LEGO & Libraries: The Building Blocks of Imagination

Katie Kouba, children’s library associate, has been researching and designing custom LEGO creations for Grand Forks Public_ for the past several years. Starting with the library’s 121st birthday celebration and Grand Reopening in May of 2021, Katie created fun, festive LEGO kits as “party favors.” The tradition continued with various programs, and now her tenth LEGO kit will debut with the library’s 2023 Winter Reading Program! We recently sat down with Katie to learn more about the process and her passion for LEGO and libraries.

Q: Where did the idea of LEGO kits start?

A: I first learned about doing LEGO kits from a North Dakota Library Association conference session that was done by a librarian in Bismarck. I got the go-ahead to make the first kits for the 121st birthday party favors, and we’ve kept them going!

Q: Describe your LEGO kit creation process. 

A: A lot goes into these little kits. There is a website we use for buying (mostly) used bricks that really keeps the cost low. We try to aim for about $1 per set total, give or take. I look for designs through the LEGO website or by searching online for other ideas. I will usually use an existing LEGO design, or find one and tweak it slightly so that it’s affordable. The design for the Unicorn, for example, is a combination of a couple of different unicorns I saw because some pieces on the original designs were out of our price range.

I use a software program to build a 3D model to create a list of all of the parts. I price out each individual brick and then order them in bulk from as few stores as possible to save on shipping. Then, the bricks start arriving (yay!) which leads to inventorying and sorting them. Once all of the bricks arrive (sometimes there are thousands at a time), it’s assembly line time to get each kit ready.

Q: What kind of feedback do you get from patrons?

A: Patrons seem to enjoy them! I’ve gotten lots of feedback on how cute they are. I also make the instructions for the builds, and some patrons have said that these mini kits have been a great tool to teach their kids the basics of learning how to build LEGO. It makes me so happy to hear that we are a small part of getting kids started with and loving LEGO!

Q: Have you always enjoyed LEGO?

A: Yes! I really got into LEGO with my kids. My boys are seven and ten years old, and our basement has become our primary LEGO area. (It’s mildly dangerous to walk around downstairs because there are LEGO bricks everywhere!) As a family, we are obsessed with the show “LEGO Masters.”

Coordinating this LEGO project is one of my favorite parts of my job. I’m always looking for and thinking about more LEGO ideas, and my kids have also given me really helpful feedback on the builds. 

Q: What kinds of LEGO programming and/or resources does the library offer?

A: We offer a Drop-In LEGO club that’s on the early-out Wednesdays where kids can just show up and build! The creations on display above the bookshelves in the Children’s Department are all from that group.  

The library also sponsors FIRST LEGO League Explorer and Challenge Teams with a new season beginning each fall. The Explorer team is for ages 6-10, and the Challenge Team is for ages 9-14. We also have summer LEGO Robotics Programs.  

There are a few different types of LEGO kits that can be checked out. We have tons of LEGO books as well. (Learn more about the library’s children’s programs.)

Q: Anything else you’d like to add? 

A: LEGO and libraries are two of my absolute favorite things—they both inspire so much creativity. These little LEGO sets mean a lot to me because they are one small way to get kids to come into the library and keep them interested in LEGO!

Be sure to check out the library’s 2023 Winter Reading Program, “Let’s Get Cozy.” Starting December 21, pick up your goodie bag which includes Katie’s latest LEGO kit (while supplies last).

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