Local library embraces STEM

By Heidi Kerr-Schlaefer
The Surveyor

Last month, Berthoud Community Library director, Sara Wright, was invited to attend the first-ever science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) Learning in Colorado Libraries Summit in Thornton. At the summit, discussions were held regarding how to incorporate STEM learning programs at public libraries and how STEM organizations can help with this effort.

This summit is a result of a shift that’s been happening in the library world over the past several years. Library directors have been taking a close look at the role of their libraries within the communities they serve and have discovered that libraries are, and always have been, about more than just books; they are part of the lifelong learning educational structure of a community, and now librarians must define what that looks like in today’s modern world.

In part, this shift has occurred thanks to the maker movement. Techopedia.com defines the maker movement as a trend in which individuals or groups of individuals create and market products that are recreated and assembled using unused, discarded or broken electronic, plastic silicon, or virtually any raw material and/or product from a computer-related device. The maker movement has led to the creation of a number of technology products and solutions by individuals working without supportive infrastructure.

“Librarians looked at the growth of the maker movement and said, ‘Wow, we can do that!’” said Wright.

The maker movement is intrinsically connected to STEM by the nature of how these products and solutions are created using science, technology, engineering and math.

Wright says that librarians realized they can be a place where makers make, and today that’s becoming even easier because there are resources available through STEM organizations, many of which exist in Colorado.

“Tapping into those resources allows us to do programming outside of our usual box,” said Wright.

The Berthoud Community Library had already dipped its toe into these waters by purchasing a Pop-up Digital Studio last year. That studio will soon be open for use by the community every Friday.

The dilemma for the Berthoud Library has been that implementing these STEM or maker programs is difficult because of the small size of the library’s staff. Busy with their respective daily duties, the staff doesn’t have time to continually develop new programming on their own. The summit, however, helped Wright realize that there were ways to solve this problem.

Write explained that developing relationships with STEM organizations and other institutions of learning allows libraries, even small ones like the Berthoud Community Library, to offer their patrons new ways to expand their minds and enrich their lives; and not just children, but adults too.

The summit, hosted by the National Center for Interactive Learning Space Science Institute, was an opportunity for the libraries to connect with STEM organizations and other institutions of learning that have resources libraries can utilize in their programming.

The organizations in attendance included Colorado State University/ Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network, Colorado Technology Association, Cornerstones Science, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Zoo, Fort Collins Museum of Discovery, Informal Learning Experience, National Center for Interactive Learning/Space Science Institute, University of Corporation for Atmospheric Research, University of Colorado/Science Discovery and the WOW Children’s Museum.

At the summit, it became apparent to Wright that these organizations want to get into the communities. For some, like the Denver Museum of Science and Nature, it’s a way to continue spreading its mission in a world that’s less and less interested in looking at stuff in a case.

So how would the Berthoud Community Library work with one of these organizations? And how would that program enrich the lives of Berthoud residents?

The development of this programming at Berthoud Community Library is still in its infancy, but Wright is researching ways to implement these types of programs. For instance, she has already become involved with Community Collaborative at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, whose tagline is “because every drop counts.”

“Not only do they have this really cool network that they’ve been building over the last 10 or more years – recruiting people in the community to take collection totals,” said Wright. “But they are also developing their educational outreach program.”

Wright has volunteered the library to be a precipitation station and has ordered a rain gauge. Every morning the library staff will track how much precipitation in the form of rain, hail or snow has fallen at the library and report it to Community Collaborative. That data is used in all sorts of research, including the prediction of floods. In fact, it was the 1998 flood in Fort Collins that prompted the founding of Community Collaborative.

“Along with that, they have an outreach person who will come and do programs,” explained Wright. “They will come and talk about what they do, talk about the importance of tracking precipitation, talk about weather, talk about changes in weather and scientific methods of tracking changes in weather.”

Another program Wright is excited to introduce at the library is making art with e-textiles. E-textiles, also known as smart textiles and smart fabric, are fabrics that enable digital components and electronics to be embedded in them.

“STEM experiences can be as simple as e-textiles,” said Wright. “You can buy conductive thread − thread that you can actually sew with – that conducts electricity. And you can make all sorts of things, complex things or simple things such as a little lapel pin that lights up.”

Wright’s excitement about the potential of working with the organizations that she met at the summit is palpable.

“The reason I think it’s really important to offer this type of programming through the library is twofold; first, it gives people a sense of self-fulfillment and self-enrichment to learn something new, and second, you never know when a young person will be inspired by one of these programs to go on and do something great,” she said.

To keep tabs on everything happening at the Berthoud Community Library, check out its website at www.berthoud.colibraries.org and follow them on Facebook.