When the American Library Association Public Programs office announced the NASA@ My Library STEM education initiative, my colleagues and I knew we’d be applying to be part of this exciting opportunity to enhance our STEM programming for all ages. In some ways, I think libraries in rural and geographically isolated areas are the best candidates for this grant, but Brooklyn has its fair share of groups who are underrepresented in science and technology fields—even though we’re in close proximity to a ton of amazing STEM resources, it doesn’t necessarily follow that these resources are truly accessible to all of our patrons. Overall, the project’s application guidelines were extremely clear and helpful, and the application process had a pretty low barrier to entry—I hope we get it, of course, but I also hope a lot of libraries across the country are applying!
I won’t go into all the super detailed parts of the application, but I want to share some of our goals, as well as the programming ideas that we included in the proposal narrative—even if we aren’t selected, I hope to do some of them anyway (even if on a smaller scale).
Some background context:
In early 2015, Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) received the first part of a $3 million multi-year grant administered by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) to upgrade our technology and infrastructure. The intended outcomes of the DASNY grant include leveraging the technologies and resources to provide engaging and hands-on informal STEM learning opportunities and to prepare staff to deliver improved services on emerging technologies and STEM programming.
BPL serves one of the most diverse patron-bases in the country, and our primary goal is to provide underserved communities both an opportunity to learn STEM skills and an environment in which they can enjoy the learning process. Unlike test-based environments, one of the advantages of offering STEM programs in a library setting is that patrons can learn without fear of “getting it wrong.”
Our goals are to provide opportunities for underserved residents of Brooklyn to observe and learn about the universe through library programs; prepare and train library staff with the knowledge, materials, and support they need to offer successful space-related STEM programs on a regular basis; form new collaborations and deepen existing relationships between BPL, its patrons, and local astronomy and STEM-focused organizations; foster and encourage intellectual curiosity in our young people; and generate a greater interest in NASA (its missions, initiatives, and resources) for BPL users of all ages. We intend to host NASA@ My Library programs in 19+ branches in the first year, and ultimately expand to all 59 locations. By bringing this project to BPL, we hope to increase the number of compelling STEM programs so that Brooklyn residents of all ages have tangible ways of exploring STEM concepts.
For youth, we hope that engagement with STEM programming leads to an increase in the pursuit of careers in STEM. According to the U.S. Department of Education, improving STEM education is a top priority since there will be a need for 1 million more STEM professionals by 2022. In order to meet this need, as well as encourage diversity in the field, institutions such as libraries must support STEM learning—especially in underrepresented groups such as low-income households, African Americans, Hispanics, and women who are the most likely to disengage from a traditional classroom-based STEM learning progression. Since BPL has branches in many neighborhoods that serve underrepresented populations, we plan to bring this project to our neediest communities to help children build a greater foundation—and greater self-esteem—that will help them continue on the STEM learning track in school. By engaging children and their families with the NASA kits, collaborating with NASA subject matter experts, and participating in other engaging STEM activities, children will build confidence and knowledge—and potentially go on to pursue STEM-related careers.
Additionally, city-dwelling populations are at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to hands-on experience in nature due to limited access and exposure. The combination of tall buildings and light pollution present a challenge for anyone interested in stargazing without the aid of expensive equipment. It is our goal to make science and astronomy more accessible to all by providing programs with advanced technology, resources, and mentors to support positive and successful learning experiences.
Some NASA-related programs ideas:
NASA@ My Library: Build a Better World Summer Reading Launch, June 2017: BPL’s summer reading launch party is always a large and successful event that takes place simultaneously across all of the branches, and this year’s Summer Reading theme “Build a Better World” easily lends itself to NASA-related STEM programs. Individual branch programs may vary based on the audience, but we plan to focus on scientific advances and space colonization and will include projects centered on sustainable energy and resources, hands-on engineering, robotics, and designing model space colonies for a future world on another planet or spaceship. Using LEGOs, cardboard, paper, straws, electronic circuits, simple robotics kits, and other materials within the library, we will—in partnership with local science educators or other Subject Matter Experts—develop Build a Better World programs for different age groups.
NASA@ My Library: Solar Eclipse Experience, 21 August 2017: The 2017 partial solar eclipse hits Brooklyn between 1:23pm-4:00 pm, which falls during our peak youth library use hours. We hope to acquire enough eclipse glasses to disperse across Brooklyn for everyone attending our eclipse events, though we also plan to construct pinhole box projectors and other low-tech options for safely observing the solar eclipse in this high profile event in all of our 59 locations.
NASA@ My Library: Galileoscope Construction & Stargazing Night, April 2018: The Galileoscope is a low-cost, high-quality telescope kit created by astronomers, optical engineers, and science educators. Because it is available to purchase as a kit, we plan to make assembly and construction the first part of a STEM program that will culminate in taking the Galileoscope outside for a stargazing event. Ideally in partnership with Subject Matter experts from one or more of our community partners, the construction portion of the program can be used to teach basic optical concepts, including how lenses form images, while the stargazing activities can be used to talk about our solar system and astronomical concepts. The kit itself also includes curriculum materials for optics education and observing activities.
Other planned events include International Observe the Moon Night (28 October 2017), Geminids Shower Stargazing After Dark (December 2017), coding workshops, community science fairs, LittleBits space kit activities, library rocket launches, a Dance Under the Stars teen social stargazing and DJ mixing event, STEM career days, daytime moon observations, studying the Cassini mission to Saturn, and setting up a live feed to the International Space Station.