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OCL News: STEM and Public Libraries

Glenn R. Miller
Glenn Miller, Deputy Secretary & Commissioner for Libraries

Erie County Launches Idea Lab
In October 2017, I was very happy to attend the grand opening of the Erie County Public Library’s Idea Lab at the Blasco Library.  Begun under the leadership of former library director Mary Rennie and completed by her successor, Erin Wincek, the library transformed about 5000 square feet of space — nearly half its entire first floor — into a public makerspace, a digital media studio, a community classroom, spaces for small group collaboration, plus resources for job seekers and small business development.

The Idea Lab gives the public free access to shared equipment, like 3D printers, sewing machines, and a vinyl cutter, as well as classes on design, technology training, and job seeking taught by community partners and staff.

In addition, the new space has already generated innovative partnerships with community organizations and is a connector with the area’s four major academic institutions who have formed a network to support entrepreneurs: Innovation Commons at Penn State Behrend; Gannon University; Mercyhurst University; and Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

Erin Wincek is excited about these new services.  She says that “libraries have always been at the forefront of innovation, giving people access to ideas and information in ever-evolving formats.  Up until the late 1800s, only the wealthy and educated had access to books, but public libraries stepped in to give everyone free access to these resources. In the 1990s, libraries began providing public internet computers to ensure that everyone had the most current information and ideas of the time. And today, libraries continue to ensure their patrons have equal access to educational opportunities by creating shared spaces where patrons can learn design and technology skills, which are increasingly necessary for success.”

The Idea Lab has already garnered a lot of attention.  In less than a month, more than 80 people have attended 3D printing classes, and two of the community partners connected with library patrons who were in need of their services to help start their own businesses.  Plus, former library director Mary Rennie won an (unexpected) local award “Social impact Entrepreneur of the Year” at the Disrupt Erie Awards earlier this month.

To learn more about the lab, please contact: idealab@eriecountypa.gov.

STEM in Pennsylvania’s Public Libraries
This exciting new service is just one of many ways libraries are adapting to provide the public with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, equipment and education.

In fact, in a survey that the Office of Commonwealth Libraries (OCL) conducted last year, we found that nearly every public library in the state offers some type of STEM programs or activities.  Key survey findings included:

  • 95% or 291 public libraries offer STEM programs, equipment or services for youth and/or adults;
    • Of these, 55% focus on youth and 40% focus on both youth and adults;
  • 24% have either MakerSpaces, digital production or creation labs, or STEM exhibit spaces;
  • 49% base all (or some) of their programs on PA Academic Standards;
  • 3% work with local school district STEM instructors to develop programs; and
  • 76% of all respondents say that library staff need more training about STEM programs.

As a result of what we learned in the STEM survey, OCL’s Library Technology Advisor, Bill Fee, is working with the Carnegie Science Center to develop STEM workshops that will be held around the state this spring.  Be watching for these training opportunities so that your library can enhance staff skills and offer new programs.

To review more survey findings, please visit OCL’s new STEM web page.  You can download survey highlights, survey question responses, and survey comments.

MakerSpace Directory
We also used the survey results to compile a directory of makerspaces, digital production labs, and gaming design labs in Pennsylvania public libraries.  The directory is a great starting place for ideas and information on how to contact your colleagues who may already be doing what you might be contemplating.  We plan to update it annually.

You can download a copy of the 2017 Digital Production Lab, Gaming Design Lab, and MakerSpace Directory from our STEM web page.

STEM is Exciting!
Along with the survey results and MakerSpace Directory, I’ve reported on many of the exciting STEM initiatives that are going on in our libraries to Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera and his special assistant who is focusing on STEM programs in grades K-12, Judd Pittman.  All of this information helps me demonstrate the important role public libraries play in the area of STEM support and education.

Thank you for all you do!

Glenn R. Miller | Deputy Secretary & Commissioner for Libraries
Pennsylvania Department of Education | Office of Commonwealth Libraries
Room 200 Forum Building
607 South Drive | Harrisburg, PA  17120-0600
Phone: 717-783-2646 | www.education.pa.gov | @PaDeptofEd
www.facebook.com/PADepartmentofEducation | pinterest.com/PADeptOfEd
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The mission of the Department of Education is to ensure that every learner has access to a world-class education system that academically prepares children and adults to succeed as productive citizens. Further, the Department seeks to establish a culture that is committed to improving opportunities throughout the commonwealth by ensuring that technical support, resources, and optimal learning environments are available for all students, whether children or adults.

This communication is issued on the Deputy Secretary’s behalf by Jonelle Darr, Executive Assistant (jodarr@pa.gov; 717-783-5725)

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