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Bellingham Library Participates in STEM Grant Review

May 27, 2018 01:00PM ● By Pamela Johnson

Shown (in back): Alan Melchior, grant evaluator and Laura Howard, Library Trustee; (front L-R) Bernadette Rivard, Library director, Amy Bartelloni, Chair, Library Board of Trustees

story and photo by Marjorie Turner Hollman, Contributing Writer
After two years of hard work by Library Director Bernadette Rivard and her staff, along with multiple community participants, “Empowering Public Libraries to Become Science Resource Centers for Their Communities,” an $8000 grant program from Cornerstones of Science, a non-profit agency, has been completed.
According to the Maine State Library web page, the overarching goal for this initiative is “that the nation's State Library Agencies (SLAs) have a field-tested, replicable science literacy method that they can use to enable their public libraries to become skilled STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) facilitators. The project seeks to empower public libraries to build their science literacy capacity so that they can connect their communities to engaging and meaningful informal science and technology experiences, equipment, books, media and the scientific community.”
An essential part of any grant is the follow-up, making sure that grant money has been used as planned, but more importantly, to document what difference the program made in the community. Bellingham was one of six libraries in Maine and Massachusetts that were awarded these grants. Independent evaluator Alan Melchior, Associate Director & Senior Fellow at the Center for Youth and Communities at Brandeis University, met with Rivard, the library staff and library trustees to conduct an independent evaluation of the grant. He explained that part of the evaluation process was bringing back advice from grant participants to aid other libraries to make better use of the opportunity afforded through these grants. Melchior was particularly interested in how the library engaged with the community on science-related topics.
Rivard noted that the first year of the grant was mostly taken up with planning programs, while the second year was spent implementing programs that had been planned the prior year. A partial list of the extensive programming that was offered through this grant, some targeted for adults, others for children and families, is impressive:          
  • A Star Party with the Aldrich Astronomical Society Community Science Fair Electric and Hybrid Car Shows
  • Community read of “Plastic Purge” by Michael SanClements, which encourages people to examine the plastic they use in their everyday life and ways to reduce/eliminate its use, and community read of “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba, a true story of a teen boy from Malawi who brought wind-generated electricity to his village
  • Republic Services, Bellingham’s trash and recycling contractor program, on effective recycling
  • Mass Save workshop on their energy efficiency incentive programs that are funded by the electric utilities
  • Mass Renewables presentation on solar electricity for your home or business
  • Tiny houses presentation
  • Composting workshop
  • Seed swap
  • Upcycling workshop (turning grocery store bags into crocheted handbags, reusing old Christmas decorations to make new wreaths, etc.)
  • Making a solar car
  • Science Tellers Program
  • At least twice monthly programs on recycling crafts, hands-on science experiments, alternative-energy crafts, movies and related activities. 
“The grant is from federal monies,” Melchior noted. “What is unusual is that it is a two-state program, including Maine and Massachusetts. There was collaboration through the grant to build science as a stronger community focus.” He continued, “Other libraries used similar grants for health, nutrition, and earth and air programs.”
Amy Bartelloni, chair of the library’s board of trustees, commented, “I like the idea of a health focus.” Trustee Laura Howard added, “We could team up with the senior center for health-focused programs.”
Rivard recalled, “I heard from the people who brought their cars to one of our electric car shows that the people in Bellingham asked the best questions. Many of the questions centered on ‘range anxiety,’ that is, how do you manage when you need to go farther than trips right around town?”
Library trustee Laura Howard noted, “Libraries are a perfect pairing with the community. I have neighbors who were wildly excited when they learned about the availability for borrowing of telescopes here.”
Rivard pointed out, “We have a unique location, next to both the middle school and the high school. A lot of students come here every day after school. It has offered some challenges, but we’ve adapted to it.”
Rivard said they had conducted surveys at the beginning of the project but that they got few responses. Melchior noted, “It is always difficult to measure changes from a baseline. Federal agencies are moving from simply making head counts to considering impact—did the program have an effect in changing attitudes?” Rivard will serve on a panel in October at the New England Library Association conference to discuss the results of the pilot grant program.
Rivard suggested they could do some staff surveys to help assist with assessments of how people are using the library. She pointed out that “70% of what Cecily Christensen, our reference librarian, does is help people find things on-line. Libraries are changing, but they are still an important source of locating information.”
Ultimately, rather than being seen as a test, this evaluation process was much more a discussion about how essential the library is to our community, what is working, and how people make use of its resources. Rivard and the trustees are already thinking ahead to plans for future grants and more opportunities for adding value to what the Bellingham library already brings to the community.






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