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Bringing Together Public Libraries and STEM

August 18, 2015

August 18, 2015

By Sandra Toro
Senior Library Program Officer, IMLS

As an IMLS program officer, I know that STEM learning is happening in public libraries all across the country. I am excited to be joining fellow program officer, Timothy Owens, at the first Public Libraries & STEM conference at the Denver Public Library.

There is so much to learn about what, exactly, makes for successful learning, and interest in STEM research and education has grown exponentially among the library and informal STEM fields. A new report, published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, shows that STEM learning happens over time and across a range of settings (including libraries) during “dynamic interactions.” The report also documents that successful out-of-school learning contributes to interest in and understanding of STEM; helps young people connect with one another and caring adult role models; helps reduce the achievement gap between young people from low-income families and those from high-income families. Last year, at the Chicago Public Library, IMLS held a convening of library and informal STEM professionals who shared information about existing models of informal learning and discussed the challenges of scale, content expertise, and diversity.

The upcoming Public Libraries & STEM taking place at the Denver Public Library and other sites around downtown Denver will be a groundbreaking event. The conference was put together by Keliann LaConte, from the Lunar and Planetary Institute, and Paul Dusenbery, from the Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning (NCIL) with funding from the National Science Foundation. Working with a national organizing committee that includes representatives from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Queens Library, Oregon State University, the Estherville Public Library, the Association of Science-Technology Centers, the Franklin Institute Science Museum, and other organizations committed to successful STEM learning, Paul and Keliann have put together an ambitious agenda for the conference.

Spanning three days, the conference program is designed to foster collaborations among library leaders, STEM professionals, informal science educators and researchers, evaluators, funders, and policy makers. They will explore promising practices, help define a new 21st century vision of STEM learning in public libraries, and develop a foundation for a future evaluation and research agenda for libraries and partner institutions. IMLS Senior Library Program Officer Timothy Owens and I will be participating in panels focused on helping library professionals learn more about funding opportunities as well as how to reach out to underserved populations.

If you cannot participate in person, please check out the background reports that are currently available on the conference website. These reports highlight research in how people learn through out-of-school-time (OST) experiences, the importance of collective impact, lessons learned about how to better engage audiences that libraries are serving, and the ways libraries are continuing to evolve to meet their community’s needs. And be on the lookout for tweets and future blog posts from us about lessons learned at the conference!

Sandra Annette Toro, Ph.D., is a Senior Program Officer in the Office of Library Services and a member of the Public Libraries & STEM National Organizing Committee.