By now, you’ve probably heard enough about the STEM movement to quickly recite that it stands for “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.” Perhaps you’ve taken your child to a STEM-themed event at your local public library, like a chemistry road show? Maybe you’ve checked out a book on coding to encourage your teenager to pick up a STEM-focused hobby.
What about you, as an adult? When was the last time you sat down at an event or program and learned for the sake of learning, or were able to ask questions of a scientist without feeling intimidated? If your answer is never or rarely, read on because this post is for you.
Why do adults need informal STEM? Why do librarians need it?
Adults desire and need lifelong learning opportunities and lack a non-politicized space to discuss issues such as climate change. As important as it is to introduce children to STEM, it is just as important to allow adults to explore and learn in a welcoming space. Informal STEM is an inexpensive and easy way to address these issues. Librarians, particularly public librarians, must continue to prove their value to the community, and offering new and innovative programs for adults can help them reach that goal and remain relevant.
How can public & academic libraries incorporate informal STEM?
Collaborations between public libraries and academic institutions are not as prevalent as they should be, considering how similar the missions of the institutions are. Informal STEM provides a low-risk, high-reward entry point for creating strong partnerships. For example, colleges and universities can contribute graduate students or faculty in STEM fields to attend science cafés at public libraries. The public has the opportunity to learn in a low-stress environment, and scientists can promote their field of study while practicing their science communication skills.
As one example of such a collaborative program, in 2017 I worked with the Bryan + College Station Public Library to produce adult-focused informal STEM programs centered on climate change and extremeweather events. These programs, funded by a $1,000 grant from NOAA, combined a book club run by a librarian with a science café facilitated by a STEM faculty member from Texas A&M University. The programs were well attended by local adults of all ages, integrated information literacy effectively, and were a win-win for both the public library and the university.
How can you bring STEM education to your community?
Whether you are a parent, a curious individual, a public librarian, or a STEM scientist, I encourage you to explore the idea of informal STEM in your community. We need to address the fact that adults are just as curious and just as eager to learn as children, but may not have the same opportunities to explore and grow. Remember, adults need STEM, too!
Jennifer Wilhelm has been a Business Librarian at Texas A&M University since 2018. She previously worked as an Adult Reference Librarian at the Bryan + College Station Public library system and continues to work collaboratively with the public library on programs and projects. Her research topics center on informal STEM in libraries and collaborating with university career centers to improve students’ job search capabilities.