On past visits to Amarillo’s downtown public library, you may have expected to hear only the typically soft, familiar whispers of the library: pages being turned, books being filed, hushed conversations between librarians and patrons.
Visit the second floor of that location today, however, and you may hear a symphony of new sounds.
The rhythmic patter of a sewing machine.
The clatter of metal tools and snips of scissors.
Maybe even the soft tapping of leatherwork.
Over the past year, the Amarillo Public Library has added a new, dedicated MakerSpace to its array of services, offering free tools and equipment across a dizzying list of hobbies and art projects, including sewing, quilting, embroidery, scrapbooking, metal fabrication,leatherwork, stained glass, and more.
The MakerSpace—a library addition totalling around $100,000—came about thanks to grants from the Amarillo Area Foundation, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the local Friends of the Amarillo Public Library, along with capital improvement funds from the City of Amarillo.
After months of construction and equipment gathering, the project opened to the public this summer.
Though new to Amarillo’s library system, these collaborative craft labs represent a growing trend among libraries. “We’re certainly not the first library to make a maker space,” says Stacy Clopton, the public relations c
oordinator for the Amarillo Public Library. “But the truth is that libraries have always been about helping people learn new things. This is just a new and innovative way of doing what libraries have always done.”
The idea had been brewing for years and the library system had made plans to launch it in 2020 until COVID delayed the project. But once the timing was right and the funds in place, Amarillo’s facilities department started construction and library staff began soliciting for donations of equipment and supplies.
The new lab offers a myriad of options for anyone with a current library card. On a recent weekday afternoon, the MakerSpace hosted a grandmother who used a serger to finish edges on a sewing project. Another patron made repairs to the leather straps of a dog muzzle. One of the librarians and MakerSpace staff helped a library member hem a pair of jeans and told of a teenager who spent the previous evening there learning to sew a patch onto a leather jacket.
“We have people coming in to construct quilts that are these big, amazing creations, and we have people coming in to make simple repairs,” Clopton says. “One gentleman needed to fix the strap on his backpack.
A family came in to repair a beanbag chair. There’s a lot of variety to the way people are using the space.”
All the equipment and tools are available for free for patrons with an up-to-date library card. (Cardholders younger than 16 need parental accompaniment.) While small materials like thread or grommets are available for free, each tool must be checked out individually—staff members inside the MakerSpace will scan a user’s library card and a code on the equipment—and can be used within the lab any time the downtown library is open.
Best of all, experience isn’t required. The five employees on the library’s MakerSpace team have each learned to use the available equipment and can walk any patron through the process. One of them is Cindy Wallace, an avid quilter, artist and photographer. She’s checked out equipment to experienced fashion designers working on projects. She’s also instructed patrons who have never used a sewing machine before.
“This gives makers a comfortable place to learn and work and make things, but without having to make a substantial investment” in equipment or supplies, Wallace says.
That’s very much “a library thing,” as Clopton describes it. Libraries allow researchers to access information without having to make the huge financial investment of acquiring books or accessing files. The MakerSpace plays a similar role. It allows crafters to use expensive sewing or jewelry-making equipment without having to invest hundreds of dollars in a sewing machine—or a longarm quilting machine that could
“Our mission at the Amarillo Public Library has always been to help people expand their education and improve their quality of life and we have always done things that help people learn, beyond just the books on the shelf,” says Clopton. “What the MakerSpace does is give us the tools so people can try something new.”
It also allows the staff to learn new things. “We are getting paid to do something we love,” says Wallace, who has worked the library’s reference desk for a decade and was thrilled to join the MakerSpace team. “We get excited every time a new piece of equipment comes in.”
That excitement will continue into the future, because today’s iteration of the space is only the first stage in a larger dream. It’s not finished. A section for painting and airbrushing is still expanding and supplies are being gathered. Donations of yarn, thread, fabric, leather and other materials are still coming in (and desperately needed). And as the public continues to utilize the existing MakerSpace, the library hopes funding will eventually allow it to grow further, expanding into activities like 3D printing, large-scale woodworking or a “memory lab” offering digital conversion of slides, photos and home movies.
“We are so excited to see people come in and do things. We are excited to have it opened and the public using it, and are so grateful to the members of the public who have made contributions,” Clopton says.
For her part, Wallace loves showing patrons around the new MakerSpace, enjoys introducing them to new skills, and uses the equipment herself on a regular basis. “This is the public’s space. We want them to be here,” she says.
From library patrons learning new skills for free to experienced crafters taking advantage of otherwise inaccessible equipment, the MakerSpace is already transforming how locals use the library. Next time you visit, don’t be surprised if the familiar library whispers are accompanied by a few extra taps, whirs and clatters.
Those are the sounds of creativity, and the second floor of the Amarillo Public Library is definitely humming.