Monthly Archives: September 2018

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!

Our friends at Niles District Library featured in their local newspaper!

We were excited to see a flurry of local interest in the Niles District Library’s Skillshare space and Library of Things. Check out the summary below or enjoy the full article here!

Library workshop series offers skill sharing

by Kelsey Hammon, Niles Daily Star
Monday, August 27, 2018

NILES — It is not always cost effective or timely to wait for a repair man to show up and mend that cracked drywall or wayward appliance.

Thanks to the efforts of the Niles District Library, those looking to spare their wallet and learn to be handier around their home can gain the tools during a new workshop series called SkillShare.

How it works

For the past month, volunteers have been lending their skills to locals, teaching them how to do everything from household repair and maintenance to skills in the kitchen. The workshops are free and open to the public and people are welcome to make suggestions for workshops via the library’s Facebook page.

Those without a diverse toolbox need not shy away from this workshop series. Part of SkillShare is also offering participants a whole tool closet, called the Library of Things. Here, people can check out and return the tools needed to complete a project.

Laura Hollister, the adult services team leader, who was among those with a vision for SkillShare, saw it as a way to help her community garner new skills while saving on resources they might not have.

“Instead of spending $30 on drywall mix to fix two screw holes, spend $3 on a little bit of spackle and you check out the drywall kit,” Hollister said. “We are trying to provide the tools to go along with the information.”

Those who visit the space can also experiment with their own Do It Yourself project during Open Shop, which takes place 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.

An example for other communities

The idea garnered not only a response from the community, but also the University of Michigan. The partnership helped to transform a portion of the library’s basement into a thriving workshop space.

Kristin Fontichiaro, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, first took an interest in the project about 11 months ago. Fontichiaro had visited the library to host a workshop of her own, when she struck up a conversation with Hollister about the vision for SkillShare.

“We were really captivated by the scope and the scale of what Laura was trying to share with SkillShare,” Fontichiaro said.

Through the partnership, Fontichiaro said the university donated about $1,000 in funding and some of the tools residents can find in the Library of Things.

To help, Fontichiaro said the university served as a “peer and thinking partner,” while those involved also studied how the Niles District Library got the project off the ground. Now, SkillShare in Niles will serve as an example for other communities, Fontichiaro said.

On Friday, university students shot a commercial at the Niles District Library and captured the project. The footage will debut in a couple of weeks and be used on the university’s social media platforms and YouTube.

“It was exciting and humbling to have them identify us as an example of what they are trying to help communities accomplish,” Hollister said. “It was exciting for them to be able to be in place where the community was so active in this space. This is not an example of us doing something for the community. It’s an example of us doing something with the community.”

Hollister welcomed people to contact the library and teach a workshop or make a suggestion for something they would like to learn. People are also asked to donate their unused tools or decorations for the Library of Things.

Without community support, Hollister said SkillShare would not exist. Volunteers’ desire to teach classes and the community’s donation of tools are aspects that will help to keep it going and making it a success.

Additionally, SkillShare is part of a larger transformation to utilize the basement space of the library. In the future, Hollister said the library hopes to have adult education classes and even a café and vocational training space in the downstairs space.

As for the overall goal of SkillShare, Fontichiaro said she could see it serving the community.

“Laura thinks about not just what any library could do, but what Niles District Library can do for the community of Niles,” Fontichiaro said. “She’s being very intentional about using this thing to solve real challenges that Niles citizens face every day.”

Our friends at Benzonia Public Library featured in this May 2018 School Library Journal article!

In getting organized for the new school year, I realized that we had never blogged about our friends Finn McLaren and his mom, Benzonia’s director Amanda McLaren, being featured in School Library Journal! Enjoy the excerpt below, and click here if you have an SLJ subscription and want to read the entire piece!


Making the Difference;
More than cool materials and DIY learning, makerspaces build confidence, expand worlds, and teach life skills
by Marva Hinton
School Library Journal, May 2018

FINN McLAREN WAS A SHY TEEN who never showed an interest in sports or school clubs. He hadn’t quite found his place or an activity that sparked his interest. But when a group from the University of Michigan conducted a maker workshop at his local library in the summer of 2016, his mother saw “a total transformation.”

“It lit something up in him,” says Amanda McLaren, Finn’s mom and the director of the Benzonia (MI) Public Library that hosted the workshop.

Now 15 and a high school sophomore, Finn runs the Benzie Guild of Makers, a club he created consisting of mostly fourth to sixth graders. He is also thinking about his future.

“Because of the maker program and working with the younger kids, I have thought of a career teaching math and science, so I could incorporate making,” he says …

Makerspaces and the maker-centered educational philosophy of open-ended, student-driven learning through discovery and experimentation can change kids’ lives. Like Finn did, many children build confidence in a makerspace. They find a place where they belong. Children who are without many friends can develop a social circle of those with like-minded interests. Students who struggle in a traditional academic setting experience success. Those who are afraid to try and fail discover how much can be learned when things go wrong. They feel the satisfaction of perseverance and problem solving …





Finn McLaren is the mentor. His group meets at the library twice a month and … one of their favorite things to do is deconstruct mechanical toys.

“They learn how things work,” Finn says. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Finn’s mom finds joy in seeing his confidence and emerging personality.

“The kids are so drawn to him, and he is so patient and lovely with them, that I could not be more proud,” she says. “He’s just completely come out of his shell.”