About the Author: Nora Peters is the current Maker Program Director at the Millvale Community Library in Pittsburgh, and a former Maker Corps Member. For more information, follow @MillvaleMakers on Instagram or email Nora.
The Millvale Community Library (MCL), for those of you who don’t know, is an amazing little library in a borough of Pittsburgh, called Millvale. The MCL is tiny, bright yellow, and solar powered. It is connected to a delicious tea shop and veg/vegan cafe, and together the two buildings are home to three apartments, whose tenants (including myself) all contribute to the library culture in some way. We have two full-time staff members, the Maker Program Director (myself) and the Sustainability Coordinator. The mission of the MCL—More than a library, an agent of positive change—is clear as soon as you walk through the front doors. It’s really an amazing place to live, work, learn, and make.
I have been working at the MCL since 2014 when, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and fresh out of college, I was accepted as a Maker Corps Member. My first summer at the MCL was also the first summer that the library was open, which gave me liberal amounts of creative freedom. Alongside my fellow Maker Corps Member Anna, we planned a full summer of drop-in maker programming for the kids in the community. We designed a weekly schedule of themes and created corresponding daily activities. Bike Tuesdays, Craft Wednesdays, Maker Thursdays, and Fiber Fridays harbored a group of kids who learned to clean a bike chain, create a mosaic, build a foosball table, and sew a pair of shorts. With photo documentation and detailed notes on project highs and lows, we wrapped up the season with a solid foundation for the Millvale Community Library Maker Program’s future.
When I applied to be a Maker Corps Member for my second year in a row, my application was more of a letter to old friends than a formal request for a job. I was so excited to return to the MCL and jumped right into creating another summer of maker programming. Our second year of Maker Corps turned out quite differently than the first. I had assistance from a teen who had been involved in the library since its creation and was really enthusiastic about the chance to work with kids on a programmatic level. The MCL had made room for a maker space in the back of the building next door, and our Clubhouse Maker Space was open for kids to use. Having our own space made a huge difference, but also raised a few unique challenges. Since we were no longer taking apart printers in the middle of the library, the lack of immediate visibility began to affect our numbers. Fewer kids and parents were aware that we had maker programming going on because they couldn’t see it happening. We began installing signs throughout the space, and I tried to split my time between working with kids in the Clubhouse and making in the back of the library.
During Fall 2015 and into 2016, I stayed on as the Maker Educator at the MCL. I came back to the library once a week for Maker Wednesdays, and I was able to continue working with many of the same kids I saw over the summer. By staying present in the library throughout the school year, I was able to create a lasting relationship with the youth who visited us and gauge interest in different ideas for the coming summer of maker programs.
In Summer 2016, we made the shift away from drop-in programs to summer camps that required parents to register their children ahead of time. We took kids to the Warhol Museum, the Carnegie Art Museum, TechShop, and to see local murals and public art installations. Campers learned how to screen print, 3D print, make sculptures, paint murals, and document all of their learning. All of the camps had 12 spots, included free lunch and a snack, and were offered at no cost to the parents. And, aside from additional library staff who would lend a hand here or there, I did it all on my own. It was possibly the most stressful summer ever, but I had a great time, and the kids did as well. Once again, I wrote vigorous notes about the various successes and failures of the camps, and took excessive photos and videos… I knew that this would be invaluable information when thinking about programming in the future.
After the summer was over, it was clear that having a full-time staff member dedicated to creating engaging maker-based learning opportunities for patrons provided value to the library. I became the Maker Program Director in September, which gave me the time and support to expand our Maker Programming to reach more of our patrons. We now have regular partnerships engaging high schoolers from an alternative school in town and adults with developmental disabilities from a day program across the river. We’ve attached our mini makers program to our story time, creating a full day of activities for PreK-aged kids and their families called Small Fry Fridays. We have expanded Maker Wednesdays, creating two drop-in times for kids, one in the early afternoon for homeschooled children and their families, and the other in the afternoon for our regular after school crew. We started offering monthly Adult Maker Workshops, where local makers, artists, and craftspeople come to the MCL and teach a 2-hour workshop to a group of 10-12 adults. We continue to do regular outreach to local schools and after school programs in town. I’ve also started a project called MCL Picture Book Maker Crafts, where select books in our collection contain directions for a craft/maker project printed inside of the cover of the book, giving the readers another way to engage with the text after reading the story. The books containing crafts are marked with a bright green sticker on the spine, so that patrons are able to see which book have a maker project on the inside simply by browsing our shelves.
The planning for this year’s summer camps happened quickly and effectively because of the large number of notes we had from previous years. We have 6 camps planned for this year. MakeShop Camp (with the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh), Environmental Camp, Pottery Camp (led by a local artist), Fiber and Fashion Camp (led by myself), Millvale Maker Bootcamp (led by our Maker Corps Member), and Community Garden Camp (in the Gardens of Millvale). Camp sign ups went live at 10am on April 1st, and the morning camps were full by 4pm! One week later, afternoon camps filled up as well. We have over 75 unique kids signed up for summer programming, and another 30 on waiting lists. And our budget for summer programming was just $1000. Not too bad for a tiny library, eh?
Summer 2017 will mark the Millvale Community Library’s fourth summer being open. It will also be my fourth summer with the MCL and my fourth summer working with the awesome folks at Maker Ed. Soon there will be a new Maker Corps Member joining the MCL team, and we can’t wait to see what amazing changes and updates they bring with them! We’re buckling down for an amazing summer, and I can’t wait to continue sharing our awesome work with you all. If you read this far, thank you for bearing with me! And, if you want to see what we work on this summer, follow us on Instagram!
Happy Making from all of us here at the Millvale Community Library! If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, please venture across the river and say hello—we’d love to have yinz!