Wausau Library Is Brainstorming Ideas for a New Makerspace with the Community in Mind

Written by Chad Dally

As libraries evolve in the 21st century to meet the changing needs of their communities and maintain relevance as community hubs, more and more are carving out spaces for their patrons to create through so-called “makerspaces.”

What are they making there?

The answers are as varied as the books on the shelves…

They’re making:

  • Screenprinted posters and clothing
  • Music, videos, and podcasts
  • Codes for computer programs and apps
  • 3-D figurines
  • Laser-engraved woodblocks
  • …and much more!

Some libraries also incorporate sewing machines, basic circuitry gadgets for kids, and virtual or augmented reality equipment into their makerspaces.

The Marathon County Public Library (MCPL) recently embarked on a quest to create its own makerspace, thanks to a generous gift from the library’s Foundation.


A huge part of that quest is generating ideas for the type of equipment, gadgets, software, and other… well, “stuff” that will serve one or more of the following goals:

  • Filling a need in the community through use of software or tools our patrons may not otherwise be able to access
  • Introducing patrons to new technology
  • Fostering education, innovation, and creativity

The big step in generating ideas for MCPL’s proposed makerspace took place in September 2019 during an MCPL staff development day, with wide-ranging brainstorming sessions with library staff and representatives from the business and education communities.

Also joining the discussion was Fredi Lajvardi, one of the development day’s guest speakers who is a nationally recognized STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) educator and inspirational speaker from Arizona (more on him later).

Fredi Lajvardi
Fredi Lajvardi. (Photo from Twitter.)

First, the fun part:

What’s on MCPL’s wish list? What types of equipment, software, gadgets, and doo-dads would we like offer to our patrons, which might also be of some benefit to local K–12 schools and tech colleges and even provide skills development for the local workforce?

Here are but a few of the suggestions (and it should be noted that no decisions have yet been made):

  • An A/V studio with equipment and software to record and edit music, video, and podcasts, including a green screen to assist with video production
Example recording equipment. (Image by Joe007 via Pixabay.)
  • Equipment to transfer photos, slides, VHS tapes, and film into digital files
  • Sewing machines with open hours when anyone could use them, as well as specific classes on fashion design, costume making, or even clothing alterations
  • Laser engraving or a CNC (computer numerical control) machine
  • One or more computers set up for software development, app development, and/or coding — all of which could be used by young patrons and adults
  • STEM or STEAM kits (the latter being science, technology, engineering, ART, and math) that could travel to MCPL’s 8 branches and even to schools or organizations like the Boys & Girls Club

So, would library staff teach the public how to use this equipment and software?

The short answer is: Yes, with a “but…”

Yes, library staff certainly would work to learn the ropes of, say, audio-editing software, or at least the basics that would help get a patron started. But part of the excitement with makerspaces is that they give patrons a chance to learn on their own — to try and succeed or fail, to experiment, to have fun!

At the same time, the library doesn’t necessarily want to be the gatekeeper of the makerspace…

Libraries are community hubs, and we want people in the community not only to have the opportunity to use this equipment and software, but also to potentially help each other learn as well! For example, maybe we set up a program in which senior citizens use sewing machines to teach teens and younger adults how to sew and alter clothes? Perhaps we invite older adults and senior citizens to share stories of their lives, and teens or young adults with knowledge of audio and video software help them piece together and edit those stories?

Others who are experts in the field of manufacturing technology could teach classes and offer hands-on experience using the tools provided by the library.

Did you know that the Wisconsin Valley Library Service, of which MCPL is a part, already offers patrons of its consortium libraries the opportunity to take FREE, online, instructor-led classes through Gale Courses? (If you’ve never heard of Gale, and you’re a member of a WVLS library, it’s seriously worth checking out. Take free classes on topics ranging from screenwriting to computer programming to sales and marketing. It’s an incredible resource!)


Lajvardi added that coding programs are badly needed at schools and libraries across the country — especially programs that encourage girls and young women to explore the world of coding. Co-ed coding is fine, he said, but those that host coding should not shy away from female-centric or girls-only clubs and classes. Lajvardi himself is the leader of an all-female underwater robotics team called Desert WAVE at Arizona State University, which is in turn an outgrowth of his work coaching a high school underwater robotics team.

In 2004, Lajvardi led a team of students at Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, AZ, to an unprecedented win at a national robotics championship, which was later chronicled in the critically acclaimed documentary Underwater Dreams, in the major motion picture Spare Parts, starring George Lopez and Jamie Lee Curtis, and in the book Spare Parts, written by Joshua Davis. (Both the book and film adaptation of Spare Parts are available through the library here and here.)

Lajvardi F-Movie Poster Thumbnail (Spare Parts DVD)

But a makerspace — at least one in Marathon County — doesn’t have to focus extensively on the digital realm: the “T” in STEAM…

Opportunities could be created that focus on science and the environment and health care as well. Marathon County Administrator Brad Karger, who also attended the brainstorming session, pointed out that many residents of Marathon County enjoy the outdoors and are environmentally minded, so the library’s makerspace could potentially offer conservation and environmental science programs to help people connect with the nature in their own communities. That idea, in turn, snowballed into the concept of “gamification,” and creating competitions to solve certain local environmental problems as a way to engage the public and make it fun.

Others brought up the idea of working with students at the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Wausau campus to teach health literacy.

The point is, POSSIBILITIES! So. Many. Possibilities.

The library is still in the process of determining what types of makerspace equipment will be the best fit for our communities. There’s no definite timeline for when decisions will be made. That means, we still have time for YOUR input!

ideas for MCPL
(Image via Pexels.)


If you work for a local business, school, or non-profit organization — or you’re just interested in the idea of a makerspace at the Marathon County Public Library and what it could hold — feel free to email Chad Dally (chad.dally@co.marathon.wi.us) with your ideas of what you’d like to see!

Chad Dally - MCPL - Library SpecialistChad Dally
Library Specialist  |  Marathon County Public Library

Chad Dally is a library specialist with the Marathon County Public Library, where he’s worked since 2012. He splits his time at the library between reference and programming, and generally prefers to read nonfiction over fiction.  Email Chad Dally

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