WENATCHEE — Science, technology, engineering and math are not just for school children anymore.
STEM education is getting serious play at the North Central Regional Library, too, with a librarian dedicated to creating learning opportunities with makerspace events, workshops, labs and clubs that include things like code writing, 3-D printing and robots. And though some classes are focused on children and teens, adults are included in the mix, too.
“The end goal is age agnostic. We want to provide the programs for adults, seniors, kids and teens,” said Chad Roseburg, the library district’s assistant director of information technology. “Our end goal is to cover all the bases. We have had a lot of interest in adults in various communities, especially with the 3-D printing.”
Sarah Knox started in her new role as the district’s first full-time STEM librarian in January. She previously had been the children’s services librarian.
“The STEM librarian is a new position,” said Roseburg, who has been with the library district for 21 years. He has been working with STEM programming since 2014, when the district received two grants, one for $4,800 to buy a 3-D printer and the other for $38,000 to buy more technology and teaching materials, including robotics kits. The philosophy with STEM is to boost interest in all things “science, technology, engineering and math,” which is intended to make the future workforce more competitive.
“Part of the stipulation of the grant was we needed to develop and execute a certain number of shows during the grant period,” he said. “The amount of work it took and the time it actually took to pull that off was a wake-up call. We cover five counties. We had a few people unpacking boxes of equipment and learning how to use it and developing a program and trying to roll it out in a couple weeks.”
A year or so later, Roseburg, along with representatives from other regional organizations, attended a makerspace initiative conference in Washington, D.C.
“It was interesting to see what different organizations were doing. They all tackled things in different ways. The end take away was we needed to raise the bar,” he said, “and think about how to improve the level of shows and do more of them, get some permanent exhibits out there.”
He recommended building on what they already started.
“The biggest pain point in rolling out the programs and developing the spaces in the libraries has been people power,” Roseburg said. “We wanted to have people dedicated to developing the program, to be thinking about developing curriculum and concepts. Before, it was mostly done by people who had other jobs who were trying to do it on the side. We felt we were flying by the seat of our pants, with too many things competing for our time.”
Hiring Knox was a first big step. She has been joined by a part-time STEM librarian, Buffy Jackson, who will oversee program implementation in the district’s northern libraries, including Curlew and Republic. Another part-time librarian job is expected to be posted this month to help with implementing programs in the rest of the district.
In addition to creating the programs and curriculum that can be rolled out in each of the 30 libraries, Knox also will be looking at grant writing in the hopes of adding more programming.
The other lesson Roseburg brought back from Washington, D.C., was how STEM and makerspace programming adds value to the community. He has seen it locally in a tour of some of the school district programs in the area.
“Not all of the communities we serve have those same programs. That creates an opportunity for the library district to fill in the gaps,” he said.
Roseburg said he believes some of the great scientists got where they are not because they were smarter than others, but because they had access.
“Guys like Richard Feynman, the Nobel prize physicist, had a lab when he was 11. Yes, he almost burned down the house, but he claimed he had an average IQ. I think access is a big part of the equation,” he said.
Public libraries can help provide that access.
“Part of the makerspace and STEM movements are to create opportunities. We hope to create a Feynman’s lab out there. The library is a place where we can help supplement what the schools are doing. We are building opportunity for the people in our communities,” he said.
And it isn’t just for the kids.
Library patrons of all ages can get involved in learning new technology, with online tutorials or hands-on events that teach the basics and beyond. The focus initially was on school-age children and homeschool groups, but that is changing.
“We are doing a program in Omak focused on the retired community, covering circuits and electricity,” he said. More will be scheduled.
In addition, the library district is looking at creating permanent program spaces in the local libraries. The challenge is the district doesn’t own the buildings that house the local libraries. Finding the space will require community collaboration.
In the meantime, libraries are making use of the spaces that are available. The Quincy library, for instance, includes a permanent location for 3-D printing, the video game Minecraft, and some open labs.
“We would like to use that model and take it to other communities,” Roseburg said.