A Guide to Help School Librarians Build Makerspaces

The American Library Association’s newly posted “Q&A: Makerspaces, Media Labs and Other Forums for Content Creation in Libraries”  could prove useful to school librarians and school administrators or school boards who are considering adding a makerspace, tech lab, STEM or STEAM lab, media lab, exhibit and performance venue, or other physical and virtual spaces for creative endeavors to their library. The Q&A should serve as a guide for school librarians and administrators as they create policies for such content creation forums within their facilities. The document emphasizes that it is not a policy template but rather a source for answers to questions that are likely to be asked (or should be considered) as libraries discuss content creation policies and plan new creative spaces. It also clearly states, “(this) document should not be construed as legal advice but may serve as insight as to when a library may need to seek legal advice.”

The Q&A’s discussions include the appropriateness of makerspaces and creative content creation technology in a library setting; the differences and similarities between public libraries and school libraries as public and non-public forums; and the applicability of First Amendment rights in both access and content. An example of the complex issues covered by the Q&A:

An academic and school library would generally be considered a non-public forum. However, if an academic or school library opened a meeting room or other space to public use, then it would be a designated or limited public forum as to that use and as defined by the entity. These libraries exercise greater control over access consistent with their missions. They may limit access to the library to the class of user intended to benefit from the library — e.g., students, faculty, staff, and alumni. However, decisions about access to resources and the removal of materials remain subject to the First Amendment.  

Particularly helpful for school librarians will be the discussions on the reasonable and legal limits that may be placed on the users of makerspaces, on accessibility to the space and technology, on reasonable and legal content creation restrictions, on acceptable use policies and what they might contain, on cost recovery, on librarian and library liability, on the users’ rights with the created content, and on issues related to licenses.

While the Q&A’s discussion of public library makerspace issues may not apply to school libraries they can nonetheless provide insight the school librarian might find useful to consider in designing and implementing creative content creation policies and technology.

As technological innovation provides school libraries with new abilities to provide both physical and virtual spaces where students have access that allows them to create their own original content in many different formats and to gather to share, discuss, and “publish” their original content on many different platforms it also creates new challenges for the safe yet open management of these new resources.


Ray James is the ASCLA liaison to ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee and a member of the Makerspace Q&A committee.



Categories: Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons

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