John Clark here, talking about how cool things happen when libraries cooperate (heck even the weather bends to our will). The Hartland Public Library, Newport Cultural Center & Library and the Pittsfield Public Library are in what we’ve come to call the Sebasticook Triangle. We’re all on branches of the Sebasticook River and share mutual patrons from small towns nearby that lack libraries. Joanne Elwell, the childrens librarian at Newport, Lynn Smith, the director in Pittsfield, and I have developed a terrific working relationship over the years. We can pick up the phone, make a call and send a desperate high schooler to one of the other libraries to get that book they have to have for the report due tomorrow. We swap extra books and movies, pass on extra copies, especially of young adult fiction and I take care of the remaining items when they have book sales.
Several years ago, we all became partner libraries with a fabulous nonprofit called Cornerstones of Science, headquartered in Brunswick. (http://www.cornerstonesofscience.org/) Their mission is as follows: “Cornerstones of Science works with libraries to create experiences of science that spark curiosity and foster a deeper connection to the world around us”. Lord knows we need more science-oriented kids in this country, so why not make the experience a fun and inviting one. Cornerstones has helped foster this effort in a number of ways. They provided grant money to expand science-oriented collections in our libraries when the money was available, they worked with us to hatch monarch butterflies (kids loved watching this happen) that were tagged so patrons could track their migration, they worked with Maine astronomers to train library staff in the use of telescopes and gave each member library a dandy one. (Bet you didn’t know you could check out a telescope at the library). On Saturday, August 2nd, they partnered with the three libraries to create an amazing day of fun and learning at Hathorn Park in Pittsfield.
When Joanne got the idea of our libraries putting on an end of the year outdoor festival embracing this year’s reading theme of “Fizz, Boom, Read, we were going to create the hands-on table programs ourselves, using volunteers from each library, but Joanne’s a master at getting people to pitch in who are really creative and do things like this for a living. It didn’t take long for her to get commitments from enough groups to ensure that we’d have a truly fun and engaging day. Alisha Scamman, a new member of the Pittsfield library staff, was dropped into the planning midway through the process, but did a masterful job as she was responsible for logistics the day of the event. She made certain we had chairs, tables and a sound system for our singer, Michael Parent. I was responsible for trash bags and the registration sheets that had staggered assignments so none of the tables would be overwhelmed.
Whenever you schedule an outdoor event in Maine, you have to factor in the possibility of rain. Given the amount we’ve had this summer, this was a big concern, but the staff at the Pittsfield Library lined up the gym at Warsaw School as a backup. The Pittsfield Congregational Church helped out as well by loaning us the extra tables we needed. All of us pitched in with door prizes and as you can see by the stuff on the prize table, we sent a bunch of kids home with cool goodies, including science kits, new fishing outfits, a nice pair of binoculars, A Pepsi-themed beach towel and an uber-cool Mountain Dew hoodie.
Although the forecase called for a 30% chance of showers, we decided to go with the outside location and were rewarded with a perfect day. Moderate temperatures, a light breeze and a high overcast sky made conditions ideal for kids and parents/grandparents to enjoy learning about science in fun, hands-on ways. Our presenters were set up and ready to go as the ten a.m. starting time approached. One of my worries was that we’d have all these great experiences and nobody would come. That worry evaporated quickly and by the time we finished registering everyone, almost all of the 80 forms were used. If you figure that there were one or two adults with each kid, that means we probably had close to 200 people attend, a great turnout for our first joint effort outside.
We had some great things for kids to explore. I hung out at the L.C. Bates Museum Rocks and Minerals table, showing kids how to write their name with a rock (raw graphite) and encouraging them to choose a couple polished rock samples to take home. If you’re ever looking for a great and economical program related to nature or science, you can’t do better than what the staff at the L.C. Bates Museum (http://www.gwh.org/lcbates/LCBatesMuseum.aspx) offers. We’ve had them come to do two programs for each of the past three summers at the Hartland Public Library and they do a stellar job.
Cianbro was there with a hands-on engineering activity, kids were able to build a balloon-powered car with the Children’s Discovery Museum of Augusta, experiment with Nano Science with the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor, discover the science of bubbles with the Girls Scouts of Maine, partake in aerospace engineering and Maine lake watershed activities with UMaine students which included building soda-straw rockets and see how far they could get them to go after launching them, (some kids were so good I think NASA might have recruited them on the spot). Costumed folks were there handing out discount coupons for treats at the new Sweet Frog, Scoop, and Cookie franchise in Waterville.
Cornerstones of Science helped with things like great promotional banners which have removable dates, so we can use them next year. Our next step is to have a followup meeting and see what our evaluations tell us. We asked kids four simple questions: What rocked, what was lame, will you come if we do this again next year and what do you want to do if you do come next year.
No event like this can happen without capable volunteers. My wife Beth, got the helium balloons and was our official photographer, Lydia Elwell helped with registration and the prize table, The Kimballs (David, Kathy and Audrey) helped move tables and chairs, set up and pick up after the event and Karen McGrady moved about all day, lending a hand when and where needed. There were other volunteers from Pittsfield who helped out, but I wasn’t able to get their names.
Looking back, I don’t think this could have gone any better. I saw a lot of happy and excited kids enjoying fun learning experiences and it seldom gets any better than that.