How La Jolla Public Library Supports the “S” in STEM

At this year's California Library Association's conference in gorgeous Pasadena, I attended a lot of STEM-related (Science Technology Engineering and Math) sessions: STEM for kids, STEM for adults, STEM for babies! And lately, there's been an "R" thrown in for reading and an "A" thrown in for Art. I saw some really exciting and creative examples of STE(A)M programs, from using music to teach math, to science-based art projects.

But the presentation I got the most excited (and envious) about was about the La Jolla/Riford Library's Life Science Collaboratory program. After visiting the La Jolla/Riford Library, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said, "The lab is a game changer for the city. This is the first of its kind, but probably not the last."

Located in the city of San Diego, the La Jolla/Riford Library is a neighbor to numerous biotechnology companies and research institutes, such as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, and the Human BioMolecular Research Institute, just to name a few.  Therefore, incorporating biology, life sciences, and biotechnology into library programming seems like a natural fit. It also works quite nicely with the La Jolla Library's wonderful statement on its website:

"Libraries are like schools, as they give people of all ages access to lifelong learning."

The Lab

The Bio Lab is nestled in the La Jolla/Riford Library's Innovation Space alongside the 3D Printing Lab. According to the library, the lab offers the equivalent equipment to a high school laboratory with microscopes, centrifuges, DNA copying machines, electrophoresis gel boxes, a vortex mixer, and other basic molecular biology equipment. The lab can only be open if there's a qualified library volunteer present, meaning somebody who has gone through the city of San Diego's orientation and background check process.

The Community Engagement

One of the things I really like about this program is that it engages groups and individuals with the library who might not have otherwise visited.

The La Jolla Library worked with the Wet Lab, a "DIYBio Citizen Science" community group in San Diego, on setting up the lab. The library also got input from the group's citizen scientists on the initial programming ideas, including a monthly workshop and lecture. The Wet Lab now serves as part of the library's advisory board. 

In addition to the Wet Lab, the library works with biotech companies, local universities, and biology enthusiast groups. The Salk Institute, a nonprofit research institute in La Jolla, is also a partner in the Bio Lab project.

One of the speakers for the CLA presentation was Dr. Callen Hyland, a volunteer who holds a doctorate in molecular and cellular biology, who got involved with the library after attending a biology-related lecture. She has worked closely with Shaun Briley, the branch manager and the other speaker at the session, on setting up the lab and making sure the secondhand equipment the library acquired by donation from a local surplus company actually worked.

The Programs and Lectures Galore

Some of the workshops La Jolla has held in the lab include:

  • Strawberry DNA Extraction
  • Forensic Science — How Do Scientists Compare DNA at a Crime Scene?
  • The Scientific Method
  • DNA Barcoding of Fish

When Briley and Hyland started organizing and advertising the workshops, they didn't specify what age group the events were for. This brought in a whole range of people — from kids to seniors! While it was exciting to have the age diversity, Hyland was challenged by how to present the information. You teach kids much differently than you teach adults! Briley and Hyland said that they plan to have age-specific workshops in the future. 

The library hosts "Citizen Science" lectures, too; a recent one was on Technology-Enabled Exploration with a scientist from UC San Diego. These lectures have not only made an impact on the community, but on the speakers themselves. The scientists who have participated have expressed that it has been great to meet people from the community and adapt their work for the general public.

Other Science-Related Programs

The La Jolla Public Library is quite lucky to have such a supportive scientific community. But even if your library isn't located in a hotbed for science, you can still support the life sciences and biotechnology. Contact nearby universities or high schools and invite science instructors to do lectures or demonstrations, or hold workshops. You could also host science-related book clubs or discussions with a local biology or zoology club. Here are a few ideas from other libraries: 

Do you do science-related programming at your library? Tell us about it in the comments.

Image: dave.see  / CC: BY