Happy New Year! Looking ahead to 2023!

We have an exciting year ahead with lots in store.

Dr. Melo’s NSF-funded five-year CAREER program project, “Equity in the Making: Investing Spatial Arrangements of Makerspaces and Their Impact on Diverse User Populations,” enters the second half of year two, which will unveil a newly-designed and refined Virtual Reality (VR) makerspace. Last year, working closely with Horizon Productions, Melo and her team redesigned a VR makerspace that reflects findings that arose during the first phase observation.

As in the first phase, participants from historically underrepresented student populations in STEM fields and who have never been to makerspaces will be recruited for this phase of the program. Data will be collected via verbal reporting (i.e., think-aloud protocol) to capture real-time reactions from study participants while they walk around the VR makerspace using a HTC Vive headset or via desktop.

Newly designed VR makerspace

Newly-designed VR makerspace


The new VR makerspace is equipped with everything people would encounter in academic makerspaces, such as computers, a laser cutter, power tools, 3D printers, art supplies, a power tool workspace, a soldering station, and a sewing station with sewing machines. Special attention was paid to the space configuration, arrangement of tools and equipment, workstations, the color of the wall and rugs, signage, shape and size of furnishings, sound, and smell. All of these features are representative of the findings from phase one of the research project.

The second observation phase, which begins in Spring, will allow Melo’s team to gain further insight into why students from historically underrepresented communities shy away from makerspaces. In addition, the findings will help transform other makerspaces from typical run-of-the-mill academic makerspaces to much more inclusive, inviting, and collaborative spaces.

Within the next couple of months, we will launch our Open Educational Resource (OER) textbook, DREEAM: Designing Responsive, Equitable, and Ethical Academic Makerspaces, a how-to guide that will feature open-access publications, a public release of the VR makerspace for educators for them to use to gain insight from the communities they serve, and lesson plans for educators and information professionals. The OER’s primary purpose is to circulate the open-source VR makerspace and Melo’s research findings to encourage other STEM educators to leverage them for their use. DREEAM will be rolled out in parts. A soft pre-launch of the OER will take place via Tiny Café.

We also look forward to participating in the upcoming Inclusive Makerspace Conference hosted by the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, May 23-25. This year’s theme is the “unequivocal implementation of equity, diversity, inclusion, decolonization, anti-racism (EDIDA) frameworks for designing highly critical, responsive, and inclusive makerspaces that start with a culture that promotes equity and reduces disparities.” Dr. Melo will deliver a keynote speech entitled “Space Invaders: First-time Users Feel Like Trespassers in the Makerspace.”

Last but not least, we welcomed a new member, Jackson Brooks Barbee, to the team! Jackson is a senior studying Information Science with strong data analysis, design, and management skills. We are thrilled to have Jackson Brooks Barbee join us.

EiTM Lab in Action at the Durham County Public Library

As a part of our community outreach for the NSF Equity in the Making grant , the EiTM Lab hosted face-to-face keepsake box-making workshops in the Innovation Lab at Durham County Public Library. The two hands-on workshops were an excellent opportunity to connect with community members and share our passion for seeking equity through critical making.

We went to the Durham County Main Library (DCPL) with box-making kits (cut using our laser-cutter), portable makerspace equipment (Cricut Machine, wood burning kits, 3Doodlers), and assorted handicraft and art tools. The Innovation Lab at DCPL was already equipped with 3D printers, laser cutting machines, poster printers, and sewing machines – it was a perfect place for the workshop.

Attendees working on their keepsake boxes

After a short presentation, the participants set out to construct and decorate their wooden keepsake boxes. Participants got to observe and try out the Cricut machine, which was in high-demand. Participants were busy cutting on-demand designs like bull silhouettes (after all, Durham Bulls)s and North Carolina stickers for decorating personalized boxes.

Most workshop participants were 50 years old or better. We also welcomed an 8-year grandchild. Despite some frustration and complications with hot glue guns, by the end of the workshop, every participant went home with a  personalized wooden box with a hinged lid, an experience with making with technology, and an afternoon to remember. One participant left with an additional kit “to teach her husband” at home.

Boxes decorated by participants

Examples of decorated boxes

A thank you email from the Durham Parks & Recreation (DPR) Mature Adult Group Leader said,

“Our Mature Adult participants were so taken with all the tools and ideas they got to try out and be creative with. They are still talking about how much fun they had making their keepsake boxes.”

The truth is that we (the EiTM team) had just as much fun and rewarding experience as the participants did.

Group picture of EiTM and DCPL members


EiTM at Durham County Library

Publication on 3D Printed Prosthetics

person wearing 3d printed hand prosthetic

person wearing 3d printed hand prosthetic


The Global Care Ecosystems of 3D Printed Assistive Devices” was published in the ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing. EitM Research Assistant, Rachel Rodney, supported this research during her undergraduate program by interviewing and analyzing data from stakeholders in the experience of a user receiving and using a 3D printed prosthetics. Below is the article abstract: 


The popularity of 3D printed assistive technology has led to the emergence of new ecosystems of care, where multiple stakeholders (makers, clinicians, and recipients with disabilities) work toward creating new upper limb prosthetic devices. However, despite the increasing growth, we currently know little about the differences between these care ecosystems. Medical regulations and the prevailing culture have greatly impacted how ecosystems are structured and stakeholders work together, including whether clinicians and makers collaborate. To better understand these care ecosystems, we interviewed a range of stakeholders from multiple countries, including Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, France, India, Mexico, and the U.S. Our broad analysis allowed us to uncover different working examples of how multiple stakeholders collaborate within these care ecosystems and the main challenges they face. Through our study, we were able to uncover that the ecosystems with multi-stakeholder collaborations exist (something prior work had not seen), and these ecosystems showed increased success and impact. We also identified some of the key follow-up practices to reduce device abandonment. Of particular importance are to have ecosystems put in place follow up practices that integrate formal agreements and compensations for participation (which do not need to be just monetary). We identified that these features helped to ensure multi-stakeholder involvement and ecosystem sustainability. We finished the paper with socio-technical recommendations to create vibrant care ecosystems that include multiple stakeholders in the production of 3D printed assistive devices.


3D printed prosthetics are an example of equitable making, which is a core value of the EitM Lab. 3D printing prosthetics meets the needs of several intersecting barriers – accessibility, affordability, and flexibility in terms of directly personalizing the devices. The 3D models of prosthetics can be modified for use while playing sports, such as throwing a tennis ball, or altering the prosthetics over time to fit children as they grow. The additional bonus of being able to choose what colors the prosthetic can be makes them more personable so users can design them to align more with their identity.

3D Printing Without 3D Modeling Experience

Phone holders, vases, pixel cats…the possibilities are endless with 3D printing. Unfortunately, modeling objects for 3D printing is not as exciting as the possibilities. Many people are not comfortable or familiar with 3D modeling softwares such as SolidWorks, Rhino or Blender. However, 3D modeling is not needed in order to print objects.

To show people how to find objects to print as well as use the Ultimaker 3D printer we have in the EitM lab, research assistant Rachel Rodney created a how-to guide on finding 3D objects on Thingiverse and printing them. She tested these instructions with a classmate who had no prior 3D modeling or 3D printing experience. This classmate found the instructions easy to follow, and had started printing a snake within a few minutes. This classmate also noted that if she knew it was this simple to use the 3D printer, she would have started using it a long time ago. 

Having instructions available is important to making our makerspace inclusive. A barrier that people experience when using makerspaces is that they are not sure how to use the tools, and feel uncomfortable in the process of figuring things out. By having step-by-step instructions, our goal is that students will feel more comfortable entering our space and testing things out without knowledge being a barrier.


multiple 3D printed objects

Examples of 3D printed objects in lab

Infographic of Findings from “Descriptive Theory of Makerspaces”

The EiTM team designed an infographic for their recent article, “Descriptive Theory of Makerspaces: Examining the Relationship Between Spatial Arrangement and Diverse User Populations.” This graphic illustrates the two main themes found in this theory: one, that is is hard to define what “makes” a makerspace; and two, the affective and intangible features of makerspaces.  Designed by Emily Arnsberg, the EiTM team will use this graphic at future conferences and poster sessions.


Infographic of research findings

Infographic of research findings

Learning Through Making for Future Librarians

Curious about how future librarians can benefit from learning through making? 

In a blog post “Building Student Confidence Through Authentic Learning Experiences,” the University of Toronto Press featured the paper By the Book: A Pedagogy of Authentic Learning Experiences for Emerging Makerspace Information Professionals” written by Dr. Maggie Melo and Dr. Laura March published in the Journal of Education for Library and Information Science. 

Dr. Melo and Dr. March investigated the experiences of Library and Information Science students upcycling a hardcover book to a personal artifact. Findings from this study showed that “the technical competence and confidence needed for future information professionals to excel in a makerspace career can be achieved through maker projects that allow affective learning  experiences alongside technical skill development.”

EiTM Daily Tar Heel Feature

UNC’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, wrote and published an article on EiTM’s research entitled “UNC SILS researchers aim to create more equitable makerspaces.” From the article:

The Equity in the Making Lab at the UNC School of Information and Library Science hopes to establish greater equity for students from underrepresented communities at the University and other college campuses through a virtual reality makerspace.

A typical makerspace is a collaborative learning environment, said Maggie Melo, an assistant professor in the school, who is leading the project. These spaces will often have a variety of modern technologies, like 3D printing, laser cutting and microcontrollers and electronics.

Read the full feature via DailyTarHeel.com.

Happy New Year! Reflecting on 2021

The crisp air, occasional snow storms, and the buzz of a new semester introduces us into the new year of 2022! Before we jump too far into a season of new beginnings, we are so proud of how far we have come. Reflecting on last year, we are happy to share that we have accomplished our goals in the first phase of the NSF CAREER project  about the information seeking behaviors of marginalized student populations in academic library makerspaces.


What did this look like?

Before picture of office space, after picture makerspace

In the garden level of Manning Hall, we transformed an office space into a lab space: the new home of the Equity in the Making Lab. After taking down the cubicles, ripping out the carpet, and repainting the walls, we transformed a corner office room into a bright makerspace that was envisioned by the EiTM team. 


This space is complete with a laser cutter, 3D printer, soldering stations, sewing machine, and Cricut machine. Drawers are filled with the opportunity of crafting supplies and Arduinos, ready to be used. Last semester students used this space to do Arduino work for their class labs, and a book making class was hosted in this space. Adding to the space’s ambiance is the mural along the back wall painted by Mimi Stockon, MSLS student, inspired by data collected from Phase 1 of the research project where we asked makerspace leaders, “What are the defining features of a makerspace?” 


In the first phase of the study, we surveyed university makerspaces around North Carolina, to uncover what defines a makerspace. Here’s some of the things people said: 


  • “[A]t its core, a makerspace is an environment in which you can create, and when I say create, that could be any process, any kind of creation”
  • “It’s got a really good vibe to it, it feels like a space where folks can be both creative and technical and it almost has like a laboratory kind of vibe to it like you’re experimenting. So you don’t feel like you’re under a microscope and you can’t touch anything when you come in, it’s less steril.“
  • “We have 3D print examples of varying types and colors and they’re on a clear shelf that mounts to the glass wall so you can see it from either side and any angle and it does spark interest and possibilities.”


The first article based on our research, “Description Theory of Makerspaces: Examining the Relationship Between Spatial Arrangement and Diverse User Populations,” has been submitted for publication. During this time, Dr. Maggie Melo also published “Where’s the ‘Video Off’ Button in Face-to-Face Instruction?” in Inside Higher Ed. Dr. Maggie Melo and Laura March also published “It’s time to tackle perfectionism head-on in the classroom” in Times Higher Education.  Additionally, Dr. Melo, Laura March, and Dr. Kimberly Hirsh presented “Examining the Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Library Makerspaces and LIS Makerspace Curricula” at the 2021 Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE) conference. Currently we are working on publishing a second article which details findings on the defining features of university makerspaces.


The findings from the second article are contributing to the design of the virtual reality makerspace that a local development group, Horizon Productions, is creating for the next phase of our research. During this phase, we will conduct Participatory Action Research with students from traditionally marginalized backgrounds as they enter the virtual makerspace for the first time. This will aid us in discovering what components of the typical makerspace can be improved to be more welcoming and inclusive. Soon we will be hosting pilot studies, which will help us refine our study before beginning official testing. 


This year was filled with exciting progress in creating the EiTM Lab, conducting studies, presenting and publishing our work, and working collaboratively with Horizon Productions to create a virtual reality makerspace. It was also a year of saying good-bye to Dr. Kimberly Hirsh, a valuable researcher and colleague who helped with the nascent stages of the research program. We also welcomed new members to the team, Emily Arnsberg and Rachel Rodney. After recently meeting with the NSF project’s Advisory Board, we can’t wait to continue seeking to identify and break down barriers students might have towards entering and using makerspaces. 

OpEd on Tackling Perfectionism

Last month, Times Higher Education published an OpEd written by us (Laura March and Dr. Maggie Melo) titled, “It’s time to tackle perfectionism head-on in the classroom.” In it, we suggest and describe three specific approaches for combatting debilitating perfectionism – from both faculty and student perspectives:

  1. Tell students what’s on the table
  2. Name perfectionism
  3. Make assessment an ongoing, transparent conversation

For more, read the full OpEd via Times Higher Education.

Affinity Diagramming Makerspaces

The EiTM Lab is working with Horizon Productions to begin the development of a virtual reality makerspace! The Lab is currently in the 2nd phase of the Equity in the Making: Investigating Spatial Arrangements of Makerspaces and Their Impact on Diverse User Populations project. During this phase, the Lab will work with Horizon Productions to develop the VR makerspace environment. The environment is a critical feature of the design study: the Lab will capture real-time reactions, thoughts, and impressions of students entering a makerspace for the first time. 

During a recent visit to the UNC Chapel Hill campus, Horizon Productions came and checked out the EiTM Lab and two BeAM makerspaces. The goal of their visit was to gain a better understanding of this fundamental question: What should the VR makerspace look like? To answer their question, we drew from the findings from our first phase of the project and Rachel Rodney (EiTM Research Assistant) created an affinity diagram based on 14 out of the 19 makerspaces found in universities across North Carolina. Some of the makerspaces did not have images on their websites or social media, and were omitted. 

Rodney visited both the makerspaces’ websites and Instagram accounts to compile images that reflected each of the spaces. The images were organized into an affinity diagram; a way to organize the images based on similarities to see what components were included in makerspaces. For example, if pictures included 3D printers, they would go into one category under types of tools. Or, if the picture showed the whole makerspace, they would go into a category together under space configuration. By grouping images by similarity, Rodney was able to identify commonalities between spaces that would lead to defining what components built a makerspace. The diagram resulted in 6 categories:

  • Space Configuration. This category showed ways that makerspaces were organized.
  • Tool Stations. Each makerspace showed “tool stations” which were established places that users could 3D print, solder, etc.
  • Coworking Space. Centered in each makerspace were tables for users to collaborate and create things. 
  • Presentation Space. Some of the makerspaces included areas where people could present their work and progress.
  • Computer Stations. Some machines often found in makerspaces, such as laser cutting and 3D printing, require the use of a computer. Makerspaces had computer stations that people could use to interact with the machines.
  • Project Display. An area where previous projects, or project ideas, are shown.
Categorized images by similarities

Example of some categories in the affinity diagram

Top 3 Findings

Based on the categories, Rodney defined some findings that informed general findings about university makerspaces:

  1. Most makerspaces include a coworking space, computer station, and tool stations. This shows that makerspaces prioritize both the ability to work with their tools, as well as open spaces to continue working on the project or to collaborate.
  2. The size of the space can inform on the type of tools the space is geared towards. Smaller spaces cater more towards tech projects, including 3D printing, laser cutting, soldering, etc. Larger spaces are more organized for sculpting or wood working.
  3. Coworking spaces include tables in the center of the room, with tools and materials surrounding it, showing that ‘making’ is the priority. 

Using these findings, Horizon will be able to develop a Virtual Reality makerspace that includes typical tools and spaces within which students might encounter in university makerspaces. This will enable the EiTM Lab to research the everyday information seeking practices of students from underrepresented STEM communities.