Public Libraries in the STEM Ecosystem

Public Libraries in the STEM Ecosystem

Guest Blog by M. Elena Lopez, Linda Jacobson, Margaret Caspe, and Rachel Hanebutt, Global Family Research Project 

Bringing science-themed workshops to families in rural Appalachia, giving students and families in a summer meal program a chance to build robots, and letting parents see their children apply early math skills to everyday life are a few examples of how public libraries are making STEM learning experiences more accessible to families.

As we recently highlighted in our new policy brief, “Public Libraries Engage Families in STEM,” public libraries are taking on a critical role in supporting students’ learning and interest in STEM subject areas beyond the school day. And by ensuring that family members are part of the picture, they are strengthening parent-child connections and building parents’ awareness of STEM activities and programs in the community.

Howard County Library System, 2017

Through interviews with library leaders in six states — Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin — Global Family Research Project learned that librarians and other library staff members are true innovators, often stretching beyond their typical program models to create more — and better — STEM learning experiences for children and youth.

A few key themes emerged from the examples compiled in the brief.

Libraries are making STEM more equitable for children and families

Libraries are seeking to expand their services to families that are the least likely to afford after-school and summer enrichment programs for their children. They are also prioritizing other underserved children and families, such as those in rural areas, and partnering with STEM experts, museums and science centers to bring families high-quality materials and experiences. The Georgia Public Library Service, for example, collaborates with institutions such as Zoo Atlanta to offer free admission for families that have already checked out a DVD on animals.

Libraries engage parents and children in STEM learning together

Parents, grandparents and other family members can support and further extend children’s learning in STEM areas when they can touch, experiment with, and talk about the same things. Adults gain a better perspective on what children already know, and children learn how their families already use science, technology, engineering and math in their daily lives and careers. Family coding workshops in Wisconsin public libraries and a math activity series for Pennsylvania families with children in the early grades are two examples in the brief of how public libraries are giving families ways to connect through STEM.

Howard County Library System, 2017

Libraries connect school and out-of-school learning

In Peabody, Massachusetts, the projects students are working on at school often find their way to the Peabody Institute Library’s Creativity Lab, a makerspace where students can access tools, computer programs, and hands-on help to enhance any assignment. And in Pennsylvania, the state’s Bureau of Library Development wants families to know about the wide array of vetted materials, such as periodicals, and digital tools available at the library so students learn to use primary sources — and not just search on Google — when they are writing reports for school.

Finally, libraries create an avenue for youth voice and leadership

Library staff members step back and allow teens to make decisions about what they want to learn. At the Creativity Lab, teens even lead instruction for other patrons on programs such as Photoshop, helping them gain confidence and skills they can use in the future.

Our hope is that as you build and develop STEM ecologies in your communities, that these examples will inspire you to include libraries in your collaborative efforts. We’re also eager to hear your stories of working with libraries. Please email us at info@globalfp.org.


Global Family Research Project is an independent, entrepreneurial nonprofit organization that supports effective engagement practices and policies so that all children find success in and out of school.