Adults Need STEM, Too: An Assessment of One Public Library’s Experiment With STEM Programming for Adults

By Jennifer Wilhelm
Assistant Professor, Texas A&M University University Libraries
and Jessica Jones
Branch Manager, Bryan + College Station Public Library System

Abstract

In 2016, the Bryan + College Station Public Library System received a $1,000 grant to conduct informal STEM programs for adults. The library’s stated goals were to encourage lifelong learning and civic engagement through informal STEM programs, increase and diversify adult program attendance, and strengthen ties to both the local university and the community. In addition, we wished to promote the idea of libraries as safe spaces for controversial topics; in this case, climate change. This article will examine the experience of developing, promoting, and executing an informal STEM program for adults. The resulting three-part program was divided into book club and science café portions, and was partially facilitated by a science partner. The goals were reached and surpassed, with the resulting increase in adult attendance and positive reaction to a climate change program encouraging the system to increase its STEM-based offerings for adults.

Introduction

Although public libraries nationwide are successfully engaging their K-12 audiences in a variety of informal STEM initiatives, adult patrons are not being offered the same opportunities to explore and learn. In our experience as adult reference librarians in a public library, we have seen many programs and resources designed to reach youth through informal STEM, and desired to provide similar opportunities to adults in our community. We believed that programs could be implemented relatively easily and inexpensively, could increase and diversify adult program attendance, and would provide a space to engage in civic engagement on even potentially controversial topics. In 2016, the Larry J. Ringer Library branch of the Bryan + College Station Public Library System (BCSPLS) received a $1,000 Pushing the Limits grant from the Califa Library Group to support a three-part informal STEM program for adults that would focus on community resiliency, climate change, and extreme weather events.

The Public Libraries Advancing Community Engagement (PLACE) program was developed by a team of library professionals, scientists, and filmmakers, and was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in partnership with the National Weather Service, Califa Library Group, Dawson Media Group, and Goodman Research Group. Fifty public libraries were selected from rural and/or under-resourced urban public libraries across the United States. The PLACE team, which contends that librarians can “play a significant role in increasing a community’s climate resiliency” (Califa, 2019) created a model of “book club meets science café” that would engage the community in discussion of local weather events and threats. In addition to the $1,000 grant stipend, the PLACE program provided a list of recommended book club selections and accompanying reading questions, themed videos for each session, and resources and support for recipient libraries.

This assessment will explore the successful implementation and resulting impacts of the PLACE: Pushing the Limits grant program at the BCSPLS. The program results, along with literature on this topic, support the idea that informal STEM programming for adults can be accomplished on a limited budget, attracts adults from the community, and creates a respectful space for encouraging civic engagement on STEM topics, including controversial ones such as climate change.

Literature Review

Research supports our assertion that although informal STEM is rapidly becoming more popular, the majority of this type of library programming is still geared towards children and young adults. In addition, we found that potentially controversial STEM topics such as climate change are not typically addressed in public library programs. In this literature review, we will explore research on informal STEM programming in libraries, current trends in adult programs, and how libraries participate in civic engagement. Our focus in this review is on public libraries within the United States.

Informal STEM in Libraries

Informal STEM programs aim to provide participants with engaging and educational experiences that will spark curiosity and learning. However, the majority of scholarly discussion surrounding informal STEM centers on the K-12 age bracket. Since “early exposure to STEM…supports children’s overall academic growth, develops early critical thinking and reasoning skills, and enhances later interest in STEM study and careers,” (Kropp, 2015, p. 20) it is logical that many libraries choose to focus on early introduction and intervention. A report by McClure (2017) and her colleagues stresses that early exposure to STEM experiences is critical for growth and development, and encourages prioritizing STEM curricula both in and out of the classroom.

However, there is not a consensus in the literature on the suitability of librarians as STEM educators. Shtivelband (2017) promotes the appropriateness and importance of libraries as locations for youth STEM programming and provides a Six Strand framework geared towards supporting children’s librarians in their STEM endeavors. Practitioners have also offered templates and examples for the implementation of these programs, supporting the idea that librarians with no science background are fully capable of providing STEM experiences to the K-12 age group. Anderton (2012), for example, provides several inexpensive, easy to implement teen program ideas, noting that “you don’t have to have a Ph.D. in chemistry to better serve…your community” (p. 44).

Taking a contrasting viewpoint, Thielen (2018) argues that public librarians typically have little familiarity with STEM disciplines, and often lack the funds to acquire training. Lankes (2015) shares this view and goes on to say that “there are much better educators in the communities served by public libraries and librarians should partner with them” (p. 2).

Adult Programming in Libraries

In public libraries, adults typically have a wide variety of programming options outside of the STEM fields. One of the most popular ways in which public libraries serve their adult patrons is through technology programs, such as teaching computer basics and giving lessons on e-readers. A survey by Bennett-Kapusniak (2013) of fifty public libraries showed that 80 percent of responding libraries offered a type of technology programming. Another example of typical adult programming is coloring programs. Adult coloring has gained popular appeal in recent years, and as they are “low-cost, low-risk” (Marcotte 2015, p. 19) programs to implement, public libraries have been quick to capitalize on the creative movement. The Bryan + College Station Public Library System is no exception; a monthly adult coloring class has become a permanent fixture on the events calendar in recent years.

Libraries, Civic Engagement, and Controversy

Civic engagement, as one definition asserts, is “how an active citizen participates in the life of a community in order to improve conditions for others or to help shape the community’s future” (Adler & Goggin, 2005, p. 241). Although many may assume civic engagement refers to political activities such as voting or running for office, the informal STEM program undertaken by the BCSPLS encourages patrons to learn more about “working with others to solve a community problem,” one of the signs of civic engagement proposed by Keeter, Zukin, Andolina, and Jenkins (2002, p. 23). As the “role of the library as a space for users, for individual and collaborative work, and as a space for social activity [became] increasingly important” (Pomerantz & Marchionini, 2007, p. 505), programs encouraging civic engagement have also grown. In one instance, a program very similar to the one undertaken at the BCSPLS paired PBS documentaries and films with discussion periods in an attempt to increase civic engagement (Cocciolo, 2013). Some authors (Reid & Howard, 2016; White, 2014) specifically note the importance of civic engagement and library spaces in rural communities, which dovetails nicely with the PLACE grant’s goal of increasing informal STEM participation in rural and underserved populations.

Ideally, public libraries are a bastion for civic engagement and encourage free speech and knowledge acquisition; however, this does not always reflect reality. As libraries increase their civic engagement efforts, they risk opening the library to intense criticism and controversy. Frederiksen (2015) writes that “if public libraries are political spaces, it is because they are uniquely situated to reflect the social relations of inequality at the local scale in ways that instruct us about public provisioning and the work of reproducing life itself” (p. 151). To that end, public libraries can be a lightning rod for controversy and politicization in ways that are unique to their respective userships, with which local library staff are typically very in-tune and can anticipate. The most common challenge typically faced by a public library involves a patron or group of patrons who disagree with the inclusion of a title or resource in a library collection. In one example, Oltmann, Peterson, and Knox (2017) sent Freedom of Information Act requests to 351 institutions asking for all information pertaining to complaints, requests, and/or challenges to remove materials from their collections. The authors found that there was no discernible pattern for these challenges, even when examining communities’ demographic characteristics; hence, it can be difficult to predict a reaction to materials based on the demography of a community as a whole. Although the PLACE program did not involve collection development, it is important to note that even without introducing “controversial” topics into programming, libraries are frequently challenged. While a library can be very familiar with its regular patron community, this does not necessarily mean that a potentially controversial item or program will have a predictable response from patrons if patrons from outside the regular user base decide to engage with the item or program. As librarians are “defending intellectual freedom [and] presenting diverse materials and points of view” (Oltmann, Peterson, & Knox, 2017, p. 17) to connect with its regular usership, or to attract new usership, librarians need to prepare for challenges and complaints regardless of the expectation for the intended audience’s reception.

The literature about controversial programs in libraries, as opposed to materials such as books, largely focuses on programs intended for children, especially Drag Queen Storytimes. Additionally, much of the literature about controversial programs in libraries is informal and found in editorials, newsletters, interviews, and popular news outlets, suggesting that this topic may be underrepresented in scholarship. In one example of the coverage of Drag Queen Storytimes as a touchstone for controversial programming, Campbell Naidoo (2018) studied twelve public libraries that had participated in Drag Queen Storytimes and reported that “throughout the structured interviews and surveys, librarians reiterated the necessity for community partnerships in the success of [Drag Queen Storytime] programs” (pp. 14-15) and that “libraries that did not engage in community partnerships identified this as an impediment to the success” of their programs (p. 15). This supports the need for subject experts and outside parties to ensure that potentially controversial programs are successful and that facilitators are well-prepared.

Literature Gaps & Conclusion

There is a significant omission in scholarly literature regarding adult informal STEM programs and resources. As we noted previously, literature is prevalent on youth programs and informal STEM learning opportunities as well as interventions to encourage young people to work towards STEM careers. The Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE) has released reports for the National Science Foundation (NSF) that discuss opportunities for informal STEM education regardless of age, while others such as 2016’s Informal STEM Education: Resources for Outreach, Engagement and Broader Impacts address broad appeal and implementation rather than focusing on adults specifically (CAISE, 2016). Dusenbery’s “The STEM Education Movement in Public Libraries” (2014) discusses public understanding of STEM disciplines alongside student achievement, but goes on to say that libraries “provide an untapped resource for engaging underserved youth and their families” (p. 18), underscoring the focus again on youth. In the National Research Council’s Learning Science in Informal Environments (2009), the authors describe “the relative paucity of research on programs for adults” (p. 174) after acknowledging adults’ differing needs and goals as part of informal STEM programming. Throughout the literature review, research which focused on youth resources and programs was far more prevalent than that which addressed adults. In addition, literature which explores how public library programs can face pushback was scarce and deserves more investigation.

Background

Setting

The Bryan + College Station Public Library System consists of three library branches. Two facilities, Larry J. Ringer Library (College Station) and Clara B. Mounce Public Library (Bryan), serve the public with broad collections, programs, and services for all age groups. The third branch, Carnegie History Center, is a special collections library located in Bryan which contains reference materials focusing primarily on local history and genealogy. Library cards, renewable every year, are free to residents of Brazos County. The libraries provide open access Wi-Fi, public computers, and popular books and media. Programs and events are typically grouped into youth, teen/tween, adult, or all-ages audiences.

The Bryan/College Station (B/CS) metroplex is located in Central Texas, in the middle of a triangle formed by the cities of Austin, Houston, and Dallas. The community had a significant population growth of 12.9% during the period of 2010 to 2016 (DADS, 2018). Thanks to this rapid growth, B/CS has earned the title of fastest growing non-suburb in Texas (City of College Station, 2016). College Station is also home to Texas A&M University, which in Fall 2018 had a student enrollment of 68,367 (Texas A&M University, 2019). Due to the presence of Texas A&M University, and the steadily growing student population, age demographics skew young. Fully 30.9 percent and 13.7 percent of College Station and Bryan residents, respectively, fall within the 20-24 age range bracket (DADS, 2018).

Despite a young, highly educated populace, there is a distinct lack of space where adults can engage in informal discourse or exploration on STEM fields. However, programs geared towards K-12 and all-ages programming do exist outside the libraries. Texas A&M University often hosts informal STEM programming that is open to the general public. For example, the College of Engineering puts on over a dozen events each year, including summer camps for middle and high school students (Texas A&M University, 2018). Barriers to access for the general public include minimal mass transit in the community, limited free parking options on campus, a lack of childcare during events, and scheduling, since many events take place during traditional business hours.

Marketing & Budget

The PLACE grant provided a $1,000 stipend to use at our discretion on program development and implementation. The bulk of this money went towards purchasing copies of the three selected books. The library purchased both hardcopy (20 copies) and audiobook (10 copies) editions. Books were provided to the first 20 individuals who registered for the event, with leftover copies being used as door prizes and giveaways. The remaining grant funds provided for refreshments during the events and allowed for the purchase of a Chromebook to use during the sessions.

As previously mentioned, the BCSPLS was concerned about potential adverse reactions to the program. To prepare for this eventuality, we worked with our administration to ensure all involved parties (librarians, circulation staff, and management) would be able to effectively explain the purpose and intent behind the program. We believed that having a cohesive message backed by administrative support would be able to de-escalate situations or arguments that might occur. In addition, we ensured that the media push was understandable in layman’s terms and unified in its description of the program and its intent. Event descriptions avoided scientific jargon and were promoted on Facebook, the library system’s website, and on local radio stations.

Time Commitment and Preparation

Preparation for the programs was not extensive and mainly involved customizing the marketing materials, selecting and ordering books, and the actual set up of the rooms for the programs. Although PLACE provided marketing templates and materials, we customized them for our location with dates and times, and created new materials (flyers, etc.) that were more eye-catching and easier to read. These materials were used on Facebook events and printed to use as handouts. The creations of these materials constituted the bulk of the set up time, and could have been avoided if the provided templates better matched our needs. In addition, we went through the list of selected readings to decide which book to order for which session. Evaluation of the title options was expedited in part because of staff familiarity with the titles; otherwise, it would have required additional time to ensure that titles were the best fit for our audience. After ordering the materials, we curated a list of reading questions from the provided study materials. This pre-program preparation took roughly 6-8 hours a week over a month’s span.

Previous Challenges & Controversies

At the BCSPLS branches, as in many public libraries, there has been a history of patron confrontations in regards to material perceived to be controversial or offensive. In several instances, patrons have complained about the inclusion of LGBTQ+ materials in the youth section, the proximity of LGBTQ+ adult materials to the youth section, and our library subscription to and display of popular magazines such as Vogue and Cosmopolitan, which a patron argued was inappropriate for a public library. Other comments and challenges involved disputing the proportion of right-leaning to left-leaning materials in the collection. As a result of these past experiences, we expected and prepared for complaints about the climate change-focused PLACE program. Because we had avoided potentially controversial programming in the past, our interactions about the collection were our barometer for what to expect from this program, where we might have to react to a complaint in real time and with an audience. Inclusion of a subject matter expert was therefore crucial to the library staff’s willingness to take on a program focused on a politicized topic.

The PLACE Grant Program

The PLACE grant provided marketing materials and educational resources for three programs, each of which was scheduled for one Wednesday evening a month during June, July and August 2017. Each program session consisted of a video/science café session followed by a book club discussion, both of which were related to that month’s selected theme. The video/science café segment was facilitated by a science partner, and the book club segment by a librarian.

In order to appeal to the widest possible audience, the event was scheduled for 6 PM and lasted for two hours. Patrons interested in the PLACE programs could register at the Reference Desk in the library, RSVP on Facebook events pages, or reserve a spot over the phone. Regardless of registration format, the participants were encouraged to visit the library to pick up the assigned book. Patrons were required to re-register for each of the three sessions.

Science Café

Each program began with a short video that pertained to one of the three themes: Change, Community, or Strategy. Videos were produced and provided by the PLACE program facilitators, and were approximately 15 minutes long. Each video highlighted an individual or community in the US that has had to respond to climate change or extreme weather events by adjusting their livelihood, changing their habits, or taking actions to become more resilient. The videos then segued into a science café discussion facilitated by our science partner, Dr. Gunnar Schade.

Texas A&M University Science Partner

Each PLACE grant recipient was assigned a science partner to assist in the facilitation of the program. These science partners had a variety of STEM expertise and backgrounds, and each had volunteered to partner with public libraries in their geographic area. The BCSPLS was partnered with Dr. Gunnar Schade, an atmospheric scientist from Texas A&M University. Dr. Schade’s research focuses on the exchange of trace gases between the biosphere and the atmosphere, and he is an enthusiastic advocate for science communication and informing the public about climate change. Although the science partners were expected to participate in the programs, the PLACE grant did not mandate exact roles. We decided that Dr. Schade’s primary role would be as a science communicator during the science café portion, which would involve providing answers and context to attendees’ questions.

Book Club & Discussion

The first session, “Change,” was paired with The Water Knife, by Paolo Bacigalupi. In this novel, we follow Angel Velasquez, an assassin and spy for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, as he investigates a potential new water source amongst world-changing drought. For session 2, “Community,” the chosen book was A.D.: After the Deluge, by Josh Neufeld. This title is a non-fiction graphic novel that follows several individuals in the days up to and following Hurricane Katrina. In session 3, “Strategy,” we read Forty Signs of Rain, by Kim Stanley Robinson. This novel is the first in the “Science in the Capital” trilogy, and focuses on the effects climate change has on international politics. Each participant was encouraged but not required to read that session’s assigned book.

After an introduction to the theme through the video and science café, participants discussed the assigned book and how it resonated with them. This discussion was guided by open-ended questions posed by the librarian facilitator. Although PLACE did provide suggested reading group questions, the discussion was casual and encouraged participants to relate the reading to both the session’s theme and their personal experiences.

Outcomes

Attendance Numbers

The number of attendees was impressive by BCSPLS standards for a first time program. In June, we had 13 attendees; in July, 11; and August, 12. These attendance numbers are comparable to (and in some cases higher than) the established adult programs at the BCSPLS. The makeup of the program attendees differed from the typical adult program at a BCSPLS branch. The usual gender breakdown of an adult event ranges from 70-90% female. Examples of regular adult programs include popular fiction book clubs, adult coloring, and a monthly adult craft. These programs are well attended, but do tend to attract the same group of people every time and/or draw on a very homogenous group composed primarily of post-college age women. The PLACE program was intended to attract a new group of adult patrons to programs, and in this it was successful. Each session had a closer to 50/50 split of female and male participants, and different age ranges were represented. For example, college students attended all three sessions, which is highly unusual for all BCSPLS branches, since the students tend to stay on or near campus for their activities.

Participant Feedback

Assessment was conducted through observation of and interaction with the participants during the program sessions. A librarian facilitated the book club segment and engaged with the program as a participant during the science café segment. This feedback was invaluable as the librarian was able, as an adult in an informal STEM environment, to use a library science lens to critically evaluate the program’s success. At the end of the final session, program facilitators solicited verbal feedback about the overall experience from those who had attended 2 or more sessions and asked how the participants believed it could be improved upon.

Of the three book selections, the most popular was A.D.: After the Deluge, by Josh Neufeld. The book resonated quite strongly with attendees, many of whom offered up their own experiences with Hurricane Katrina and other storms that have come through Texas in recent years. The other two book selections (The Water Knife, Forty Signs of Rain) did not make the same impact on attendees, but thanks to the questions provided by the grant, the attendees were still able to have a productive conversation that tied neatly into the session’s theme. The book club portion turned out to be significantly shorter in duration than the science café discussion, due to a few factors. Pre-registration numbers did not line up with actual attendance. Several attendees had not pre-registered, which meant they had not picked up the book ahead of time to read. Of those who did, only a few (3-5) individuals per session read the entire book, which limited possible conversations.

Despite intending to split time equally between the book club and the science café, the book club quickly became secondary to the STEM discussion led by our science partner from Texas A&M, Dr. Gunnar Schade. Feedback from the attendees indicated that they preferred the science café segment, and would have rather skipped the book club portion entirely, due to the time commitment required to complete a book and their desire to take advantage of the unique opportunity to express concerns and curiosity with a scientist.

In the science café/STEM discussion portion, there was an attempt in the first session to maintain a more structured discussion based on PLACE-provided questions. However, as previously mentioned, it became apparent that attendees were most interested in satisfying their curiosity through questions to the science partner. Once the video and brief introduction to that session’s theme were concluded, the patrons preferred to challenge their own biases and assumptions through a casual and welcoming discussion with our science partner. Dr. Schade made a point of excluding jargon and technical terms as often as possible in the discussion, instead giving accurate, but accessible explanations of STEM topics. Current events and local concerns were of frequent conversation; the final session took place immediately after Hurricane Harvey barreled through Houston, a city only 90 minutes away and a location in which many attendees had families or friends. During the Q&A, Dr. Schade used his own experience and knowledge to answer questions, and substantiated those answers with online scholarly resources. He demonstrated several of these resources to the attendees, and explained the data and graphs in an accessible manner.

As librarians, we discovered that developing and participating in a STEM-based program for adults does not require a science degree or significant background in STEM fields. Although we both have backgrounds in the liberal arts, we realized that information literacy and science communication are interrelated. The ability to communicate science topics effectively is complemented by knowledge of how information is evaluated, created, and distributed. Our partnership with Dr. Schade allowed us to learn more about effective science communication and how we could use information literacy to inform future programs. After the sessions, we felt more confident in our ability to engage in STEM programming for adults accurately and effectively.

Community Response

Due to previous experiences with “controversial” material, the library facilitators had preemptively prepared for complaints. Fortunately, the program received no complaints or negative feedback from library patrons or the larger community. We believe that constructing a unified message for promotion and use in marketing and communication was helpful when it came to explaining the program to the media or to skeptical patrons.

New Library Programs

Feedback from program attendees led to the creation of new STEM/STEAM programs. The first, Full STEAM Ahead, is a book club facilitated by our librarians that meets off-campus in a coffee shop. The book selections’ subjects focus primarily on science fiction & climate fiction. This program was a direct response to the patrons’ comments that although they would enjoy a separate book club, the book club portion of PLACE was cumbersome and time-consuming. As of this paper’s publication, the program has been meeting monthly for over two years, and has a regular attendance count of 5-7 people, ranging from college students to senior citizens. Without the PLACE program, librarians would not have realized the community’s desire for a science-based book club. In addition, youth services librarians at the BCSPLS began STEAM Storytimes weekly in January 2019. These storytimes are geared towards immersing Pre-K – 5th grade youth in nature and STEM and took place ‘off-campus’ at a local park while the Ringer Library was closed for renovations. They have continued in the newly expanded building and average more than 50 in attendance at each session.

Encouraged by the PLACE program’s collaboration with a Texas A&M University scientist and subject expert, the Larry J. Ringer Library has started a new STEM collaboration with the Gardens at Texas A&M University (a 40-acre teaching garden) that began in September 2019 and is scheduled to continue through the spring of 2020. Faculty from the Gardens come to the Ringer Library once per month and present on a topic related to agriculture or gardening. This series on practical applications of STEM research has been well-received and well-attended, averaging about 25 attendees per session. In addition to being informative in its own right, the series has also introduced the community to some of the university resources with which they had been unfamiliar, matching our goal of community engagement with that of the Gardens’ mission statement.

Most recently, the library has been working with the Center for Teaching Excellence at Texas A&M University to do a series of monthly programs featuring STEM graduate students. The graduate students talk about their research with a mostly teen and adult audience with whom they can be more technical and detailed. October 2019’s session included a panel of three Chemistry Department students who talked about how their research is geared toward solving problems in areas that affect everyone: energy, health, and the environment. This is an opportunity for graduate students to practice their science communication as well as an opportunity for adults and teens to learn about a STEM topic, and we have had a very positive response to date. The Chemistry Department liaison expressed interest in doing a similar series of programs for children after their graduate students’ talks were so well received. The PLACE program has opened doors for the public library that we could not have anticipated but that prove the mutual benefits for academic and public libraries that collaborate. In addition, these programs continue to encourage civic engagement in the community, and the popularity of the programs has proven this encouragement is welcomed and needed in our area.

Future Research

Further research into the possibilities of adult programming through collaborations between public libraries and higher education is needed. We are investigating several avenues of research, including the use of informal STEM programs as service learning opportunities for graduate students, integrating STEM into a larger community dialogue about local issues, and how librarians can be effective and successful science communicators.

We encourage public librarians to include adults in their informal STEM programming. The potential for increased adult attendance and participation and ability to become more involved in the larger community are immeasurable. In addition, we believe that libraries, which have always served as a hub for free speech and free information, are well situated to tackle science topics and fight scientific misinformation.

Conclusion

This paper put forth the argument that libraries wishing to promote scientific understanding and community knowledge can and should step out of their comfort zones and conduct a STEM program for adults. The success of this grant program at the BCSPLS demonstrates that adult programs revolving around STEM do not need to be intimidating to librarians or invite controversy. Rather, the programs can bring together patrons from different backgrounds to discuss current events, misinformation, media hype, and scientific topics in a casual, stress-free environment that promotes civic engagement.

We also argue that these results indicate that STEM programs will diversify and increase patron attendance to adult programs. Attendance at this new, untested program was immediately as high as established adult programs at the BCSPLS. In addition, the multi-generational makeup of the attendees was very unusual for the library. Both of these attendance aspects proved that STEM programming was desired in the community, and appealed to a variety of adults. The success of this program confirmed our belief that focusing STEM programs solely on youth and teens is short-sighted, and leaves out the majority of library patrons. The inclusion of technology-based adult programs such as computer tutoring are common and useful to communities, but do not go far enough to create spaces for lifelong learning. There are not enough opportunities for adults to gather in an informal setting to discuss scientific topics and how they relate to current events and local issues. Informal STEM programs fill this gap without turning librarians into an intimidating “sage on the stage.”

The surprising lack of controversy resulting from this program should also encourage libraries to venture into science territory, including potentially controversial topics such as climate change. Libraries are familiar with the issues surrounding Banned Books Week, Drag Queen Storytime, or LGBTQ+ materials. Despite the sometimes negative attention surrounding these events or materials, librarians continue to push these initiatives and are moving the yardstick on what it means for a library to serve its community. Science programs should be no different, and in fact are a solid entry point for libraries interested in promoting civic engagement. Most STEM topics are not controversial, but the ones that are offer important opportunities to teach information literacy. Take a scientist with the ability to counter hype and misinformation with facts and proof, add librarians fluent in information literacy, and you have a winning synthesis.

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