for my Master in Library Science.  The #superlibrarianhubs was actually at my school at the time, so I also began to look for a new home.pasted image 0

I found my match with Leigh Ann Lewis at Lamar Middle School part of the Lewisville Independent School District.  I spent the summer redesigning the library and the next three years transforming the way middle schoolers viewed the library. I knew when I started at Lamar in 2012 that I wanted a makerspace in the library.  At the time, I thought of a makerspace as a place where a student could make anything they wanted. I still think that, but now I know they might be making a prototype of anything they want to create.

LAIP: How did you develop a makerspace in your school library? What challenges did you face? What inspired you?

CG: This year I implemented my second makerspace when I changed schools and started working at Ryan High School in Denton, Tx. This time I knew I wanted the library itself to be seen as a place for makers and a place of invention. However, I also wanted to keep quiet places and collaborative study places as well. Luckily for me my new library is huge! This last summer was much like my experience at Lamar, I had a lot of work to do, but thankfully my new staff and many students came to help! Here is Ryan Library before, here is a visual progress update, and one of my favorite makerspace lunch weeks where we explored artbots!

The biggest challenges I’ve faced at the high school level is balancing scheduling research classes and makerspace activities. My kids are welcome to use the makerspace before school, during lunch, and afterschool, but they crave more project driven workshops. When we don’t have classes scheduled, we host maker workshops to teach the kids new skills like soldering, using power tools, and programming robots (or anything the kids tell me they want to learn!)
I also think it’s important for readers, stakeholders, and administrators to understand we are a library AND a makerspace.  We still have students coming for reading, studying, researching, all the time!

LAIP: Tell us about a recent favorite project that your students worked on.

CG: You know how every book you read is your favorite at the moment? I feel the same way about our projects! I’m actually the most excited about a tech camp for girls I’m holding this week. The girls are learning about basic circuits with Chibitronics and circuit templates, then designing their own wearable art/electronics based on a project from my upcoming book with McGraw Hill. To further add to the excitement, the girls will are chatting with Ji Qie, the female engineer behind the Chibitronics circuit stickers, and Krystal Persaud, the head of product design at littleBits.

Great first day of #girlsintech camp learning about circuits! #girlsinSTEM

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LAIP: What would your dream library makerspace look like?

CG: My dream space would be full of students creating and designing their own creations and inventions with minimal assistance from me. Kids would be making music in one corner, filming movies with a green screen in a video booth, collaborating together prototyping other inventions with small electronics, and the library would still be full of “normal library use” like kids reading, working, and studying.

I feel like I’m pretty close to living in my dream library makerspace, but my students just need to know a little more stuff to get there. Right now, we are still building the culture of making at our school, so the students still rely on mentors to help them understand the basics of coding, using power tools, learning skills, etc. I’d also like to integrate a sewing center and somehow get a CNC laser cutter, but since we have those things on campus in our career technology classes it isn’t really pressing right now.

LAIP: Anything else?

CG: I’m very short. So when you see me in person, don’t say, “You are so much shorter than I expected!” But seriously folks, I’ve had a pretty great year writing lesson plans for Makey Makey (there’s a great story behind that one), collaborating with the public library, leading hands-on learning for other teachers and librarians, presenting webinars for the School Library Journal #LTCMaker camps, presenting at SXSWedu, the great Makey Makey Challenge with Diana Rendina’s STEM club, writing the The Librarian Guide to littleBits and this Edutopia article, and now working on two books with the #superlibrarianhubs! Aaron and I are making and writing like mad men on the weekend for our Big Book of Makerspace Projects that will be published by McGraw Hill. Plus, we are working on a guidebook for maker librarians with Diana Rendina that will be published by ABC Clio this fall.

Thanks for chatting with me and sharing my passion for libraries!

Colleen is a teacher librarian at Ryan High School in Denton, TX. She’s obsessed with makerspaces, but loves books too! She’s a Google geek and Google Certified Trainer, Library Journal Mover and Shaker 2016 and co-finalist for SLJ School Librarian of the year in 2014. She’s collaborating on two books with her #superlibrarianhubs to be published by TAB_DIY an imprint of Mcgraw Hill and a second book for ABC-Clio with Diana Rendina. Follow her makerspace journey and get #teched ideas on her blog, on Twitter, or on Instagram.

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