Education and
Public Engagement
at the Lunar and Planetary Institute
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Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM): Where Do They Belong in
Your Library?

Public libraries are well-positioned to incorporate science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as part of their overall efforts to instill habits of lifelong learning and literacy in their patrons. Libraries traditionally have offered programs to encourage children to read (e.g., story time, book clubs, summer programs); increasingly, libraries want their programming to encompass STEM (e.g., Heid, 2012 and Braun, 2011).

There is a real need for good science programming in our library's community. By developing better science programming at our library, I will be able to help students get excited about science and its important role for our future.

– Explore Program Training Participant

As libraries continue to be valued community centers for lifelong learning and literacy, many are bringing STEM experiences to their patrons for one or more of the following reasons:

Explore students

For those willing to step into STEM programming, hands-on STEM activities bring new audiences and interactions into library programs. For some, activities are drawing tweens into the library. For others, activities are expanding family involvement, bringing in fathers as well as extended family members. Some libraries engage teens by having them assist in facilitating activities.

Libraries are pathways to further resources; through STEM programs, libraries connect patrons to a variety of their existing STEM resources. Leverage the power and reach of the library by highlighting these resources through STEM programs!

Within their missions, many libraries strive to instill habits of lifelong learning and literacy in their patrons; STEM literacy is an increasingly important dimension of citizens in today’s society. Libraries support the growth of their community’s young people into responsible citizens and future leaders. Explore activities and other science experiences in the library support aspects of these missions by engaging young minds beyond mere science facts. 

Libraries already play a vital role in helping young people learn and grow. An article in American Scientist proposed that out-of-school experiences may be as — or even more — important as the time devoted to schooling for increasing science literacy (Falk, 2010). As demonstrated by a system-wide survey of Smithsonian Institution museums, most visitors to science centers tend to identify as Caucasian (Results of the 2004 Smithsonian-wide Survey of Museum Visitors, October 2004). Libraries, on the other hand, are often visited by a broad representation of the population [as tracked by library card use by Harris Interactive polling (Corso, 2008)]. All young people can access science at the library — no admission fee is required! Libraries across the country include STEM programs and resources among their offerings; it’s one more avenue for lifelong growth of the whole person, and at the library, it’s open to all.

Bibliography

Braun, L. W. (2011). The Lowdown on STEM: A formula for luring teens toward science and math. American Libraries Magazine, 60.

Heid, C. (2012, September). Great (and Affordable) Programs STEM from Partnerships. Retrieved from Programming Librarian: http://www.programminglibrarian.org/library/planning/stem-from-partnerships.html#.UUpRBxczV8E.

Corso, R. A. (2008). The Harris Poll #95. Rochester, NY: Harris Interactive.

Falk, J. A. (2010). The 95 Percent Solution: School is not where most Americans learn most of their science. American Scientist, 486-493.

Office of Policy and Analysis. (October 2004). Results of the 2004 Smithsonian-wide Survey of Museum Visitors. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.