Stair Public Library chosen for pilot science project 2012.06.13

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

When Stair Public Library director Colleen Leddy read about a new program emphasizing science in small rural libraries, she wanted Morenci to be involved.

She sent an e-mail to the directors of the program and expressed her desire to join in. That was still early in the planning stages, but she was told that Morenci would be kept in mind.

Earlier this month she learned that just 20 libraries in 15 states were chosen to participate in a pilot project and Stair was one of them.

A $2,500 grant from the National Science Foundation will pay for training and implementation of the program. After completion of the pilot program, the experiences of those 20 libraries will be examined before the program is expanded to 100 additional rural libraries.

“Pushing the Limits: Making Sense of Science” is described as a four-part reading, viewing and discussion series for adults.

The program will explore the ways that humans have always strived to push the boundaries of their world.

“We want to be stronger, smarter and more aware,” said Linda Crowe of the Califa library consortium, one of the organizers of the program. “Using science we bring those dreams to life.”

Sometimes great new advances in science and technology make the difference, Crowe said, and other times it’s the science of the everyday.

“In either case, we are all finding ways to push the limits every day,” she said.

The program will explore these ideas by blending a book club model using popular novels with a science café discussion group.

The science café is patterned after a NOVA ScienceNOW project that brings science to unexpected places with the intent of reaching people from a variety of backgrounds. A short video clip is followed by a discussion led by a scientist. Adrian College professor Adam Coughlin has agreed to serve as Stair’s program leader.

Coughlin’s role won’t be to lecture to participants, but rather to create a discussion among people who might not typically discuss science issues.

“The overarching theme is one of real people, real stories and real science,” Crowe said.

Leddy participated in a focus group last year in Texas that gave organizers the opportunity to speak with librarians about the program and learn what would and wouldn’t work.

When it came time to apply for participation in the pilot project, Leddy submitted an application that was well received.

“Your plan for Pushing the Limits...looks terrific!” she was told. The selection committee was impressed with her experience in public programming and pleased with her goal of increasing library usage. 

“Your three letters of support show potential for good community involvement and for getting the word out to people who are not currently library patrons. Your scientist shows sincere interest in the project, and his research interests as well as current scientific specialty looks very promising.”

In addition to funding from the National Science Foundation, the planning team consists of library professionals, scientists and filmmakers from Dartmouth College, the Association for Rural and Small Libraries, the Califa Group, Dawson Media Group and Oregon State University.

Crowe points out there are more public libraries in the U.S. than there are McDonald’s restaurants, and nearly 80 percent of them are in communities with populations of 25,000 or less.

“All communities need and deserve good programs to engage and bring people together,” she said.

Leddy looks forward to the discussions ahead.

“Some of our most interesting and enriching programs at the library have been people simply talking and discussing issues,” she said.

The Living Library, Prime Time, Talk@Two, guest authors and book discussions have each led to good interaction.

“The STEM topics—science, technology, engineering and math—involve everyday issues that people can relate to and have an opinion about,” Leddy said.

The next step for her is a training session in Portland, Ore., this fall. The program will get underway in 2013.

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