I’ve been asked how my library (that I left in late 2013) handled dangerous tools such as soldering irons in our library makerspace. Here is how I’ve answered these questions:
As a small library we were often able to accommodate fairly dangerous activities safely that larger libraries might worry about, including soldering. We do have a liability release form, which we adapted from existing makerspace forms (one is here, adapt as you like but vet with your legal counsel).
What about kids and dangerous tools?
We never had more than five kids soldering at one time and often had two adults overseeing them. But sometimes adults were not closely supervising individuals, but let me explain how this worked:
We held several soldering workshops in which people of all ages (but mostly kids) learned to solder LED pins, printed circuit board kits such as the Octolively, and robot kits. We followed the “learn one, do one, teach one” model, in which each person “certified” to use the soldering tools on their own had to learn from us, demonstrate good skills and safety in a later interaction, then teach someone else how to do the task safely and well. At that point we used our best judgement to allow people to use the tools in a traditional makerspace manner–i.e. whenever they wanted to. Still, if the solderers were kids that we were concerned about being distracted, we would keep a close eye on them as they worked with the tools.
Our rules were:
1. MOST IMPORTANT: Always treat the soldering iron as if it is hot. At 475 degrees you’ll burn anything you touch, so it’s critical, even if you JUST saw someone taking the iron out of its box and plugging it in, to treat it as if it is at full temp. No waving it around. Always return the iron to its stand immediately.
2. Keep the mat under your work. We bought mats that one can iron clothes on, to prevent an accidental “set down” of an iron from melting or burning the table. (Before that we’d had one kid get distracted and set the iron on the cardboard she had under her project. Since we were watching closely, it barely touched the cardboard before we told her to pick it up, but this made us aware that even with supervision, accidents happen.)
3. Use the helping hands. These are little metal stands that have clips on them to hold whatever you’re soldering.
4. Keep your grip far back on the solder. (i.e. don’t hold it so close to the part that’s being melted that heat travels up and burns your fingers, causing you to drop everything in alarm–this never happened)
5. Learn to fix your own mistakes, but make sure you tell someone when you’ve made one. (We helped extra with mistakes because it seems like it is easier to do stupid stuff with the soldering iron when frustrated.)
Did you have any incidents or problems?
The slight charring of cardboard is the only incident we ever had, and it happened only once. That said, these were good, responsible kids (and adults) who listened to directions, took our authority seriously, and WANTED to be able to continue using the tools. We told them that if there were an incident, it was likely the tools would go away forever. So, keep that in mind. I’ve had other batches of kids (and adults) who I’d never trust with soldering irons unless we were one on one. And even then, I’d worry. USE YOUR JUDGEMENT–KNOW YOUR PATRONS.
Did you hire expert teachers?
I was the “expert” and had never soldered before in my life. I learned via the fabulous Ladyada, Limor Fried, practiced a few times, then taught. No problem. I had another volunteer “teacher” in exactly the same position. She and I did great, and I think it made a great impression on the girls and women in the audience that we had just learned and were already pretty good, and we were female. I now teach classes on this and have taught a hundred or so librarians to solder! (if your library system wants a program on makerspaces, I’d be happy to consider it–I’ve done it for several systems so far)
Anyway, we did have expert volunteers for other stuff, such as robotics, and circuit bending, but usually I learned it, then taught it. For me, there are a lot of power/pedagogical reasons to be just ahead of the kids when teaching, and letting them surpass you is great. As I noted before, often the kids took over some of the teaching (part of our learn one, do one, teach one model) and our best soldering & 3D printing teacher was actually just shy of his 12th birthday.
Should I be concerned about kids using dangerous tools? What age limits should we consider?
Yes, you should be very concerned about kids using soldering irons. We had kids age 11+. Again, these were calm, responsible kids. I knew them, at least by name–I was not the teen librarian. I would have a great deal of concern about a rowdy group, one that “shows off” a lot when in groups, or kids I didn’t know at all to be fairly laid back. If you have kind of wild kids, I would highly suggest getting a 1:1 ratio of volunteers to eagle eye every move during the initial training period. And give kids plenty of elbow room so they don’t burn someone whilst gesticulating with soldering iron in hand!
Younger kids also soldered during our maker faire type of event, but only with their parents right there.
Where did you use soldering irons, and what about the fumes?
We soldered in both a small classroom and in the library proper. I was not concerned about the fumes, because we had good ventilation naturally circulating, but if you are concerned, see my post on 3D printing and air quality here.
I feel like the very limited time that people will be soldering, the large scale of most libraries, and the frankly small level of fumes being spewed out by the solder probably make this a non-issue for libraries. Now, if you’re doing intensive work over hours and/or have a small space with poor ventilation, that may be another story.I am not an expert on this, and your mileage may vary.
What other dangerous tools could people use?
Exacto knives are particularly terrifying, moreso than soldering irons, because people don’t respect their danger.
Dremel tool, hammer, scissors, paper guillotine (honestly, we never let this out in the makerspace area!), PVC pipe ratchet cutter, boiling water, oven and stove, knives, garlic crushers…
books, ideas, pen (being mightier than sword) and so on.
Any further questions? Check out my other FAQs, email me, or comment here. I also do workshops on all these tools and makerspaces in general.
We have held 3 graffiti programs at the library now. I have to say, these are some of the coolest programs we’ve ever done. The teens are so excited to get to do this “dangerous” street art, and they’re really good at it.
The first program we held was part of my Frances Henne/YALSA/VOYA research grant-funded series of six programs. For this we hired the fantastic artist Patrick Stoltman (note to librarians near Madison, WI: Hire him now!) My favorite part of this program, besides the nearly delirious joy of the 17 kids who attended (maybe the delirium was just the fumes) was when a local banker came out of the bank and saw what the kids were doing. He seemed so surprised and happy to see what we were doing. We invited him to join us, and he did. He nearly sprayed his snazzy suit when he held the spraypaint can backwards, but an eagle-eyed teen spotted the problem just as he started to press the nozzle, and disaster was averted. But he happily painted for a moment before he drove away.
Now this guy is actually the son of the owner of the bank–one of the most influential people in our tiny town. I’d never seen him in the library before, but lately he’s been coming in. Coincidence? Maybe, but I choose to believe that he was delighted by the program and decided to check us out. And now we have a huge gorgeous work of graffiti art on the wall of the library.
Our next program involved graffiti inspired by kanji, sprayed on clothes. Teens painted jeans and t-shirts. They unvented some pretty nifty techniques by purposefully letting some paint seep through to the other side of the clothes.
The last graffiti program we had involved spraypainting some letters to make a 3D sign for our teenspace in the library. I’ve been driving around for three weeks with these finished letters in my backseat. I keep forgetting to buy the epoxy I need to glue them together. But when I’m done, the teen area of the library will look utterly fantastic–and the teens keep clamoring for more graffiti programs.
So, as a note to all the librarians out there who I know are dying to host their own graffiti extravaganzas, here’s my 10 tips for a great graffiti experience:
1. Hire a pro. I paid $150, and may have been able to get away with less, but I value artists and would have loved to pay more had my budget allowed it. I actually used Craigslist and got about a dozen applicants, all of whom were incredibly talented. I just liked Patrick’s app best. I would have hired him for the other programs, if I’d had any money left in my budget.
2. Buy at least one can of paint per teen attendee, with a few extra for unexpected drop-ins. We didn’t preregister, and I was worried that we’d have a lot of people. For a town of less than 4000, 17 kids is a lot, but we were fine. We had some paint left over, but I’ve had to buy more for our third program. It costs about $3 a can. Buy an enormo roll of plastic dropcloth. The gazillion feet roll I have will last for several more programs. Don’t be stingy with the plastic. I knew that if I had a drop of paint on the parking lot, I would hear about it forever (and never mind the fact that doggie doo regularly adorns this lot).
3. Don’t leave the teens unattended. Duh. Even though I have the coolest, most chill teens in the universe, who all uniformly respect the rules and listen to me (no joke–I’ve told them if they are freaks, I won’t be able to convince my boss to have more sleepovers or other cool stuff, and they totally love those programs) I still wouldn’t leave them alone with fully loaded cans of spraypaint. I went over the rules very clearly, before they were allowed to touch the paint (RULES: no painting each other; no painting anything except the panels; be careful of overspray, both yours and others; no running around like an idiot or you’ll get hurt or sprayed).
4. We did these programs in the library parking lot. There was a breeze each time. The cars were far away. But the first time I was so terrified of overspray that I kept bleating like a sheep in a flooded ravine. So make sure the teens understand overspray and just how far it can travel (many feet with a gust of wind) and make sure no one stands in the overspray of another artist. And as for the bleating–I learned to relax. The kids want to do this again, and if you’re clear that will only happen if there’s no visible evidence of paint, then they’re more careful than you would believe–except for very brief moments when really excited, so make sure you’re paying attention and remind them to calm the heck down.
5. Be aware of fumes. No matter how much plastic you put up, there is NO WAY you could have this program indoors. Every person there would lose 30 IQ points from breathing that crap. Even outdoors it’s a little much. You may want to take a snack break inside halfway through to let the noxious chemicals die down.
6. The graffiti’d pieces can’t be moved for a while. Allow time for the paint to dry. Again, this may seem like a “duh” statement, but when 17 teens spraypaint over and over on the same board, there’s an enormous puddle of paint that needs to dry, and that takes forever. Encourage teens to spray lightly. No one can take the graffiti home that day, it actually took some of our stuff a couple of days to cure. Make sure you have a secure spot to store it all. We carefully took our wet stuff into my teensy storage cubby and it still stinks in there.
7. Have many pieces of plywood, cardboard or whatever, for them to paint on. This helps with the puddling of paint, because they won’t all spray in the same spots. We were going to do a fundraiser and sell our pieces, but in the end, I just gave them to the teens. We’ll fundraise later. But I think you could raise some money with these cool panels–maybe a silent auction?
8. If you spraypaint jeans, be aware that any stretching of the fabric will be negated by the paint. In other words, superskinnies will no longer fit over the scrawniest of 13 year old legs after they’re painted. Paint baggy stuff instead.
9. Give the kids a chance to practice and look at graffiti. For our first program, Patrick showed a brief powerpoint showing styles and techniques, and we had paper and books for them. Outside we had pieces of poster board for them to practice the techniques and give them the feel of things. He also briefly touched on the subversive social commentary of graffiti, and totally delineated the difference between legal and illegal graffiti. “Respect the art, and don’t deface things and give it a bad rap!” he emphasized.
10. Prepare for a lot of startled comments when people walk by and see what you’re doing. I advocated for both the teens and the library by saying things like, “aren’t they incredible artists” (which they totally were) and “our library is the coolest” (which it totally is).
If you do a graffiti program at your library, I’d love to hear about your experiences. We could post pictures here too.
I just presented at Wisconsin Library Association’s annual conference with two other awesome librarians on using tech to make better, more engaging, and often cheaper programs. Peg Checkai of Watertown presented Karen Wendt’s work on online book reports. Kristin Lade of West Bend showed us all how to do skyped author visits free or inexpensively.
I, as usual, had a gazillion ideas to share, so created this powerpoint to showcase some of the internet sources I use to create what I (modestly) consider some of the most booty-kicking teen programming in the universe.
While the powerpoint is currently devoid of the commentary that tells you how I use these resources and why, it still may inspire you. I’ll try to create a slidecast shortly with commentary. For example, I look at Etsy with teens to decide which crafts we’d like to make, and I actually get emails from teens who have looked at it at home. They clue me in on a great idea, then I keep all these ideas on Pinterest. While this isn’t exactly innovative, I like to put teens in the driver’s seat and they like to look at all the cool stuff available on sites like these.
I’d love to hear what tech (not just internet) you use to make fabulous programs at your library.