Editor's Note: This is the second in a series during this National Week of Making to highlight Making in museums and libraries.

By Sarah Winchowky

Project Manager, Maker Jawn Initiative

Maker Jawn Initiative at the Free Library of Philadelphia, has its roots in youth empowerment and engagement and has evolved organically since 2011 through various grants and programs offered by the Free Library. Maker programming offers a safe space for students to come after school to explore, tinker, and learn. What began in one library has grown to six library locations in North Philadelphia. 

In 2014, the Free Library of Philadelphia's Maker Jawn Initiative was awarded a three-year IMLS National Leadership Grant. The grant has enabled us to enhance our interest-driven, participatory programming for school age children and to develop new efforts to include adults. Adult Mentors have always played a key role in the success of making in libraries in the City of Brotherly Love. One of the main foci of our IMLS grant is to engage, embrace, and encourage all age groups to explore, tinker, and learn together.

(Photos Courtesy of Maker Jawn Initiative: A student works on building a stage in the Free Library's makerspace.)

(Photos Courtesy of Maker Jawn Initiative: A student in the Free Library's makerspace provides a demonstration for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.)

Over the past eighteen months, we have worked hard to increase interactions between generations through community engagement. We came at this challenge in several different ways. A collaboration was built with another longstanding Free Library program, the Literacy Enrichment After-school Program (LEAP), teaming up with their afterschool leaders to build a more robust program for students, ages 7 – 18, in the afterschool hours. We also made a concerted effort to improve communication and engagement with staff working in other parts of the library, by involving them in our programming and weaving our programming into the fabric of the library itself in North Philadelphia.  Additionally, we have brought in local professionals such as artists, storytellers, and urban farmers to share their gifts and talents with the local community and expose out patrons to opportunities in their own backyard. 

Efforts to bring adults into the makerspaces, however, have not been without challenges. Physical space limitations in libraries, as well as a previous precedent of maker programming being for “kids only,” has hindered our efforts to increase the intergenerational nature of our makerspaces. There has also been hesitation on the part of adults to take on the role of a learner. We are actively working to encourage adults in our spaces to seek cooperative problem solving. We tell them: Failure is not the end of an idea but an opportunity for the beginning of something new. 

(Photo Courtesy of Maker Jawn Initiative: Adult visitors to Maker Jawn are busy making and tinkering.)

In the second half of the grant period we plan to target the full scope of the community with family-oriented programming and adult-focused days to further increase intergenerational interactions.

To learn more about Maker Jawn, please visit makerjawn.org.

Sarah Winchowky is the Project Manager at the Free Library of Philadelphia for the Maker Jawn Initiative. She is coordinating the Maker Jawn: An Intergenerational Library STEAM Initiative (IMLS # LG-07-14-0096-14).