21st Century Vison for Libraries

By May 12, 2015May 19th, 2015Cornerstones of Science News

No longer just a book repository, public libraries are becoming more. For many years now, the Maine State Library (MSL) and Brunswick-based nonprofit Cornerstones of Science have worked together to assist local libraries in Maine at staying relevant in their communities by including science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) into programming and daily operations. These efforts have proved successful and now the MSL and Cornerstones are about to fully explore the model and invest energy in its replication to other states.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded the Maine State Library and Cornerstones of Science a $500,000 National Leadership Grant to support the development of this emerging vision of public libraries as community science centers. The project draws upon six state library agencies, science-based companies, public libraries, the formal and informal science communities’ expertise and a commitment from matching fund partners of over $600,000 to put the final value of the grant at just over $1,100,000.

The project, “Empowering Public Libraries to be Science Resource Centers for their Communities,” will help the State Library Agencies, of Maine and Massachusetts, develop the tools that empower public libraries to build and sustain effective informal science programming and services that connect their patrons and communities to science and technology learning, equipment (e.g. telescopes, microscopes and science kits), books, media and people in the scientific community. “Having people get their hands on a scientific tool while physically being in a safe setting such as a library can be a powerful motivator for peeking interest in science,” said Sarah Post, Program and Library Support Manager at Cornerstones.

The plan builds on the existing work between the MSL and Cornerstones to provide librarian training and free science resources to patrons that increase public access and opportunities to science experiences in public libraries. In 2014, the groups launched a lending library of Cornerstones science trunks offering programming ideas and teaching tools on eight distinct science topics. Also for many years now, Cornerstones has run a proven program of getting telescopes into public libraries here in Maine (currently 55 in Maine libraries) and other libraries around the nation. “Libraries are hubs for people seeking access to information and knowledge,” said Janet McKenney, Director of Library Development at the MSL. “This partnership with Cornerstones of Science is a natural fit.”

Another exciting part of the project is that State Library agencies and local libraries will work to identify each community’s main economic drivers, activities, and businesses so that the scientific work at the library is in-line for those communities. These businesses and organizations as community library partners will help sustain the work through funding, expertise, and programming. Ultimately, each local library can be seen as a science and economic hub in their community with this model.

“We know that STEM literacy is increasingly sought after by employers in a wide variety of industry sectors,” said James Ritter, Maine State Librarian. “The long term competitiveness of our economy and the prosperity of people in the workforce will be closely linked to the important work that libraries are doing today.”

“Our mission is to strengthen the capacity of public libraries to serve as a place for people to gather in a local informal science setting,” said Cynthia Randall, Executive Director of Cornerstones of Science. “This ongoing public access and opportunity to science experiences strengthens community life by connecting people with science and technology in ways that stimulate curiosity and assisting citizens to understand the impacts that scientific and technological advances have on their daily lives.”

As the lead state on the project, Maine will involve State Library Agencies in Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island in developing a library-driven STEM programming model that could be replicated in any other state after the 30-month program is complete. The results from this collaboration will demonstrate how libraries, nationwide, can build and sustain effective informal science programming and services that prepare people to be full participants in their communities and global society.
Cornerstones of Science works with public libraries to create science experience that foster a deeper understanding of the world around them. Founded in 1999 at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, Cornerstones has grown to support a network of 150 libraries in five states. Portland Public Library, Auburn Public Library and the Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor will work with grant researchers to test the national model.

The Maine State Library facilitates access to and delivery of library services and collection resources for the State of Maine. Through its Library Development Division, the State Library provides consulting services to assist public and school libraries and administers federal and state funding for library services. For more information on this grant, contact Janet McKenney at the Maine State Library at janet.mckenney@maine.gov.

Through this national award from the Institute of Library and Museum Sciences, Maine can solidify the work it has achieved in informal science in libraries and can offer a formula with promising practices helping other states define a new 21st century vision of science and technology learning in public libraries.