Librarians, Not Teachers, Are Bringing STEAM to Schools at Increasing Rates Librarians, Not Teachers, Are Bringing STEAM to Schools at Increasing Rates

Librarians, Not Teachers, Are Bringing STEAM to Schools at Increasing Rates

By Allie VanNest

It’s National Library Week this week! Time to celebrate some of our favorite people -- librarians! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 126,800 librarians in the U.S. New York (where littleBits is headquartered!) has the most, with 12,360 librarians.

Last year for National Library Week, we introduced you to Sandra Wiseman, a Library Media Specialist TIS at Woodsdale Elementary School in Wheeling, West Virginia. Sandra created a library helper called Marion the Librarian with her Droid Inventor Kit.

But the truth is, Sandra is just one of the many librarians bringing STEAM inventions and programs into her school’s library. In fact, you may be surprised to note that librarians are primarily responsible for bringing STEAM into their schools and districts.

The Role of School Libraries in the 21st Century Maker Movement

In 2018, the littleBits Education team collaborated with School Library Journal to better understand the changing nature of school libraries – often from monolithic reading rooms to innovation hubs.

The resulting data helped us to delve more deeply into the types of programs that are offered as part of maker and STEAM education, the challenges librarians face as they start and scale these programs, and some of the best practices to ensure an effective and engaging implementation for all students.

Importantly, we learned that the majority of the respondents in our sample (92 percent) mentioned that librarians were responsible for organizing maker activities in their schools. In one-fifth of schools, it is the classroom teacher who organizes maker activities. And students, themselves, organize maker activities in 10 percent of schools.

That’s why it is so important for us to enable librarians, who have their finger on the pulse of STEAM in schools and districts. We can do this in many different ways, but here are three that may have the greatest impact, based on our research:

  1. Providing professional development resources to librarians and media specialists so they can more successfully be the leading force of innovation in their schools;
  2. Designing staff meetings and a school calendar that allows librarians to interact more frequently with teachers in their school so they can better integrate maker activities with curriculum and scale these activities beyond the library space; and
  3. Rethinking the design of school libraries to allow integration of STEM and maker tools, collaboration between students, and opportunities to share knowledge in the community.

You can download our full findings here, but following are some additional insights we thought you’d be interested in:

  • Makerspaces in libraries are a “thing!” Believe it or not, more than half of school libraries in the U.S. and Canada (about 55 percent) currently offer maker programs to their students, with middle school libraries leading the pack at 61 percent.
  • Makerspaces are growing in popularity at libraries. More than half of school librarians (57 percent) report that maker attendance rose from the previous year.
  • Librarians are catalysts for STEAM programs. All librarians who participated in our survey were either involved in their school maker activities or were interested to get involved if they were not already.

So, to all of the librarians out there who are working diligently to bring STEAM to your schools and districts through the library -- keep up the good work! We’re watching you and we want to help.

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