You are here

Maker Movement Takes Over Pittsburgh

February 13, 2015

By Peter Wardrip, Learning Scientist and Lisa Brahms, Director of Learning and Research Children's Museum of Pittsburgh On January 27th and 28th, the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh and IMLS co-hosted a convening of library and museum professionals from across the country. Despite the fact that a snowstorm kept seven of our participants out of the Pittsburgh area, 74 participants representing libraries and museums from 26 states and the District of Columbia attended the two-day meeting. The purpose of the convening was to move forward an initiative between the museum and IMLS to identify key elements of library and museum makerspaces that support learning. Ultimately, the outcome of this project will be a framework to guide learning in these spaces.

Participants reflected on the goals of their makerspaces and maker programs and how facilitation and materials supported those goals.


Leading up to the meeting, my colleague Lisa Brahms and I developed a draft framework for supporting learning in library and museum makerspaces. From September of 2014 through December, we visited over 30 library and museum makerspaces across the country, interviewed key staff members at these spaces, and distilled the key ingredients that we heard and observed across these spaces. In general terms, the framework is built around the ideas of Purpose, People, and Pieces and Parts. These three categories reflected the importance of identifying the “why” of making in one’s space, taking into account the significant role people play in managing and facilitating maker experiences, and ensuring that the tools and materials—the pieces and parts—align with the goals of the makerspace, the mission of the organization, and the capacity of the people.

Library and museum maker professionals engaged in making activities, like this design challenge to rescue space cargo.


Throughout the convening, we designed opportunities for the participants to challenge the relevance of these categories as well as better understand the variation that exists within each category. With the help of our project thought partners from the Exploratorium, Maker Education Initiative, North Carolina State University, and the Chicago Public Library, as well as the teaching artists from the museum’s MAKESHOP, we engaged participants in different making activities in order to reflect on both how those activities and their relationship to the framework elements listed above, aligned or not with the activities in their own space, as well as the learning that those experiences elicited. For the next steps in the project, we will refine the framework, craft a publication to explain and illustrate the framework, and develop a suite of tools to assist practitioners in using the framework. These tools will help users design and implement a new makerspace or program, refine an existing one, and evaluate and assess them. We are using the website to document this work and share resources.

Participants discussed learning practices in making and how we can support them.


We realize that many more maker educators in museums and libraries are doing great work. As this work develops, we encourage you to go to our web site, and add comments or reactions to this work. A special byproduct of this meeting was the outstanding new interactions it fostered between museum and library professionals. As we further develop this framework, we hope to continue this cross institutional sharing. We have so much to learn from each other.