STEM Meets Libraries: Celebrating National Library Week

books in a libraryFrom April 10-16, 2016, Americans celebrate the observance of National Library Week, as we have done since 1958. During the week, libraries around the country celebrate library staff, users, and administrators in all types of libraries, from school to public and academic.

According to the American Library Association, “It is a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and librarians and to promote library use and support.” This year’s theme is “Libraries Transform,” reminding us that libraries do more than just offer books to students.

In fact, as the New York Public Library reminds us, “Libraries are centers for creativity, expression, and learning; they offer access to the tools, technology, and training essential to the economic and cultural lives of their communities.” Particularly in the last decade, libraries have become more concerned with the ways in which they can best engage with their users. Often, the way to do this is through technology.

Computers for public access at libraries are commonplace these days, but increasingly, more technology like 3D printers and tablets for public use is available at public libraries, too. Omaha’s Do Space Executive Director, Rebecca Stavick, says that libraries aren’t just for book literacy. “The digital divide is pronounced in Omaha,” Stavick told NETNebraska. While low income and minority residents have increased access with smartphones and more affordable tablets, Stavick says her effort to make Do Space a place for those unable to afford computers, Internet service, and software is “about trying to get those digital skills to the next level. How do we take your technology and digital literacy and boost it?”

In other words, libraries do more than just lend books, although that’s certainly an important function (and hopefully always will be). So, in honor of National Library Week, take advantage of the myriad ways your local library provides technology support, materials, and space for people to become innovators and leaders (and maybe even future manufacturers or entrepreneurs)!

For example, did you know that the Omaha Public Library provides adaptive software that makes it easier for disabled persons to use the computer or Internet? Their RUBY Handheld Video system, a high brightness video screen, makes it easier to read bills, letters, checks, and receipts for those who might not be able otherwise. Or try the Screen Reading Software, which reads out loud what’s on the screen, and provides users with study skills capabilities for note taking, summarizing, and outlining text. Remember, because this is a public library, the use of this technology is completely free.

If you live in Kearney, did you know that you have a library dedicated to electronic literacy and a staff committed to redefining the traditional perceptions of libraries? “The stereotypical library has a lot of people who have their cardigan and their hair in a bun and they’re shushing people. We have a very vibrant, very progressive staff, so we try to be up on all the technology so we can assist people with that when needed. We’re really excited about all the programs that are going on,” Circulation Coordinator Sarah Hack tells NTV. Head to one of the Kearney Library’s free computer classes, designed to teach everything from file management and computer maintenance to how to store photos or create a professional resume.

No matter where you live, head to your local library to find out what they’re doing. Is there a 3D printer available for public use? Are the librarians committed to a tech-friendly environment? Can you hone your STEM skills with the library’s free services? We’re certainly advocates of the printed book and all the work libraries do, but let’s also celebrate the role libraries play for makers, manufacturers, STEM lovers, and tech gurus. What an amazing resource!

photo credit: Book and Plant Sale 2009 via photopin (license)