Video: Voices from Museum & Library Makerspaces


Why a Framework?

A framework, in some ways, is simply a metaphor. It focuses our attention on important elements of a setting, activity or idea. In this case, the focus is on supporting learning through making. Building a framework serves several goals:

Design:  The framework provides design considerations for practitioners who seek to develop a new maker program or makerspace. Each of the framework’s three broad categories provides guideposts that can steer the intentional design of the program or space.

Reflection & Professional Development:  The framework’s three categories serve as reflective points for practitioners currently engaged in this work. In this way, the framework serves as points to elicit formative feedback, and to create points for conversation amongst stakeholders.

Evaluation:  The framework can offer a structure for considering the evaluation of maker programs and makerspaces. The framework’s three categories may steer the development of summative measures to evaluate a program or space’s impact.

The elements of the framework are intended to guide practitioners’ planning and implementation. The framework is not intended to prescribe how to develop and implement.  From visiting makerspaces and maker programs across the country, it is clear that there are many different ways to offer productive maker-based learning experiences. Instead of prescribing a fixed methodology, the goal of the framework is to encourage critical discussion and encourage practitioners to consider critical aspects of design for maker experiences. In the spirit of making, this framework is meant to be flexible and adapted to serve each museum or library’s local concerns, priorities and conditions.

Framework Development

The development of this framework took place over a period of several months and was grounded in the current practices of museums and libraries nationwide, rather than just in theory. We began this process by reading some of the current learning research, as well as popular literature on making to better understand the variety of goals, disciplines and approaches that were being applied in makerspaces.

Next we set out to visit and speak with museum and library professionals engaged in making across the country. We took a “snowball” approach to interviewing professionals. From our initial review of research papers, reports, blogs and videos, we identified some key early adopters in the field.  Then we asked this group to suggest other professionals with whom we we should talk. We tried to interview people from multiple libraries and museums in each city visited, and combine trips with conferences and meetings we were already attending.  In total, we visited or interviewed 51 museum and library professionals.

Through interviews and site visits to library and museum makerspaces, we initially identified three key elements that create the conditions to support learning in these makerspaces. We held a convening in Pittsburgh at the end of January 2015 with a group of more than 70 museum and library practitioners as well as educators, funders and policymakers to vet elements of the framework. Through hands-on activities, and discussions, we received feedback on the framework. We adjusted the language of the framework elements, reworded some of the descriptions and expanded the attention each element pays to features of a makerspace or maker program. After the revision of the framework, the elements became: the purpose of the makerspace, the role of people in the makerspace, and the pieces and parts that are constitutive of the experience.


Maker spaces and maker programs often draw a lot of attention from the expensive tools or the unusual materials that are sometimes used. However, the not-so-secret secret ingredient about maker spaces is that people are crucial. People play an important role in creating the conditions for learning through making in museums and libraries. Yet, people, such as educators, librarians, volunteers, and guest makers, are necessarily used in a variety of ways based on a program’s goals as well as constraints that exist, such as funding and capacity to manage staff. What is the role that people play in the management, monitoring and facilitation of learning in a maker space or program?

  •  What roles do people play to support your program or space?
  • What is the staffing structure that exists or needs to be developed to support your program or space?
  • What is your approach to facilitating the making learning experiences? Why?
  • Can you assess your staff’s capacity to support making?
  • What strategies can be employed to ensure that staff’s capacity is developed over time?


Libraries and museums implement maker spaces and maker programs for a wide variety of reasons. Similarly, libraries and museums have a vast array of innovative learning design approaches to choose from to further their goals and mission. Why and how do making experiences, activities and/or the space align to and further the goals of a making program and connect to the overall mission of the organization? When considering the purpose, we might reflect on the following questions:

  • What are your program goals or goals of your maker space?
  • What does success for these goals look like?
  • How do you measure success?
  • In what ways does the program or space align with the mission of your organization?
  •  What is the audience that your program or space serves?
  •  Who are the stakeholders of your program or space?
  •  What are the values that underlie your program or space?

Addressing these elements fosters the conditions for learning in library and museum makerspaces. The next sections of the report will further explain these elements, provide brief descriptions of different makerspaces and maker programs and explain how they address elements of the framework. Depending on an organization’s experience and capacity, engaging in the framework may reveal meaningful gaps that cannot be rectified immediately. However, ongoing engagement in these elements can support the intentional design and implementation of a makerspace. This includes identifying meaningful intersections across the elements, such as the ways in which people and the pieces and parts they need to use can become interdependent.  Ultimately, ongoing attention to these elements can surface how the makerspace can address what is core to the museum or library.



Pieces and Parts

We are often asked by professionals who are beginning to think about a makerspace, “What equipment do we need to buy?” or “How many 3-D printers do we need?” It is true that the tools and materials are important for making. Yet, the tools and materials selected ought to align with the goals of the program and the capacity of the staff. What are the tools, materials and architecture that are central to supporting learning through making in a program and space?

  • What tools are important for your maker experiences? Why?
  • What materials are important for your maker experiences? Why?
  • What physical architecture is conducive for the purpose of your maker experiences? Why?
  • What role does digital technology play in the selection of tools and materials for your maker experiences? Why?
  •  What processes or functions are important to integrate in your maker experiences? Why?  

A Note on Language

In communicating this report, it is important to clarify a few points on language. First, both “makerspaces” and “maker programs” are referred to in this report. Maker-based learning experiences take place in a wide variety of settings in museums and libraries. Therefore “maker programs” is used to acknowledge that making can take place with or without a dedicated space. A maker program can encompass the maker activities that are carried out in  the conference room of the library, using a mobile cart, working out of a closet or acting as a “pop up” in various corners of a museum or library.

Second, the term “maker” or “making” can be inclusive or exclusive, depending on your perspective. Here, making is viewed as an umbrella term that may include programs that refer to themselves as “tinkering” rather than “making,” or spaces that refer to themselves as Fab Labs rather than makerspaces. While some will argue that there are meaningful differences between those terms, as well as others, the terms are grouped together in this report for the purpose of creating a framework that is the most broadly applicable. The field continues to learn a lot from a variety of hands-on learning experiences and so this project asserts that all programs may gain value from attending to elements of our framework.

Team Members

Peter Wardrip is a Learning Scientist at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. His research focuses on informal/formal learning collaborations, professional learning for educators, formative assessment and making as a learning process. Peter earned his PhD in Learning Sciences and Policy from University of Pittsburgh and is currently a visiting researcher with the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out of School Environments (UPCLOSE) and the Learning Media Design Center at Carnegie Mellon University.

Lisa Brahms is Director of Research and Learning at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh and visiting researcher with the University of Pittsburgh Center for Learning in Out of School Environments (UPCLOSE) .  Lisa’s research considers the design of informal learning environments for meaningful participation in creative processes with physical and digital media.  She received her PhD in Learning Sciences and Policy from the University of Pittsburgh. She has an MSEd in Childhood and Museum Education from Bank Street College of Education. 

Chris Reich is the Chief Administrator in the Office of Museum Services at the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington, DC.

Tim Carrigan is a Senior Program Officer in the Office of Library Services at the Institute of Museum and Library Services.


We would like to thank the following organizations who played a role in the development of the framework and the publication through their participation in meetings and workshops held by this project team.

Lawrence Hall of Science

Liberty Science Center

MacArthur Foundation

Madison Public Library

Maker Education Initiative

Meridian Library District

Millvale Library

Milwaukee Public Library

Montshire Museum of Science

Museum of Art and Design

Museum of Discovery

Museum of Life and Science

Museum of Science and Industry

Museum of Science Boston

National Museum of American History: Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation

National Science Foundation

New York Hall of Science

New York Public Library

Newark Museum

Normal Public Library

North Carolina State University Libraries

Northbrook Public Library

Northern Tier Library

Orange County Library System

Paul Orselli Workshop

Phoenix Public Library

Please Touch Museum

Queens Library

Science Museum of Minnesota

Science Museum of Oklahoma

ScienceWorks Hands On Museum

Scott Family Amazeum

Sprout Fund

Stepping Stones Museum

Tech Museum of Innovation

The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County

Tulsa Children’s Museum

Tulsa City-County Library

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of Pittsburgh

University of Wisconsin

Vermont Department of Libraries

Westport Library

Wilkinsburg Public Library

Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)

AHA! A Hands-On Adventure, A Children's Museum

Akron-Summit County Public Library

Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Ann Arbor District Library

Anythink Library

Arkansas Discovery Network


Barrington Area Library

The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation

Benson Memorial Library

Betty Brinn Children's Museum

Brooklyn Children's Museum

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Carnegie Science Center

Chilcago Children's Museum

Chicago Public Library

Children's Discovery Museum of Illinois

Children's Museum of West Virginia

Children's Museum of Houston

Children's Museum of Illinios

Children's Museum of Pittsburgh

Cleveland Public Library

Columbia College Library

Columbus Museum of Art

Conner Prairie

Creative Discovery Museum

Cuyahoga County Public Library

Digital Youth Network

Discovery Center Museum

Discovery World Science and Technology Center

DuPage Children’s Museum

Evanston Public Library

expERIEnce Children’s Museum



Field Museum

Free Library of Philadelphia

Grable Foundation

Great Lakes Science Center

Hagley Museum and Library

Hive Research Lab

Idaho Commission for Libraries

Iowa Library Services - North Central District

Kentucky Science Center


Kohl’s Children’s Museum