26th March 2017

Public libraries are bridging the gap and stimulating STEAM activities

SYDNEY, Australia, 16 March, 2017 - Public libraries are increasingly looking to reaffirm their crucial role within the community by offering activities and services that will help community members improve their STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) skills. This week, some great examples of STEAM focused activities and services are going to be showcased at “STEAM into Sydney”. This event is part of the IFLA (International Federation of Library  Associations) Public Libraries Section’s Mid Term meeting, which is taking place in Australia for the first time, and is supported by Civica, Australia’s leading provider of library information and collection management solutions.

According to recent data, Australia is lagging behind in the STEAM fields due to an apparent lack of cooperation between industries and universities. An Australian Industry Group report from March 2015 revealed that “Australia has a declining rate of STEM-related course completions, which have decreased over the past 10 years from 22 per cent to 16 per cent”.

Public libraries across the country are trying to bridge this communication gap between institutions and community members by offering more activities and services that will stimulate the community’s interaction with technology. An in-depth survey into the value of libraries as public spaces undertaken by Civica and the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Public Policy and Governance (UTS:IPPG), “The intrinsic value of libraries as public spaces”, found a very strong belief that libraries of the future will become community support centres. In many cases they will need to open for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Some public libraries in Sydney are already offering classes dedicated to coding, robotics to children, teenagers, and even adults. Leichardt Library in NSW, for example, recently noticed that children living in the area were very interested in coding and other related subjects. As a result, the library decided to launch a coding club, inspired by a similar program developed by Randwick City Library. The program has proven to be a huge confidence boost for many kids.

According to Selina Breckenridge, Digital Librarian at Inner West Council, participants have begun to share their achievements with their peers at school and families at home and are much more outgoing. The program currently caters to 8 to 11 year olds.

“Books and libraries aren’t seen as ‘cool’ and so being able to encourage STEAM skill development by targeting the children’s interest in coding has been a highly successful initiative for us,” said Selina.

Another innovative STEAM focused initiative has been implemented by the City of Ryde Council. Ryde Library Service recognises the important role that public libraries play in engaging young minds by providing access to technology and learning opportunities to enhance individual creativity and innovation. The library has developed a technology space that offers STEAM programs and resources for 3 to 12 year olds.

The West Ryde Library is now strategically using its spaces to incorporate technology to inspire creativity in kids. Highlight technology includes the ‘Children’s Cabinet of Curiosities’, as well as features such as microscopes and other science kits to borrow.

Jill Webb, Manager Library Service at City of Ryde Council, believes that there is now a whole new world for the users to discover, “It is like a museum mixed with a library, we had elements of a museum incorporated and when the kids come they’re inspired by new ideas and technology.”

Covering the theme of STEAM for the first time, the event ‘STEAM in Sydney’ will showcase the projects mentioned above, but also a number of others from Australia and overseas. Programs developed by public libraries in Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, United States and Norway will also be exhibited.

Jan Richards, Manager at Central West Libraries and the conference convenor highlights the fact that STEAM discussions are increasingly becoming more crucial for councils, communities and citizens in order to provide more activities that address the current needs of children, teenagers and older people.

“Libraries are increasingly adopting technology as a way to deliver services, i.e audiobooks, e-books, social media, so when you engage with your community you need to be able to get them to access all of it, and also give them the skills”, said Jan.

According to the Civica and UTS research, the future vision of a library, is of a one-stop-shop providing community support from unemployment assistance to health advice and to community learning and business development. “Civica, with its extensive knowledge and experience in both the libraries and education technology sector is well placed to navigate STEAM issues and is pleased to be moderating a panel as part of the programme”, said Simon Jones, Civica Libraries and Education Managing Director.

The event in Sydney was sold out in two weeks, but for those who can’t attend in person, the STEAM into Sydney website program will be live streamed.

[2] “The intrinsic value of libraries as public spaces”, Civica and the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Public Policy and Governance (UTS:IPPG)