The Magnificent Makerspace

The Maker Lab at Brandeis University

Why does a librarian care about makerspaces? 

3d printers, laser cutters, and sewing machines?

Isn’t that the province of engineering or the home ec department of old? All I can say is, the librarian’s job revolves around technology and inquiry. We spend lots of time helping students with the (sometimes dreaded) printer: Is the printer working? Why is it taking so long for my paper to print? How do I print this bizarre document in a weird format? So, it’s natural (and brave, considering the challenges we have with 2d printing) that librarians would think about 3D printing and makerspaces.

Not sure what a makerspace is or why they are a thing? Makerspaces are learning labs in libraries, schools, universities, and shared commercial spaces where people of all ages make things. The things they make vary according to age of the maker and the equipment in the space. Elementary students experiment with rudimentary circuits using Little Bits, build with a Lego wall, or make games with Scratch. Secondary students and adults create objects with 3d printers, build small computers with Arduino, or sew on sewing machines.

The Brandeis University Maker Lab

Thanks to the friendly and brilliant people at the Brandeis University Maker Lab who hosted me for a visit on Wednesday night, I’ve seen a makerspace in action and am totally excited about what it offers students. It’s not a roomful of technology for nerds only: it’s a place where purpose, projects, people, and partnerships merge to create something completely new for students. Hopefully after reading this you’ll feel the same way!

Ian Roy, Research Technology Project Lead at the Farber Library, heads up the Brandeis Maker Lab. It’s located on the mezzanine level of the Brandeis main library, the “living room” of the school, in a room off the main area.

The Maker Lab has several purposes:
  • incubate new ideas with space and equipment; once projects are established they move out to a permanent home in another location 
  • develop service projects for the community 
  • support student work; Ian can think of many projects himself but ideas gain traction only when a student leads 
  • develop outreach projects with the community outside of Brandeis (hence my warm welcome and visit) 

and has developed partnerships with
  • the university library 
  • Deis3D, the university 3D Printing Club, 
  • research labs on campus (like the NASA lab using Oculus Rift to study effects of motion on the human body in space) 
  • vendors who donate or discount hardware and supplies 
  • university clubs and teams 

Some of their projects include
  • printing prosthetic hands 
  • printing orthotic boot inserts for the ski team embedded with sensors to improve athletic performance. The Maker Lab had goal to incorporate sensors into a project because there is an expert working in an on campus lab. 
  • using Ardunio computer parts to make low cost solar powered phone chargers for students 

The blue hand is printed in hard plastic.  The orange hand is printed in rubbery plastic. Their next goal is to print a hand that passes the Turing test--when a computer shakes it, it will think it’s human. Their plan is to print a hard skeleton covered by a soft skin.

3D printing = mind-blowing.

Want to print a house out of chocolate? Skin for a burn victim? A replacement part for that cheap plastic coffee maker instead of buying new one and adding to a landfill? Build a 3D printer and print another one for your friend using the one you just built? All these things are possible with 3D printing.

My invitation to the Maker Lab came from Brandeis sophomore Noah Fram-Schwarz, the president of Deis3D, the Brandeis University 3D printing club. He won’t be a sophomore at Brandeis for long, though--at the end of December he is leaving school to move to California for his new job: 3D Printing Lead at Google.


To most people, 3D printing is exotic, unnecessary-- a big “so what?” But pay attention because people in technology circles believe that 3D printing will change the world on the same scale as the internet. We haven’t discovered all of the applications of this flexible, scalable technology that can print limitless things, sizes, materials, and quantities--but it’s coming thanks to groups like 3Deis.

Noah is a creative, charismatic, friendly and passionate proseletyser of 3D printing. He started the club last April as a freshman and spent last summer doing an internship at <Maker Bot>, one of the big 3D printer manufacturers. He spent a lot of time on our visit encouraging my friend, a 16 year old boy building his own 3D printer, sharing ideas, pointing him in new directions, and recommending that he apply for an internship this summer in Atlanta.

Some of the projects that the club has in the works are:
  • printing and building a food extruder so the club can print food 
  • printing cupcakes with the Cupcake Club 
  • inviting a rabbi to certify one of the printers kosher so it can print kosher food (the “Replikosher”) 
  • printing a cookie deliverer to attach to a drone so it can make happy deliveries to people on campus 

A gallery of objects they’ve printed:

More pictures from my visit

Some partnerships the club has developed are
  • hosting various groups for visits (like me)
  • children’s educational outreach at Waltham Public Housing
  • Splash, an organization where university students teach K-12 students

The Future of Makerspaces

Companies like NVBOTS have developed cloud based 3D printing for education that removes the steep learning curve. The printers can run 24/7 without physical oversight, and the company maintains the printers on an annual lease.

NVBOTS is also developing process for printing metals, printing in liquids, and calibrating filament extruders so the material they print stays precisely the same thickness throughout the printing process.

Not to get too nerdy, but another wave of technology coming our way is wearable technology. Imagine what students could do with Ardunio, fabric, and 3d printed pieces!

So how does this apply to K-12 students? 

Newton North High School and the Meadowbrook School have established maker labs for their students using Design Thinking principles for curriculum planning.

After investigating makerspaces, I've come to see that these four ideas give a good framework for thinking about makerspaces and what they can do in a school:


Which skills will students develop? (problem solving, grit, collaboration, sharing, independent learning)


Who will be involved? (students, faculty, community members, learners in other locations)


What can students make? (academic projects, community service, personal exploration, club and sports outreach, standalone self-directed makerspace curriculum with badging)


What relationships can we build with our makerspace? (mentoring by Brandeis 3D Printing Club, road shows to public library, elder group, hosting a Maker Faire for area students)


Barrett, Katherine. "Playtime hacked: kids' makerspaces blend art and technology to reuse and repurpose." Alternatives Journal 40.3 (2014): 42+. Educators Reference Complete. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.

Colegrove, Patrick "Tod". "Editorial board thoughts: libraries as makerspace?" Information Technology and Libraries Mar. 2013: 2+. Educators Reference Complete. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.

Kurti, R. Steven, Deborah Kurti, and Laura Fleming. "The environment and tools of great educational makerspaces: Part 2 of making an educational makerspace." Teacher Librarian 42.1 (2014): 8+. Educators Reference Complete. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.

Long, Christian. "Teach your students to fail better with design thinking: design thinking combines collaboration, systems thinking, and a balance of creative and analytical habits. And it might just help your students make the world a better place." Learning & Leading with Technology Feb. 2012: 16+. Educators Reference Complete. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.

Some Maker Spaces

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