I had the great privilege and honor to be part of the inaugural Public Libraries and STEM Conference, co-convened last week in Denver, Colorado by Paul B. Dusenbery of the Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning and Keliann LaConte of the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

http://www.lpi.usra.edu/education/stemlibraryconference/

At this conference, STEM professionals and public librarians met for two and a half days to discuss the ways in which public libraries can help meet the needs of their communities with informal STEM education; get to know one another; and make connections. 150 Professionals from library associations, museums, science and tech centers, educational institutions, funding institutions, science professional associations, consulting professionals, and librarians from all across the country held discourse and shared insight. A few of the interesting facts I discovered during this conference are as follows:

1. Relative to the rest of the developed world, the United States tests on a U-shaped curve in understanding of basic science facts. This means that while we consistently rank at or near the top in early childhood, our ranking drops dramatically beginning in middle school and into high school… precisely when formal science education is happening… and then rises back to the top or near the top as adults, when most science education is again happening informally, or at least at the individual’s discretion.

2. During the course of an individual’s lifetime, nearly 95% of his/her learning takes place informally, or out-of-school.

3. The vast majority of education dollars in this country are spent on in-school learning.

4. While science museums (and similar institutions) and libraries share the common goal of life-long learning for their customers, much more can be done to form collaborative efforts between and among STEM professionals and libraries.

5. The future for informal STEM education seems bright indeed when one considers programs already in place and those being conceived and created.

The main take-aways from this conference for me were these: We are already doing a good job. We can always do better. There are many institutions working and willing to share with us materials, resources, and expertise to do better, and we can do the same for them. We share common goals. And the great majority of public learning happens in places like ours.

We are already doing a good job. But we can always do better. Especially if we do it together.