STEM: By Whom? For Whom?,By Peg Glisson

The library world was hit nearly simultaneously by two initiatives: Common Core and STEM. In both cases, there have been questions about what, why, where, and by whom. In both cases, initial reaction was it’s an academic thing, impacting schools. But thoughtful minds quickly remembered that public libraries also are about learning, lifelong learning, making both Common Core and STEM of importance to school and public libraries.

What is STEM? It’s an acronym for content knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and math. It’s more than that, though. It’s an approach to teaching and learning that leads to critical thinking, quantitative reasoning, and analytical skills necessary for the 21st century. Some tie it to economics: it’s where the better paying jobs are and say the USA is losing its competitive edge as American students aren’t keeping up with their peers in other countries, leading to a lack of STEM-ready workers here. (Why STEM Education Matters, National Science and Math Initiative,

Others take a broader view, with a goal for our students “to be able to function and thrive in our highly technological world–that is, to be STEM literate.” (Vasquez, Jo Anne, STEM Lesson Essentials: Integrating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, Heinemann, 2013, p. 9).

Librarians as crucial STEM partners are discussed in STEMWIRE and Library Girl. School and public libraries have long provided first-class educational opportunities for children, young adults, and families. Many also have excellent collections of STEM titles.

If your math and science collection isn’t top-notch, it’s time to focus on building it up. First do some heavy weeding, following guidelines such as those found at CREW, Weeding Library Collections, Information Access and Delivery: Collection Development and Maintenance, Weeding Library Collections, and Weeding Tips. Allow yourself to be somewhat ruthless; out-of-date science information isn’t helping your patrons. Might your shelves become somewhat empty? That’s OK. Use the depleted shelves as a selling point for extra funds to your Director, Department Chair, and Principal. Use your webpage and social media to build your case for up-to-date math and science books for your users-and feature new titles there as you add them. CLCD can be a great tool in both weeding and building your collection. Scour journals and websites like Nonfiction Monday, Science Books, Reviews, and News, and Ink Think Tank for good nonfiction titles; sign up for email news from publishers and journals to stay on top of what’s new-and good!

Youth librarians have long paired fiction and nonfiction titles in programming and library lessons. The charge now is to do so consciously and to build in activities to encourage thinking during these programs. Get the kids actively involved! Get over the “but I’m not a scientist” (or mathematician or engineer) mentality and begin to increase your knowledge in these areas. It’s pretty safe to say you are ahead of many of your students or patrons, at least if you serve preschool or elementary-age children. Middle and high school? Maybe not so much, but enlist the aid of interested and knowledgeable students, teachers, or community to help you build STEM opportunities in your library.

Yes, you are already very busy, but look at STEM as an opportunity to build credibility with your teachers, parents, youth, and community. Find creative ways to encourage STEM without heavy set-up or supervision needs. Makerspace boxes are one such way. You can find more about Library Makerspaces on Pinterest (this is a link to one of many such boards), ALSC and YALSA blog posts, AASL Essential Links, dedicated websites, LiveBinders, and through professional development opportunities.

Schedule authors, special guests (including parents) or performers with a STEM bent. Have displays and booklists available to support their presentations, easily built using CLCD’s My List feature.

If you are in a school, allow students or clubs to use the library during lunch, study halls, or activity periods for STEM explorations-virtual or hands on.

Use class time or afterschool programming to promote STEM. Springtime is the perfect time to get kids excited about science, to see science in action. Spring Science: Ideas to Keep Kids’ Brains Busy This Season is but one article full of suggested springtime science learning. Our Spring into Science Themed Booklist, elsewhere in this newsletter, suggests recent spring-related science books to use. There are many more STEM programming ideas on the ALSC blog, in professional journals such as this article on “Block Parties,” on Simply STEM Wiki, YALSA, and Every Child Ready to Read. The ALSC/LEGO partnership fosters learning through play.

Once you start thinking about and doing STEM, chances are you’ll be hooked. It’s exciting, invigorating, mind-opening-and critical. Like Emily Scherrer, Youth Services Manager for the Yuma County Library District, you may even decide to Take it to the Next Level!

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