STEM Programming in Libraries

Welcome to the STEM Programming in Libraries Wikispace. This page will provide an overview of STEM in general, issues that libraries have with STEM, as well as resources that librarians can use to gather information for their own STEM programming. Libraries across the world are beginning to include more STEM related ideas into their library programming. Since STEM is a relatively new endeavor and is more focused on classroom content, most of the literature available, be it scholarly papers, books, or news articles, tends to highlight how to integrate STEM into a classroom. This wiki page is dedicated to discussing what STEM is, how it can be more thoroughly integrated into library programming, and how librarians can use the school-focused STEM resources for their own benefits.

Defining STEM

STEM is an acronym that stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. STEM programming in libraries is about moving beyond the traditional categories of science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM education and programming pushes for an integration of all four subjects into a cross-disciplinary subject or content approach. Librarians must strive to promote these forms of education, but also teach the underlying forces that connect all four: promote learning and exploration, critical thinking, solving and identifying problems and concepts, and molding new fluid definitions of literacy.

Why STEM is Important in Libraries

The STEM approach provides a way for librarians to connect the various STEM materials in our collections with the programs that we already have in place. Libraries are learning spaces and places where patrons come to learn information of their own volition. Coming up with new and innovative STEM programs will be a way to engage teens and younger children in your library in areas that are important in their future workplace. Library programs allow for more complete subject integration, ie STEM integration, than traditional school classrooms where most STEM education is dictated by the teacher. The library offers a judgment-free, grade-free zone where children can explore, make mistakes, and come back continuously week after week to develop more comprehensive activities, skills, and projects..

Why STEM Programming in Libraries

The National Science Board, which is the Governing Board of the National Science Foundation & Policy Advisors to the President and Congress, have outlined several facets of STEM education that librarians and educators at large need to be aware of when it comes to children. As librarians and teachers, we must first be aware of the economy that our patrons are born into and will be working in in the future. STEM programming and STEM education, as outlined in the National Science Board’s action plan(, discusses how while it is important for schools to educate students on the value of a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, the task cannot only fall to teachers. By becoming more involved with the standards set forth by the National Science Board, librarians can develop programming that fits into the larger STEM education goals of the nation.

In addition to school library settings, public libraries are an excellent place to provide STEM in afterschool or out-of-school settings. The less formal STEM environment provided through a public library can serve as natural reinforcement and encouragement to the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills learned in school without being heavy handed. Children choose to participate in these programs based off their interests rather than as part of a class curriculum.

The value of providing STEM education in libraries extends beyond the informal educational setting. It includes the opportunity for libraries to increase community collaboration and to garner support through their commitment to educational initiatives (Hopwood, 2012). It allows libraries to reach more people and the hone skills of library staff through using inquiry-based methods with youth patrons (Cox, 2012). By engaging in STEM programming with community partners, libraries demonstrate that they are more than a book repository.

History of STEM and Founding Priorities

Although literature about STEM in libraries is not widely available, the term as it applies to education has been around since the early 2000s. Dugger, in his paper, “Evolution of STEM in the United States,” discusses the origin of the term as well as the several initiatives that have helped the whole STEM movement take off. The National Science Foundation is seen as the founder of STEM. They decided on the term STEM in the early 2000s and then went on to form projects, panels, and groups that met to discuss the importance of implementing STEM in classrooms and within the larger community (Dugger, 2). Many common themes came out of the development of the STEM initiative with the biggest ones being the necessity to integrate all four concepts into one cohesive unit, making sure learning STEM is supported outside of the traditional classroom, and teaching skills that are translatable across multiple different disciplines. The National Science Board set out with these ideas in mind and formulated a series of founding priorities that librarians and educators alike can use to develop both their school curriculum and library collection and programs.

The National Science Foundation founded the National Science Board as a way to develop a level of priorities and responsibilities for federal agencies. While these are inherently related to the bigger picture of STEM across the whole nation, the founding priorities outlined in the National Science Board’s action plan clearly highlight the role that librarians can have in providing STEM programming to children. Librarians and educators have to responsibilities to “support research on learning and educational practices and the development of instructional materials,” “develop human capital,” and “increase public appreciation for and understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” (National Science Board, 14-17). By thinking of these priorities, libraries can create STEM programs that will help educate patrons.

The important skills that the children learn during the STEM programs will allow them to transfer their knowledge to a new place. As Sousa and Pilecki say in their book, “From STEM to STEAM: Using Brain-Compatible Strategies to Integrate the Arts,” “Without transfer to new situations, any STEM learning is of limited value” (58). As long as libraries offer a variety of STEM programs that relate back to things previously learned, patrons will be gathering new knowledge that they can use in any situation. Repetition will help them remember.

Importance of STEM in Education and the Workplace

STEM ideas have been gaining importance within education and the workplace since the National Science Foundation’s coining of the term in the early 2000s. STEM takes four seemingly related, but taught separately, categories of instruction and works them into a cohesive unit of instruction. In school districts across the country, there is very little fluidity in STEM learning across classes, both horizontally within grade levels and vertically as students progress through schools. Developing key STEM content standards state-wide and within the school district will allow students to have a curriculum that teaches the broad key concepts that will allow them to be prepared to work in the thriving STEM workplace of today and the future. It is necessary for libraries to work with schools and also on their own to develop STEM-related programming that will draw upon the underlying concepts of critical thinking, concept mastery, creativity, imagination, and STEM processes.

Basham and Marino discuss supporting STEM education in schools and how understanding the Universal Design for Learning allows students of various learning styles and disabilities to find better educational and career niches. The more traditional manufacturing jobs are coming under fire and becoming more scarce as STEM education and STEM related careers take over. It is very important for libraries and librarians to start offering programs that focus on the various different projects that are available within STEM education, so children can see the wide variety of fields available for them. Dugger highlights the importance of STEM fields in the workplace, saying that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers are exploding across the country and world, but high school and college graduates looking to find jobs in those fields are widely unprepared because of the lack of relevant and interesting STEM teaching without the educational system. Librarians are working to combat these inadequacies by offering STEM programming starting for younger children and working up to adolescent activities and synthesized skills.

Important Organizations to Follow

There are a wide variety of groups involved in the STEM movement. Some have been around since the beginning, while others are museums and libraries that have recently become more widely known as having good ideas and supporting basic programs that can be implemented across grade and age levels as well as different organizations. Some of the more widely known groups that were initially part of the STEM initiatives beginning are the International Technology Education Association, the National Education Association, the National Science Board, and the National Science Foundation. The list of useful resources at the bottom of this section highlight some organizations and web presences that have exploded in importance recently.

The Institute of Museum of Library Services has become an important repository for libraries and librarians to utilize. IMLS has gathered a list of issues prevalent within the United States and has deemed STEM to be important for US children as it impacts the total competitiveness of the nation as a whole. On their website devoted to this issue,, IMLS has gathered information for librarians about the partnerships that are already in place for STEM groups, updated grants available for libraries who have STEM ideas for the coming fiscal year, a link to the database for awarded grants, as well as a comprehensive resource list that librarians can use to find more information about STEM. IMLS is an important organization for librarians to know about in terms of good ideas for STEM programming and ways to think of measurable outcomes and goals for the programs librarians come up with.

Other important players specifically in the STEM programming debate are the national library associations, such as American Library Association, Young Adult Library Services Association, American Association of School Librarians, and Association for Library Service to Children. All four associations offer classes, courses, and programs for librarians to attend to learn more about STEM inclusion in the library. Conferences are a major place where librarians can go to learn more about STEM resources, but if you are unable to attend, each organizations website offers information about what STEM resources they have available, what members in their organization are doing with STEM, and new ideas and materials that are available for librarians to use. ALSC has a blog that tags certain entries as STEM, available at This blog talks about different resources available and examples of what works and does not work for ALSC members. YALS also offers STEM resources for anyone interested in STEM at the website, It is a list of example programs, resources of all kinds, different kinds of STEM activities, information about national STEM initiatives, and how to evaluate. This annotated bibliography allows librarians to have a bouncing off point for multiple STEM program ideas.

How Libraries Deal with STEM

School libraries are at a distinct advantage over public libraries to integrate more STEM programming into their regular activities because they have a more direct connection to teachers and students. Subramaniam et. al. discuss the unique position that school libraries have in regards to STEM programming and integrating school STEM content more fluidly into existing programs. School libraries are able to function as “effective hybrid spaces to encourage STEM identity development and STEM learning” (Subramaniam et. al., 163). School libraries are encouraged to practice station teaching, where students are given the opportunity to practice different skills at various stations throughout the library. This is easily transferable to public library STEM programs and can be dealt with by designing a program that may have one broad overarching STEM theme, but with multiple smaller STEM related activities. Moorehead and Grillo say that stations “are able to infuse best practices, targeted supports, and ongoing dialogue (divergent, inquiry, and civil discourse) into instruction” (50). Stations are perfect for STEM related programs because they allow librarians to “scaffold the content into multiple learning activities . . . around similar content foci” (51). Multiple stations will also allow children to become their own teachers and to teach others the skills that they themselves have already mastered.

The inclusion of STEM programs within public libraries is also a benefit to the community during school breaks and to homeschooled youth. In addition to STEM resources and information, libraries offer access to a space for students to work collaboratively. Youth collaborate with each other, as well as with their parents and instructors. The text Teaching and Learning Science, volume 1 has a chapter devoted to scientific learning through shared inquiry that involves the active engagement of parents with their first graders. The book includes several specific examples of how parents were drawn into the learning process alongside their children, as well as how they encouraged their children in this process at home through basic steps of scientific inquiry (Tobin, 2006).

For further information about how particular libraries deal with STEM, please visit the Institute of Museum and Library Services STEM Resources page at

Library Concerns with STEM

Some of the major concerns for librarians facing STEM programming is overcoming budget constraints. While the pressure may be on in our minds to create a makerspace along the lines of YouMedia in Chicago with 3D printers, vinyl cutters, music studio equipment, and various expensive tools for our patrons to use, we have to remember that STEM programming can happen with the materials that we already have available within our collection. Take a good look at the storytimes that your library does. Ask yourself if there are ways to bring in STEM related books that teach anything related to the broad concepts and founding principles we discussed earlier. Design a storytime complete with activities around planting flowers or making boats or flying airplanes. Combining the multiple facets of STEM will allow for librarians to come up with insightful new programs.

If more technology-based options are what your library is looking for, try looking up free software online for the kids to try out that you can download onto your computers. This will allow you to design programs that can either be entirely technology-based or can draw from your existing collection. The beauty of STEM programming in libraries is that there is not a list of criteria that librarians have to follow, unlike the STEM related activities in education. Collaborating with community organizations and schools in the area will allow libraries to design STEM programs that include materials, machines, and general know-how that the community members may have that the librarians for not have.

Integrating STEM through Community Collaborations

Community collaborations are a valuable tool for libraries focused on STEM programming. Other organizations have the potential to provide resources, specific programs, fresh ideas for engaging youth, volunteers, and time. Awareness of these organizations and partnership with them help to stretch library dollars and expand impact.

Potential community collaborators for integrating STEM in the library setting include 4-H, area Makerspaces, local colleges and universities, and museums. There are many more, but these give ideas to get started.

4-H provides research-based STEM programming for youth (Programs, n.d.). They have hands-on programs including geospatial, robotics, wind energy, photography, digital moviemaking, small engines, and animal science. Successful collaborations can be made where the library provides space, resources, and promotion of an upcoming STEM focused event while 4-H provides screened and background checked volunteers skilled in facilitating inquiry based learning in the science arena. In addition, they are frequently able to provide the tools necessary for the specific programs mentioned above.

Local makerspaces may be a source of volunteers with STEM interests and skills. The makerspace may allow the library to borrow resources for a program. To get a more complete idea of the wide range of what makerspaces provide, view the Makerspaces wiki page.

Local colleges have students skilled in science, technology, engineering, and math and many students may be interested in working with youth and fostering their interest in STEM careers. This allows youth to see that while STEM activities are fun, they can also lead to productive careers where they can be paid for doing something they enjoy.

Museums provide another source for borrowing resources and creating programs that can utilize both locations in expanding youth interest in science. Sharon Cox, the manager of the Children’s Library Discovery Center at the Queens Library in Jamaica, New York, is strong advocate of this collaborative effort. In addition to bringing new users to both the library and the museums, she states, "The collaboration between Queens library and our museum partners…allows us to share and capitalize on our expertise in our respective fields, leading to an incredible learning environment. This collaboration is a definite plus for both communities." (Cox, 2012, p. 17).

When considering organizations to collaborate with, it is important to remain positive by focusing on what is available in the community. It is important to be open-minded about where to expand the library’s reach. If a community lacks a formal institution such as a museum, it may have a collector who knows a great deal about insects or rocks and geodes. This could be a valuable partner for a STEM program with the library.

STEM Programming Examples

There are many examples of programs that libraries can use to promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with their collections. A few to consider beyond those covered on the technology programming wiki include digital petting zoos, storytimes that pair books with STEM activities, gaming, science nights, cooking programs, Maker Faires, creation contests, and Lego® and Lego® robotics. (Hopwood, 2012).

Digital petting zoos allow for children and their parents to pick up and play with the latest technology that the library provides. Allowing patrons to hold and explore e-readers, tablets, cameras, and mp3 players can encourage further engagement and youth investigation into the capabilities of the devices.

As mentioned earlier, storytimes that connect STEM activities with books is a great way to ease into the inclusion of more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs. Volume 2 of Teaching and Learning Science has an excellent chapter titled Resources for Connecting Science and Literature covering a wide range of literature and specific examples of ways to connect each with science. In addition to non-fiction books, it addresses how to use poetry, graphic novels, memoir, and science fiction to foster science learning. It also gives an example of using a thematic unit for science inquiry; this allows for the inclusion multiple types of literature. The specific example includes a thematic unit on spiders utilizing an introduction using a non-fiction work, then E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, followed by another non-fiction book, then a more realistic fiction book, and wrapping up with a possible extension of the learning with a non-fiction book on a spider scientist that includes fantastic photos (Tobin, 2006). The following chapter in Tobin’s book shows how to include comics in science education. The examples given in Teaching and Learning Science really help to generate great ideas of utilizing the literature within an individual library’s collection.

Gaming at the library includes video games as well as more traditional board or card games. These can draw youth to the library while encouraging the use of math and engineering skills such as probability and physics, in addition to technology skills through the video games. One study found a positive relationship between role-play experience in a web-based forensic science game and student interest in science careers (Miller, Chang, Wang, Beier, and Klisch, 2011). The opportunities to encourage STEM interests within a library setting abound.

Science nights, cooking programs, and Maker Faires provide an avenue to collaborate within the community. Area clubs, troops, schools, businesses, and civic groups can come in to provide demonstrations and hands-on activities that utilize STEM. Creation contests such as making a RubeGoldberg machine can be a fun way to include science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Lego® with the traditional blocks is fun for children and great for introducing basic engineering skills, but once youth begin to outgrow the traditional Lego®, they may enjoy giving Lego® robotics a try. In addition to math skills through sorting, addition, and subtraction, the robotics brings in technology to assemble the robots and make them move (Hopwood, 2012). Further exploration can take place by programming the robots through free software such as Scratch™. If library staff are intimidated by trying to initiate a program of this nature, they can partner with 4-H that has robotics programming that utilizes the Lego® Mindstorms® robotics kits.

The possibilities for including STEM in library programs are expansive. Being intentional during program planning is an effective way to increase the learning outcomes desired. Additional science-based program ideas can be found at This site provides many activities that use easily accessible household items that help libraries keep their expenses for STEM programs in check.

The Why and How of Marketing STEM Programming in Libraries

Libraries need the continued support and involvement of their communities. Promoting library STEM programs is an effective way to assure communities that the library is a partner with them in youth education. Libraries may find as they review their resources and programs offered that they already have several STEM concepts included. These require our highlights when marketing library programs to potential funders, educators, administrators, and parents (Braun, 2011).

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburg applied for and received a grant as a result of their application “to build and promote the library’s STEM nonfiction collection to better serve middle and high school students” (Anderton, 2012). STEM funding is valuable, as these library materials require regular weeding and updating. Youth require us to help them make the connection between the resources and their lives through programs that engage and interest them.

Resources for Further Information and Examples - talks about STEM in Libraries
STAR-net is a website that offers science-technology activities and resources for libraries. - The National Education Association has listed multiple resources for grades K-12, as well as professional development opportunities. - STEM School
STEM School provides information about upcoming STEM education conferences as well as articles and opinions. - National Science Board - Institute of Museum and Library Services take on the issues of STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Math) programming in libraries

Works Cited

Anderton, H. (2012). STEM, teens, and public libraries: it's easier than you think!. Young Adult Library Services, 10(2), 44-46.

ALSCblog: The official blog of the Association for Library Service to Children. ALSC. Web. 20 Nov. 2013. < >. This URL is the tag archives for STEM ALSC blogposts.

Basham, James D., and Matthew T. Marino. “Understanding STEM Education and Supporting Students Through Universal Design for Learning.” TEACHING Exceptional Children 45.4 (2013): 8-15. Print.

Braun, L. W. (2011). The lowdown on STEM. American Libraries, 42(9/10), 60.

Cox, S. (2012). A museum in a library?. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 10(1), 16-17.

Dugger, William E. Jr. “Evolution of STEM in the United States.” 2010. Paper presented at the 6th Biennial International Conference on Technology Education Research in Australia retrieved from

Hopwood, J. (2012). Initiating STEM learning in libraries. Children & Libraries: The Journal Of The Association For Library Service To Children, 10(2), 53-55.

Kuenzi, Jeffrey J. “Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education: Background, Federal Policy, and Legislative Action.” CRS Report for Congress Report updated March 2008.

Programs. (n.d.). 4-H youth development organization. Retrieved November 23, 2013, from

Miller, L. M., Chang, C. I., Wang, S., Beier, M. E., & Klisch, Y. (2011). Learning and motivational impacts of a multimedia science game. Computers & Education, 57(1), 1425-1433.

Moorehead, Tanya, and Kelly Grillo. “Celebrating the Reality of Inclusive STEM Education: Co-Teaching in Science and Mathematics.” TEACHING Exceptional Children 45.4 (2013): 50-57. Print.

National Science Board. “National Action Plan for Addressing the Critical Needs of the U.S. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education System.” Report by the National Science Foundation. 30 Oct, 2007.

Sousa, David A., and Tom Pilecki. From STEM to STEAM: Using Brain-Compatible Strategies to Integrate the Arts. Thousand Oaks: Corwin, 2013. Print.

STEM Resources Task Force. “STEM Programming Toolkit.” YALSA, 2013. Report. Print.

Subramaniam, Mega M., et. al. “Reimagining the Role of School Libraries in STEM Education: Creating Hybrid Spaces for Exploration.” Library Quarterly 82.2 (2012): 161-182. Print.

Tobin, K. G. (2006). Teaching and learning science: a handbook (Vols. 1-2). Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers.

YALSA’s STEM Task Force. STEM Resources. YALSA, n.d.. Web. 10 Nov. 2013. <>.