Academic journal article Young Adult Library Services

Public Libraries and STEM: An Interview with Paul Dusenbery and Keliann LaConte

Academic journal article Young Adult Library Services

Public Libraries and STEM: An Interview with Paul Dusenbery and Keliann LaConte

Article excerpt

In August 2015 the first-ever Public Libraries and STEM conference took place in Denver. This National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded event brought together library staff, science center staff, and academics to talk about serving all age groups through libraries and STEM learning. The following is an interview with the two primary organizers of the event, Paul Dusenbery and Keliann LaConte.

YALS: Before you describe the Public Libraries and Stem Conference, tell readers a bit about the work you do.

Paul Dusenbery: I founded the Space Science Institute (SSI; headquartered in Boulder, Colorado) and currently serve as the director of SSI's National Center for Interactive Learning (NCIL). SSI has about 60 staff including 30 amazing scientists who are studying how our Sun affects Earth, exploring the harsh but awe inspiring landscapes of Mars, and learning about planetary systems far beyond our own solar system. I have been interested in communicating science, and more recently STEM, to all sorts of audiences--K-12 students, undergraduates, and families--who visit museum exhibits that I developed (along with some great partners). NCIL is leading a new direction for STEM education in partnership with ALA, the Lunar and Planetary Institute, and the Afterschool Alliance (along with many other strategic partners) to provide interactive STEM exhibits, programming, and training to public libraries nationwide. This groundbreaking, NSF-funded library program, called the "Star Library Education Network" (STAR_Net), is reaching and positively impacting underserved and underrepresented communities. STAR stands for Science Technology Activities and Resources. I am the primary investigator and project director. Nearly 1 million patrons have visited STAR_Net's Discover exhibits, over 50,000 have participated in hundreds of programs conducted by host libraries, and over 1,000 librarians and STEM professionals are part of the STAR_Net online community. Other funders and sponsors of STAR_Net programs, including the Public Libraries and STEM Conference, are the National Institutes of Health, FIRST and the LEGO Foundation, NASA, and KEVA Education. See www.STARnetlibraries.org for more information.

Keliann LaConte: I lead the informal education efforts at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), which is a research institute in Houston, Texas. Our education and outreach efforts promote science literacy and engage the public, build capacity of educators to reach their audiences, and engage scientists in education and public outreach. The LPI is operated by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) under a cooperative agreement with NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

YALS: How did you end up working with libraries within the STEM world?

PD: My involvement with public libraries began around 2007-2008, when I developed a pilot STEM library exhibit called Discover Space. This exhibit toured Colorado libraries from 2007 to 2010. ALA and SSI partnered on a STEM in Libraries survey that focused on exhibitions. Because of this early success, NCIL was able to receive funding from NSF for the first phase of STAR_Net. Partners included ALA, LPI, the National Girls Collaborative Project, and others. The focus of that project was on developing two museum-quality traveling exhibitions: Discover Earth and Discover Tech. The project also included developing STEM activities, conducting various types of trainings (in-person workshops and webinars), and establishing a national community of practice of those working in libraries and STEM professionals. Since then STAR_Net projects have grown to include other funders such as NASA, NIH, IMLS, and Lego.

KL: LPI has designed space science programming resources with and for libraries for over 15 years through the Explore program, and more recently, in partnership with the STAR_Net team. LPI has expertise in developing planning tools for children's and youth library staff to use in facilitating hands-on science and engineering learning experiences. …

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