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STEAM programming for Adults
STEAM, as a framework and acronym, was founded by Georgette Yakman in 2006 (Yakman 1). STEAM is an outcropping of well known STEM programming. It is inclusive of the (A)rts and fosters the application of STEM principles, without the limitations of hard science (Yakma 5). Organizations use STEAM programming to engage problem solving skills and help individuals become critical thinkers. This is done through a framework of process-based learning in a personal, collaborative, and contextual manner (Widdows 2)(STEAMPortal). “STEAM Journal” states that this framework focuses on the intersection of science and art that fosters innovation by building skills fit for the 21st century (Steam Journal). STEAM allows one to explore a learning environment in a personally relevant way that builds knowledge and skills that are cross-disciplinary, hands on, and practical (Pandora and Fredrick xix). Adding creativity and innovation (by including the arts) to STEM incorporates key components employers are voicing as critical in an ever rapidly changing technological world (STEAMPortal).
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Our library system has been offering children’s STEAM programming for almost a decade, since fall of 2010. Last year alone, at all the branches combined, we had over 200 programs for school children that were STEAM based. The library, as an institution, is at an intersection between the classical hyper-specialization of collections and a novel new configuration that can be harnessed to compliment community wide goals (Colegrove 4). This configuration is the library as a space of creation and not solely a place of information ingestion. A place where we engage a community to help build skills that allow adaptability to an uncertain world. We can do this by embracing the technological and social structural advances that are rapidly changing the skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow. Those structures include having both a solid liberal arts education plus specialized career knowledge in technologies (Gordon 29).If we are truly in service to our community, then it is imperative that we explore the roles of trans-disciplinary collaboration and innovation provided through STEAM programming for adults (Colegrove 8). We should evolve our services to include STEAM to help patrons personally succeed and thus contribute to a better community.
Smith states “In order to stay relevant and viable, the ones that survive need to reflect the interests and needs of the communities they serve” (31). Being situated near the Quad County Tech Hub, it is important to remember and serve the disenfranchised population by providing services that help build relevant, real world skills in a technically complex world (Small 15). The “digital divide”, as a concept we are all aware of, presently goes beyond the haves and have-nots of computers and internet access for information. There is an additional divide of knowledge and skills within the context of tech competency that goes well beyond access to the Internet (Small 17). It is colloquially referred to as Industry 4.0 or Industrial Digitization 4.0 (ID4.0). The technological resources and skills needed for gainful employment in a technologically advanced society are distributed unevenly (Weiss 26-27). Though central to the mission of many libraries is to provide access to the internet for patrons (Weiss 36), I contend that we upgrade from simple computer access and training. We need to build dynamic programs that evolve with the technologies of ID4.0 and that is accomplished through STEAM. This coull be part of a new digital inclusivity philosophy.
Part of our library mission is to “provide access to an immense array of ideas and information” and one of our values is to “provide services demonstrative of the technological revolution”. Our public library system could be a place where we provide relevant resources “to raise the educational attainment and employment prospects of its population” (Smith 33). I propose to start STEAM programming for adults in a trial phase at the NW County branch. It is the most remote branch with communities that have strong foundations in manufacturing. It has the least technically advanced demographic in the county (Census). The children’s STEAM programs are well attended at the NW County branch, with requests for additional afterschool programming. We have the core competencies and resources for an adult based STEAM pilot program building off our expertise with children. Everyone can agree that libraries need to embrace new organizational strategies to remain relevant and successful in todays world. (Colegrove 8)
The three expected outcomes of the adult STEAM program are:
- These adult level programs focus on education in a fashion that can help shape future careers and possibly meet some of the needs in the modern day digital workforce (Lille 588).
- It opens avenues to collaborate with local employers, higher education, and government to create/maintain programs that educate for more tech savvy employees and help drive economic growth (The State of American Libraries 11).
- Improvement in employability and connecting patrons with enhanced skills and knowledge to employers (K-64)
Libraries are transforming in the 21st century to a physical place of collaboration, idea sharing, discourse, and inspiration through social learning (Aabø and Audunson142). Most prominently it is filling the gap of a technology hub that enhances the quality of the greater communal life (Y.Chan 751). Just like Starbucks created the idea of the third place, the library is shifting to fill some of that role but with the added twist of “learning-by-doing and social interaction in today’s knowledge based economy”(Y.Chan 743). This, coupled with the demographics of NW County Branch, creates significant potential for highly sought after programming for adults as well as becoming a mainstream county library service. There are a multitude of costs, resources, and budgetary concerns for a full fledged, system wide program. For the pilot program, we have been in contact with three of the local manufacturers that are considered “Smart Factories”. The HR Departments are expressing great interest in collaboration with funding, technology, and experts to lead workshops. They too see the benefits of having a ready trained workforce that has skills and competencies of industrial digitization to ensure a competent entry level work force.
There are opportunities and challenges that expanded STEAM programming for adults bring to the library. If we want to demonstrate leadership and vison, we must have a unique mindset. We should focus on programing that fills the gaps of both technical and soft skills for adults that are industry informed and incorporate trans-disciplinarian collaboration (Fathulla 3-4). Small suggests that “An assessment tool needs to be developed to assist libraries with deep, investigative methodologies on design with growth or expansion, or not, as an option” (161). The skillsets of most librarians are lacking to lead the initiative of STEAM for adults. It is therefore suggested that we develop strategies to integrate experts in the STEAM fields or those that have a foundation and knowledge of that broad field (.
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