Community Maker Day: Planning, Hosting & Measuring Outcomes

Library Resources | Meg Gray| October 18, 2017

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From one library to another, learn how Portland Public Library planned and executed a successful Maker Day event for its community.

We caught up with Science & Technology Librarian Meg Gray from Portland Public Library to discuss how she helps plan and execute the Makers@PPL event. In this interview, Meg addresses many of the important questions for holding an event of this size and scope. Read on for ideas, inspiration and reflection on one library’s interpretation of the Maker Movement.

Describe the Makers@PPL event. What was the inspiration? 

We’re generally inspired by the Maker Faire™ concept, the Hacker Ethic (belief that information-sharing is a powerful positive good), DIY culture, our creative and ingenious community members, and the incredible work of other libraries who are champions for MakerSpaces, DIY and STEAM culture in libraries.

Makers@PPL — which launched with an inaugural event in April 2015, welcoming close to 2,000 participants, and 75+ presenters and workshop leaders — is a festival of STEAM learning for people of all ages and backgrounds. It is an opportunity for the greater Portland community to come together to learn about and take part in creative, hands-on experiences. As such, Makers@PPL is a program that dovetails perfectly with the Library’s mission to be an engaging presence in the community. The event provides discrete teaching moments and professional development opportunities for STEAM teachers, as well as student participation in fun and unique STEAM activities. 

How did you do the initial planning and brainstorming for the event? Were there other libraries that you used as an example?

While we certainly looked at other libraries’ events for inspiration (of which there are many amazing events to be inspired by!), Makers@PPL is tailored to our community and our space. Each year has provided us with learning opportunities and feedback that have enabled us to tweak the event.  We aim to utilize the space in our Main Branch in a way that maximizes our facilities, but doesn’t disrupt our regular Saturday patrons who may require quiet study spaces. 

How did you go about collecting resources, finding speakers and people willing to lead workshops?

This process has evolved each year, but for our most recent event we reached out to individuals and groups who were involved the previous year and then did a call for presenters. We’ve also cold-called potential speakers, and all three methods have yielded fantastic and enthusiastic partners who are willing to share their expertise with the community. 

How did you decide between an all-day event and not a weeknight session?

Makers@PPL is a community event and we wanted as many people as possible to be able to attend as participants and presenters. Our event has something for everyone, with specific programs for children under 12, teens, adults, and families so while we do have one-off Maker programs at the library in the afternoon and evenings, we wanted this event to span a wider time range (10am-3pm) on a weekend to accommodate various audiences. 

Makers@PPL – which launched with an inaugural event in April 2015, welcoming close to 2,000 participants, and 75+ presenters and workshop leaders– is a festival of STEAM learning for people of all ages and backgrounds.

What were the greatest challenges you faced and how did you work around them?

Each year has presented different challenges and we’re learning along the way. In 2016, we rented a tent and set it up in the square across the street from the library. It was great for visibility and for providing a space for presenters who required ventilation or a lot of space to be messy. However, outside space presented additional logistics for setup/breakdown, counting participants, managing volunteers (who helped participants safely cross the street) and because the event was in April, it was a typical spring day: cold, wet and rainy.

When planning the 2017 event, we had to make some tough decisions about how to best use our space and we opted to keep everything inside the building since no single Maker or group required outdoor space. Our presenters were happy to be in a dry, comfortable space, and it made the day of the event easier to manage. With less space available, we very consciously scaled back the number of presentations and chose to focus on interactive, hands-on opportunities. 

What would you say was the greatest accomplishment during the process?

Library-wide programs like Makers@PPL are successful because of the hardworking, dedicated library staff who work tirelessly for months preparing for the event and who help execute the plan on Maker Day! While we love high attendance rates and positive feedback from our community, the satisfaction of collaboration and a can-do attitude from the entire library staff is hard to beat. 

Can you describe a moment during the event that was particularly memorable and why it was memorable? 

As I was doing my rounds to check in on presenters in the early afternoon, I came across a family sitting together making Japanese knot baskets. Each person, the parents and their middle school-aged sons, were listening intensely to the instructor as they wove their reeds. It was heartwarming to see the entire family engaged and taking part in the activity together. 

How did you measure the success of the Maker Day? Did you track attendance?

The Maker Day activities take place all over the library, so we have a rough attendance from our door counters. Our children’s and teen libraries have hard numbers for attendance, but participation is only one factor when measuring the success of a large program like this. We also asked participants, children and adults, to fill out a survey about their experience and the staff also gives feedback on what worked and any areas that were pain points. 

If anything, what would you do differently?

My focus for this coming year is to improve the workflow for the planning process and documentation. No drastic changes, but I want to make some small tweaks that I hope will improve the efficiency of our process.

What advice do you have for libraries planning a Maker Day? 

Be inspired by other libraries, but focus on your community during the planning process. Don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone for an ask, whether it’s to present a workshop, or for volunteers to staff the event itself. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who have asked to be involved once they knew about the event. 

Planning your own Community Maker Day? Check out these EBSCO resources for inspiration:

  • MasterFILE™ Complete
  • Hobbies & Crafts Reference Center™
  • Science Reference Center™
  • Flipster®

Learn More

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Meg Gray
Science & Technology Librarian, Portland Public Library

Meg Gray is the Science & Technology Librarian at Portland Public Library in Portland, Maine where she buys cookbooks and plans fun STEAM programs for adults. She has a BA in Fine Arts from Alfred University and a MLIS from McGill University. Outside of the library, Meg likes to hike, craft, cook with friends and lift heavy things at the gym. 

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