A Background in Libraries
When I’m on the road visiting libraries, hosting workshops, or attending conferences, I am often asked about my background. People want to know what education or training I had to be able to “play with robots” all day. Many of them are surprised to discover that my degree was not in Engineering, but rather English Writing. My previous career path was not in computer programming, but in public libraries.
The shock is not just that my background is not a technical field, but how closely related it is to their own backgrounds. Some of my clients and colleagues ask what I studied with an expectation that it will provide them with an excuse, to give themselves a protective barrier of entry: “I can’t get a 3D Printer because I don’t have the skills to use it” or “I can’t teach coding because I’ve never written a code.”
When I share my own story and, after the shock has faded a little, they actually hear the answer they had been hoping for the whole time: You can do it too.
Incorporating STEM and hands-on learning into the library can be a daunting challenge, but it is not impossible. Part of the hesitation is not appearing like an expert when a patron asks a question. Without the technical training, how will the librarian know what to say? After all, librarians are authorities on so many other areas of the modern library and most have the Masters degrees to prove it. I pose back to my clients and library colleagues that that is exactly why it makes sense for STEM learning to be in a library. When patrons have those questions, who better to ask than an authority on finding accurate information? The librarian does not need to know how to recalibrate a robot the first time a patron asks; they can look it up together — learn and grow together.
So while my background was not in a technical field as an engineer or scientist, I did learn a lot as a library professional. I learned how to host a program to engage my community, how to get to the heart of what my patrons were really asking, and how to assist them with all kinds of technology. These — not the technical skills — are the most important skills for hosting a hands-on learning program at the library.
In my current role as a STEM Specialist, I do not actually play with robots all day, but I do learn everything I can about all the products we offer and how best they can work in a library setting. I get to know the technical aspects of each product, but with the approach and concepts of a library professional. That means that my colleagues working in libraries can prioritize their day-to-day roles, and I can provide support to those wanting a STEM presence in their library at every step of the way.