By Leah Kraus, Director of Community Engagement and Experience, Fayetteville Free Library
As librarians, most of us are not STEM experts.
Some of us might be lucky enough to have staff members on our team that have STEM expertise – whether self-taught or from a previous professional life. At our library, for instance, we are in a unique position in that our staff members include individuals who worked previously as a chemist, a technology educator, and even a rocket scientist (!)
However, even with STEM expertise on our team, the ability of these staff members to devote their time to informal STEM learning programs is limited. Each of the individuals I’ve mentioned focuses on a very different primary core areas of responsibility – Patron Services, IT, and Teen Services, respectively.
So what’s a library to do if they’re lacking the staff time and expertise to put on STEM programs?
Luckily, there are plenty of individuals and groups in our community with STEM expertise! And a surprising number of them are willing to volunteer their time to host STEM programs at your library.
Some strategies for finding these people that we’ve found successful include:
- Update your volunteer application and process. Rather than just slotting people into defined areas of need, think about opening up the process so that your community members can indicate what they’re interested in and passionate about. We have had people come forward to vocalize their interest in electronics, robotics, environmental science, 3D modeling, theorem painting, terrarium design, and so much more. Here is our Community Participant Tool for a sample of what this can look like.
- Put it out there – in your physical space, on your website, and to your staff – that you have opportunities for community members to get involved sharing what they know – leading programs, workshops and one-on-one sessions, facilitating a monthly club, etc. Create processes for staff members to capture informal conversations they’re having with community members about their interests and parlay these into involvement.
- Meetup.com: Check out this site for groups in your area that have a science and technology focus. They may be willing to lead a special program or workshop at the library, volunteer to assist with a STEM camp, or have their groups meet at the library on an ongoing basis. Most of these groups are open to the public.
- Local area universities: Connect with internship program directors to advertise intern and volunteer opportunities – not only to students enrolled in library Master’s programs, but also those enrolled in education, engineering, design, art, science and technology programs.
- Local technology incubators: They can advertise your Community Participant and internship opportunities in their physical space via e-blasts to their listservs.
These are just a few of many potential possibilities! What strategies do YOU use for getting your community engaged with STEM?