Niles District Library news feature

One of our partner libraries, the Niles District Library in southwestern Michigan, has recently been featured in an article about increasing use of libraries among millennials. The article from PBS Michiana reviews a Pew Center study about library usage. Staff from several Michigan and Indiana libraries. including the Niles District Library, were featured in an accompanying video.

Check out the news item here.

Making at the Ypsilanti District Library–updates from the last few weeks

This semester, we’ve been holding weekly makerspace workshops at the Ypsilanti District Library. These events are for children of all ages and their parents. Each week has a different theme, and every week we are amazed at the creativity we see! Below is a summary of the last eight weeks of Michigan Makers at the Ypsilanti District Library.

Toy Takeapart

Week number one started with the foolproof activity of toy takeapart. This was a fascinating activity to do with a wide range of ages–the younger children were going for quantity over quality, seeing how many toys they could take apart and finding the stuffing inside the toys as entertaining as the electronics and circuitry. Meanwhile, the older children were meticulous. One older child was taking apart a toy cat–she would not consider opening up the electronic component until her cat had been stripped of all of its hair.

Pictured below is one of our Michigan Makers grad students, Tori Culler, with that very same cat, reduced to its ‘skeleton.’ Notice the hodgepodge of colors and types of plastic making up the frame of this cat–an indication that this cat might be made up of recycled parts.

Sewing and Knitting

Week number 2 was focused on sewing and knitting. It was amazing to see how these traditionally gendered activities were popular among all children! The Ypsilanti District Library had previously run sewing workshops for children, and they were thrilled to see the sewing machine again in particular.

The activities that we officially had on tap were finger knitting, felt puppets, and yarn pom poms, but the kids used their imaginations to invent their own crafts. One child made a pillow out of felt and carefully machine-stitched his first initial onto it; our youngest maker, meanwhile, was happy making glue designs on a piece of felt and learning how to operate scissors.

Fun With Circuits

Our third week was circuit week! We had a variety of crafts that all centered around using a battery to light up an LED, including light-up duct-tape bracelets; light-up cards; and squishy circuits. With the younger age range, we again found the more-is-better attitude – one maker tried to cram 10-15 LED lights into one bracelet. We also found that the bracelets were an incredibly popular activity. Something wearable that the kids could take home and show off was a real draw.

Construction and Building Challenges

During Construction and Building Challenges week, we brought in cardboard boxes, hot glue, plastic wrap, tin foil, decorative paper, scissors, and tape – so much tape. We laid down a street and lots on the floor with masking tape and instructed kids to build a neighborhood. We did not give instruction beyond that–we wanted to see what the kids thought their neighborhood needed.

Boy, did we learn a lot about what the average neighborhood needs! One helipad, one rocket launcher, one soccer pitch, and one house with a pool out back and a diving board on the roof.  Meanwhile, another maker took it on himself to make a lifesize car instead of a building, which we loved. Children also started constructing with materials that we hadn’t even brought, like foam blocks that were already in the room.

A couple photos of buildings in our neighborhood are below:

Inventor’s Challenge

For our fifth week, we brought back some cardboard construction tools, as well as other construction materials–LEGOs, TinkerToys, K’Nex, et cetera. We then used our Design Thinking Game to give each maker an individual project to work on. Some projects included “design something to help a robot go grocery shopping, but the robot can’t use its arms” or “design something for a fat cat to sleep in.”

We noticed that children had a hard time focusing their attention for an hour and a half on one project–next time, we’d have them rotate halfway through. Below are two children who decided to take a break and learn how to screw MakeDo screws into cardboard instead.

Valentine Fun

Happy Valentine’s Day! During this week, we brought back the cards that we’d made during the circuit week, thinking that a light-up card would make a great Valentine’s Day gift. Also on the table was glass decorating and button making. The button maker was a runaway favorite – once again, we found that children really liked getting to make something, wear it, and take it away to show their loved ones. This was also a tool that makers could operate by themselves, with a little training–they had a sense of ownership toward their projects after choosing the image and creating the button all by themselves.


Robots on Parade

On this day, we brought four different kinds of ‘robots’ to the library–OzoBot, MeeperBot, Dash, and some homemade robots that we made with motors, batteries, and 3D-printed stingrays. We were once again surprised with how inventive the kids were–the motors that we had intended to power our stingray robots were quickly co-opted to power LEGO cars. We had originally brought the LEGOs for the MeeperBots, but hey–we weren’t going to get in the way of invention as it happened!

The photo below was taken by Jeffrey Smith, a photographer at the U-M School of Information.


The most recent activity we did, right before U-M’s spring break, was called “Surprise!” on the calendar. We decided to bring back a few favorites – the homemade robots and the buttonmaker – as well as something new – marshmallow catapults made out of popsicle sticks, spoons, binder clips, and rubber bands. While we made a few example marshmallow catapults, we encouraged children to make their own designs, and were excited to see what they came up with!

We also offered prizes for the marshmallow catapult, and noticed that children were incorporating the prizes into their projects in amazing ways. One girl made a massage headband by attaching a motor from our robots to a headband she’d chosen from the prize bag. She then used some popsicle sticks from the marshmallow catapults to add cat ears. 

That’s the rundown from the first half of the semester! Check back to see what else we have in store!


Benzonia’s Holiday Party!

This past weekend, Making in Michigan Libraries took to Benzonia for a fantastic winter extravaganza! We spent a wonderful weekend helping out at Benzonia’s annual Holiday Party joined by Tori Culler and Caroline Wack from our Michigan Makers project.

Benzonia has a lovely tradition of hosting a holiday party to celebrate the approaching holiday season. The event started with baked goods, punch, and a puppet show hosted, as always, by Dr. Fizz and Boomer the Rat. The puppets asked the audience about their holiday traditions and sang Christmas carols. In case you missed it, Boomer likes all things cheese during the holidays.

After the puppet show came a fantastic balloon animal making event with Neil Sauter, the Michigan Stilt Walker!


Neil made reindeer balloon animals and other festive creations. He also taught the kids how to shape the balloons as well — all from his high-altitude position. He even made balloon creations upon request during the final hour of the event.

The final hour was a whirlwind … kids could get a custom balloon creation from Neil, get their photo taken with an elf straight from the Detroit Parade Company, and let their creativity fly. BPL’s Repurposeful Librarians organized an ornament and craft workshop on one side of the room, and we hosted a gift making and wrapping workshop, bringing back some favorite materials (like making your own LED-illuminated holiday card and using paint pens to create a one-of-a-kind glass votive holder) and adding some new ones (like decorating chalkboard frames for loved ones).

Make your own LED light up Christmas cards with Tori!
Decorating chalkboard frames and plaques in front; glass decorating with paint markers in back
Chalkboard frame decorating
Twin artists showing off their work

After everyone was done decorating and crafting  they wrapped their gifts at the gift wrapping station with Caroline so they could give it to someone they care for later.

When we weren’t creating things, we enjoyed admiring Beulah’s decorated holiday windows, doing a little holiday shopping from local artists, and cheering on the holiday parade. It was a wonderful and creative weekend.

WSBT 22 Article on our Friends at Niles Library!

Our work at Niles Library was featured in WSBT 22! Check out the video and article here.

Project creates ‘Library of Things’ in Niles

by WSBT 22 | Thursday, October 25th 2018

A local library is transforming the way people can use it. The University of Michigan is now partnering with the Niles Library for a new project.

The program is designed to build skills and relationships.

It’s no secret libraries are trying to adapt to the changing world.

At this library, that means more knowledge is being absorbed by seeing and doing. Watch a report from WSBT 22’s Caroline Torie in the video above.

Kristin Fontichiaro and Benzonia Library Staff met with Senator Darwin Booher to talk about MML

On October 18th, Kristin Fontichiaro and Benzonia Library staff members met with Senator Darwin Booher to talk about MML’s relationship with rural libraries through the University of Michigan School of Information. Mark Rivett created a news event on the University of Michigan’s Government Relations page, which can be found here!

The news event with wonderful videos can be found below.

UM School or Information faculty and Benzonia Library staff meet with Senator Darwin Booher

October 18, 2018 by Mark Rivett

Today, Senator Darwin Booher from Evart, Michigan, visited the Benzonia Library to learn more about the UM School of Information‘s efforts to strengthen relationships with local rural libraries. Here are two UM videos highlighted their efforts in Benzonia.

Maker Movement: Researching Making in Michigan Libraries

Libraries Engage: Benzonia Public Library

Front Row Left to Right: Kristin Fontichiaro, Clinical Associate Professor UM School of Information; Michelle Leines, Assistant Library Director Benzonia Library; Senator Darwin Booher
Back Row: Jimmy McLaren, MAKER Coordinator

Lucky 13! The 13 Amazing Libraries We’ve Worked With!

Over the years, MML had the pleasure of working with 13 wonderful libraries! From Peter White Public Library in the UP to Niles District Library in the Southwest MML has been partnering with libraries all over Michigan!

MML Library Sites

  1. Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library
  2. Ann Arbor District Library
  3. Benton Harbor Public Library
  4. Benzonia Public Library
  5. Coopersville Area District Library
  6. Frankenmuth James E. Wickson District Library
  7. Houghton Lake Public Library
  8. Niles District Library
  9. Nottawa Township Library
  10. Peter White Public Library
  11. Pickford Community Library
  12. Saginaw District Library
  13. West Iron District Library

We’re honored to have been able to work with and continue to work with so many wonderful libraries across Michigan. Thank you, to our 13 fabulous libraries!

School Library Journal Wrote a Great Article About MML!

School Library Journal (SLJ) wrote an article about MML’s resourceful low expense projects and events! This article was published in November 2017, but is just as relevant today. To view the article on SLJ’s site check it out here!

Cheap Thrills: Maker Projects that Won’t Break Your Budget

by Linda Rogers
Nov 17, 2017 | Filed in News & Features

Clockwise from top left: Through a Michigan Makers partnership, coordinated by Kristin Fontichiaro, an elementary student repurposes junk materials to make something new; building a cardboard ATM machine at the Stewart Middle Magnet School in Tampa, FL; a cardboard city at a Redwood City (CA) Library Foundation event.
Photos courtesy of (clockwise from top left): Michigan Makers of the University of Michigan School of Information; Diana Rendina; Robert Pronovost

High-tech projects involving 3-D printers, laser cutters, and fancy video equipment are usually an easy draw for students, but ideas that involve cardboard, straws, and T-shirts can also deliver a big burst of STEAM without breaking the bank. We asked librarians and other experts around the country to share the most popular low-cost making projects they’ve seen or done. Here are some to try this year.


Photo by Strawbees

Straws lend themselves to lightweight building and are surprisingly resilient Strawbees, which are stronger and more flexible than regular straws, are designed for inexpensive prototyping activities; a pack of 200 colorful Strawbees costs $10. “I have seen students build catapult projects, engineering projects, and weight-bearing projects,” says Heather Moorefield-Lang, associate professor at the School of Library Information Science at the University of South Carolina. “Afterward, you just break them apart and start something new. They just keep giving.” Strawbee connectors are available in a kit for $20; students can also scan and print more on a 3-D printer, suggests Moorefield-Lang. If your library is equipped with a die-cutter, you can create your own connectors from old plastic containers (#2 and #4 plastics work best).


Adult-size, secondhand T-shirts can turn into all sorts of togs with a pair of scissors. “Kids can wriggle through the neck holes of an adult shirt and, using the ribbing as a waistband, create a T-skirt,” says Kristin Fontichiaro, clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. She suggests cutting off the hem of a second shirt to make belts or braiding the strips to use as a hairpiece. Turn T-shirts into knights’ tabards by cutting a line straight down the shirt from the shoulder to the bottom, or create capes by cutting off the shirt front from the shoulder seams, leaving the ribbing intact. Discarded sleeves can become knit caps. Then kids can dress up in all these new garments to enact scenes from their favorite books. Fontichiaro recommends the activity for third graders on up; students need to be able to manipulate fabric scissors.


To publicize a Cardboard Challenge event at the Benzonia (MI) Public Library, this cardboard robot and puppet “marched” in a local parade, with information about the challenge—open to kids and adults interested in inventing, building, and crafting with cardboard—on its back. The robot was created by Jimmy McLaren, who is married to library director Amanda McLaren.Photo courtesy of Benzonia Public Library


When then nine-year-old Caine Monroy built an arcade entirely of cardboard, he launched a movement and a website. Students can join this year’s global challenge—or be more open-ended and design their projects. To start, you’ll need to provide cardboard, glue guns or duct tape, paint or markers, and some cardboard-cutters. Robert Pronovost, a maker space consultant and founder of EmpowerMINT, dedicated to empowering students through making and innovation, likes to have students work with Makedo’s kid-friendly saws, which are included in a toolkit ($12.95 each, Diana Rendina, media specialist at Tampa (FL) Preparatory School, also recommends a battery-operated cutter from Skil (about $40 on

Pronovost gets kids’ creative juices flowing by giving them stacks of cardboard, tape, butcher paper, and tools to build a cardboard city. Librarians can start by constructing one building, with or without student help, and have them work alone or in groups to add on. Spurring them on with questions leads to planning and innovation: Does this city need an airport? Would hotels be useful? What about a reservoir or city hall? The beauty of this project is that students of all ages, even preschoolers, can join in.

Heather Lister, a consultant for Mackin Educational Resources and a former teacher librarian, put a new spin on the cardboard challenge by giving her students the chance to create a plaything for her then two-year-old son. They asked him questions about his likes and dislikes and then crafted toys, including a marble run. The only parameter: every part of their creation had to be DIY. “What I really like about this project is that it not only focused on the invention and design process, but involved research and knowing your audience,” Lister says. She also liked that kids were creating for someone other than themselves, fostering empathy, and suggests that students could design for one another or for kids in other classes.

Michigan Makers participants sort through recycled materials to create gifts.
Photos courtesy of Michigan Makers of the University of Michigan School of Information


Free building material is all around, if you just look: It’s not too difficult to collect empty cereal or cracker boxes, toilet paper tubes, yogurt containers, broken toys, and more. Then add scissors, tape, glue, and a stapler to your stash. “Students can create the slowest marble maze or board games, prototype the next holiday must-have toy, or invent their own creations,” says Fontichiaro. Best of all, preschoolers on up will be able to make something—and tap into their problem-solving and design skills.


Play-Doh plus LED lights, a nine-volt battery, some wires (repurposed from old tech), and alligator clips can give kids the chance to fashion light-’em-up creations—including flags, animals, and motor circuits, among other projects. Pronovost suggests checking out for ideas, along with instructions for making your own conductive or insulating dough.

Michigan third graders take apart a toy guitar to see how it works (left);
multicolored squishy circuits.
Photos courtesy of Michigan Makers of the University of Michigan School of Information (left) and Robert Pronovost


“Most schools have a closet somewhere that has a ton of old technology,” says Lister, whose own school had desktop computers dating back decades. Kids can dismantle old computers and repurpose what they find inside. One of her students made an exhaust system from the fans found inside the computers. Lister repurposed the wires to serve as conductive material for other projects—and for making cool jewelry. Not all schools have tech closets; if that’s the case, parents and community members are usually happy to donate. You’ll probably get a number of obsolete objects, including camcorders and cassette players.


Toothbrushes make great little robots, especially when you go to a dollar store and buy packs of battery-operated toothbrushes, says Lister. Snap the head off the toothbrush and find the vibration motor inside the motor. Then tape the vibration motor and battery on top of the bristles. Make sure the bristles are angled, Lister notes—if they aren’t, you can angle them by placing a heavy book on the bristles overnight. Bots can run races or be used as drawing machines by attaching markers.


Students can make amazing creations with heat-fusible plastic beads known as Perler beads, says Rendina. She buys them from Amazon, but cheap ones are also available at Walmart. Kids can use plain, clear pegboards (also at Amazon) to create their own designs or depict their favorite fictional characters, using free, downloadable templates online. After the students have finished their bead artworks, place parchment paper over the designs and iron the beads to fuse them together. Rendina ironed her students’ creations and trained a few responsible eighth graders to help out.


This $99 digital cutting tool was originally designed for scrapbookers, but Fontichiaro also likes the fact that it doubles as a low-budget vinyl cutter that’s easy for children and grown-ups to use. Students can cut shapes to decorate laptop lids or smartphone shields. Fontichiaro also suggests that kids cut stencils from self-adhesive paper (like Contact) and use them, along with fabric paint or etching cream, to create designs on T-shirts or glassware gifts. As for materials, glassware and T-shirts are often available for $1 or less at secondhand stores, she notes.

Pizza boxes transformed into green screens.
Photo courtesy of Heather Moorefield-Lang


Pizza boxes can make excellent portable green screens, as Travis Nelson, library media consultant at Richland County School District One in Columbia, SC, demonstrated to Moorefield-Lang. Nelson starts by painting the interior (top and bottom) of the boxes green. Then he attaches little characters to green straws procured from Starbucks and uses the Green Screen by Do Ink app ($2.99, iTunes) to make videos of puppet shows and stories.

Looking for more ideas? Check out Make It @ Your Library, where projects can be filtered by cost, suggests Lister.

Linda Rodgers covers health and education for a variety of magazines and websites.


The University of Michigan News Wrote an Article About Us!

The University of Michigan News wrote a lovely article about Making in Michigan Libraries: Customizing Community Libraries! The article covers our partnerships with Benzonia Public Library and Niles District Library.

The following objectives of MML were identified in the article:

1. Build a sense of community

2. Help people take advantage of tools and shared resources to solve problems they have in their own lives

3. Build the next generation of thinkers

These objectives are why we have continued to do this work. We’re so thankful for our wonderful partnerships and all the opportunities we’ve been given!

Niles, Benzonia, other Michigan cities work with U-M to engage residents in creative ways

ANN ARBOR—The noise level at the Niles District Library is not very library-like some days. Voices are well above whispers. Things look out of place and the tables are a tableau of objects lying in pieces, patrons busily studying them, figuring out how they work and what other ways they can be used.

While the library’s guests aren’t focused on finding a book at the moment, there most definitely is an interesting story behind what they are doing.

Jean Hardy – Doctoral Student, School of Information. Image credit: Michigan Photography









It’s called Making in Michigan Libraries, a project that pairs rural librarians with the University of Michigan’s School of Information, taking libraries and making them into places to create, get active, connect with the community and learn in different ways.

“People are trying to find ways to stay engaged in their community,” said Laura Hollister, adult services team leader at the Niles District Library.

A partnership project like this accomplishes that, she said, and is “changing how the library functions in our community.”

There are costume creation labs, hack-a-toy events, smartphone photography workshops and a range of makerspace and STEM-based projects that bring benefits to local residents of all ages, she said.

Hacking Toys. Image credit: Michigan Photography

Hacking Toys. Image credit: Michigan Photography

Turning libraries into more active spaces is at least a decade-old approach to maintaining libraries’ relevance, but the maker movement in libraries is novel. Making in Michigan Libraries provides resources and support to librarians who have found ways to use hands-on learning to customize their libraries to fit their communities’ needs.

At the Niles District Library in southwest Michigan, the Making in Michigan Libraries project spanned a year as the library converted basement storage space into a Skillshare Space. Skillshare was designed to help Niles residents improve their homes by loaning them tools and offering DIY training in repairs. This effort took on particular urgency when the area was flooded in February.

In northern Michigan, the project’s multiyear partnership with the Benzonia Public Library is continuing its events, which started in September with a course in improving smartphone photography. Benzonia’s community courses go through April and include a popular end-of-year activity connected to the holiday parade—the town’s biggest event of the year.

Kristin Fontichiaro - Clinical Associate Professor, School of Information. Image credit: Michigan Photography

Kristin Fontichiaro – Clinical Associate Professor, School of Information. Image credit: Michigan Photography

Nearly every library that participates in Making In Michigan Libraries covers large rural areas, which, like anywhere, has needs for social engagement, said Jean Hardy, a doctoral student at the School of Information. He works directly with librarians to execute their visions.

“Rural communities are interesting places,” Hardy said. “They are simultaneously really diverse and rich in culture but lack population density and the sort of resources to make spaces like this happen.”

Local librarians are the idea people behind the projects. The School of Information assists the libraries as they determine what events most resonate, launch them and then run with them on their own—or come up with new ones. They collaborate with the School of Information, which provides assistance and funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the School of Information’s Founders Fund. The Library of Michigan has helped select sites and provided insight as projects were developed and implemented.

Together, the librarians and the School of Information determine what events most resonate, launch them and then run with them on their own—or come up with new ones.

Skillshare, for example, will go beyond the flood recovery work and into other DIY repairs, as well as launch a collaboration with an alternative ed program located in the basement of the Niles library, said Kristin Fontichiaro, a clinical associate professor at the School of Information who oversees Making In Michigan Libraries.

“Libraries are embracing a much deeper interpretation of their original vision,” she said. “Sometimes that comes from books. Sometimes that comes from the inside of a toy.”

Fontichiaro said the goal is “to help libraries explore the maker movement, to diversify who comes in the door, create new points of interaction with the community, encourage creativity and create opportunities for community to gather.”

And to solve at least three challenges:

  1. Build a sense of community
  2. Help people take advantage of tools and shared resources to solve problems they have in their own lives
  3. Build the next generation of thinkers

“For a long time, libraries focused on how to do more for patrons that came in the door already,” Fontichiaro said. “What we do is part of a larger trend in librarianship: bring in new people, welcome different and more diverse interests and users, and explore concepts like libraries as hosts of online selling groups, and so much more.”

Pro Photo Day in Benzonia!

We started off another great year of partnering with Benzonia Public Library with a day of photography workshops.

Photo of Jeff Smith demonstrating
Photo of Jeff Smith demonstrating how to hold your camera to minimize movement

The University of Michigan School of Information photographer Jeffrey Smith was our professional mentor for the day. Jeff has visited Benzonia before as a photographer and videographer for Making in Michigan Libraries, but this was his first time giving a presentation. He did a marvelous job! In fact, Benzonia’s director Amanda McLaren tells us she just ran into someone from the weekend workshop who was still raving about it days later!

The group taking practice shots
The group taking practice shots. Placing your subject near a window is one of Jeff’s tips for better photos. Never use a flash is another!

Jeff’s session was broken up into two parts. The first part was on Saturday morning from 10 to 12 where he explained tricks for taking high quality photos on a smart phone. Such tricks included holding your fingers down on the screen to lock focus, moving your finger up and down on the screen to adjust exposure, and using the volume buttons while in the camera app to take a picture. After he showed a few tricks for taking photos he then went on to demonstrate how to edit photos on your smartphone with an app called Snapseed and everyone got up and moved around to try it out!

A break was given for lunch and then patrons met up in downtown Beulah for the photowalk! The photowalk gave individuals with smartphones and more standard digital cameras a chance to practice their skills and learn about perspective, light, framing, etc. from a professional photographer.


Jeff took patrons on a walk around town in unexpected places. Our first stop was near a dumpster behind a building. Jeff explained that although this would not typically be viewed as a great photo opportunity the bright blue color and texture of the wall led to stellar shots. It just required a matter of framing things so that the dumpster didn’t show.


Our next locations were the top of a high hill that overlooked a few rooftops with a view of Crystal Lake in the background, shooting from behind weeds on a beach because layers help make a better image, and capturing action shots of seagulls. After the photowalk the group headed back to Benzonia Public Library for a tutorial on editing photos on a computer through Photoshop. The event ended with a showcase of the beautifully shot and edited photos taken on the walk!


It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday — trying to view the world in a new perspective. If you want to see more photos from the event feel free to check out our album on twitter here!


This not-awesome photo was not shot by Jeff!