By: Jodelle Greiner, The Brookings Register
If you ever wanted to mess around with wires, motors, LED lights and other electrical gadgets and figure out how they work together, you might want to check out the Maker Kits at the Brookings Public Library.
The littleBits kits are for kids 8 years old and older; the Arduino Uno kits are more for teenagers and older, said Nancy Swenson, technology services librarian. They can be checked out like a book: for four weeks, one per library card, and can be placed on hold.
The littleBits kits have been available for checkout for a few weeks.
A class at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 12 will help patrons get acquainted with the Arduino Uno kits, and after that, those kits will be available to check out, as well, Swenson said. Those taking the class get first dibs, then other patrons can have them.
There is no charge for the class, but registration is required.
The class is limited to seven because that’s how many kits the library has. Swenson said if a couple of people – two friends or a parent and child – want to team up on one kit, that’s fine.
In case of inclement weather, the class will be rescheduled. The library will provide the necessary computer.
What is a Maker Kit?
The Maker Kits at the Brookings Public Library come in a plastic case with small compartments that hold electronic pieces that can be assembled, taken apart and reassembled so they do different things. There’s no end to what the kits can be, big or small, or what they can do, depending on the pieces.
“It’s big into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) stuff, but it also, especially lately, has started to incorporate more of the arts in there, as well,” Swenson said.
“The theory of maker technologies (is) you can learn a new skill or develop those abilities. Maker spaces are really popular, so some libraries in the country have an entire room or area dedicated into maker technologies,” Swenson said.
“It’s something that has been growing in libraries for a few years now. The American Library Association is trying to educate libraries about them and get it out there, as well,” she added.
The local library had a book on Arduinos, and a patron asked if they had the kits. The answer was no, “so he was gracious enough to donate seed money to buy a couple of the Arduino kits. And that’s kind of where it started,” Swenson said.
The Friends of the Library helped buy a few more, and Swenson hopes they will be able to keep adding to the collection in the future, as money becomes available, and add craft Maker Kits, like crocheting.
It can also help the patron learn more about real-word applications for technology, or “maybe on a grander scale” to prepare you for a job or modern-life technology, she said.
The littleBits Kits are intended for youngsters, but adults wanting to try out their hand with building electronics can give them a test-drive, too, Swenson said.
They come with books for inspiration, like building a little remote control car, but “really, it’s up to you as to what you want to do with them,” she said.
They have “very basic components,” Swenson said. “They are all color-coded, so it’s super easy for kids.”
Blue pieces are power sources, pink pieces are input, and green pieces are output.
“They snap together with a magnet, so the kids can’t put them together wrong. It forces you to figure out how to put them together properly,” Swenson said.
Not all the littleBits Kits at the library are the same. Rule Your Room helps the patron assemble a booby-trap with dimmer switches, push buttons, buzzer, slide buttons, fans, and little motors, “so you could potentially set it up so if your door opens, it triggers something to happen,” Swenson said.
There are four different littleBits Kits and the library has multiples of each, Swenson said.
Once kids (or adults) have mastered the littleBits Kits, they can graduate to the Arduino kits.
The Arduino Uno Kits look a lot like the littleBits Kits with small pieces and a book, but they have a lot more pieces.
“With the Arduino Unos, you are doing the wiring, you are putting those electrical components together, you have wires, you have capacitors, you have LED lights, jumper wires; all sorts of little components that you then put together and then, as a step up from the littleBits, you also then have a piece of software where you do the coding to tell this what to do,” Swenson said.
You also need a computer to run the Arduino Kits. (The littleBits Kits don’t need a computer.)
“The book that comes with it is really great. The book walks you through about 12 different projects and each one is a little more difficult, so it teaches you those skills that you need to be able to work with these pieces,” she said.
Lots of fun
“I’ve played with them quite a bit. My education is not in anything having to do with engineering or electrical anything, and I was able to sit down with the kit, go through it, and put some of these pieces together to build things,” Swenson said.
Patrons don’t get to keep their creations; like anything else checked out from the library, the Maker Kits have to be returned. Swenson realizes some of the parts are delicate and LED lights may burn out and some wires may give out due to use, so it’s understandable if some of the pieces don’t survive.
“If the whole thing doesn’t come back, then you’re gonna get charged,” she said.
For those who want to continue playing, the kits can be purchased on the littleBits website, Arduino website or on Amazon. The littleBits Kits run from $75 to $150 depending on how complex the kit is; Arduinos run about $90, Swenson said.
For those who enjoy it, building a collection could be worth it.
“It’s learning a new skill, it’s something fun to play with, challenge yourself. I enjoy learning new skills, new things, new abilities, so I think it speaks to those type of people who continually want to challenge themselves and learn something,” Swenson said.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at firstname.lastname@example.org.