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Washington Voices

Library exhibit puts science, technology at patrons’ fingertips

Thu., Sept. 27, 2012

Big purple crates delivered to the Spokane Public Library last week contained a wealth of technological treasures.

On Saturday the Downtown Branch will debut “Discover Tech: Engineers Make a World of Difference,” a traveling exhibit for libraries.

“Together with Tincan, Spokane Public Library is honored to be one of eight libraries nationwide to host the exhibit,” said Eva Silverstone, communications manager.

Even more exciting, said Sally Chilson, youth services coordinator: “We are the first library on the tour.”

The interactive exhibit, supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, is part of the STAR Library Education Network led by the Space Science Institute’s National Center for Interactive Learning. Exhibit partners include the Lunar and Planetary Institute, the National Girls Collaborative Project, and the American Library Association.

As library staff readied the children’s area for the exhibit, they had fun demonstrating one of the displays: “Why Do Arches Stay Up?” Using a set of numbered plastic blocks, children and adults can build a catenary arch, like the St. Louis Gateway Arch on a small scale.

The displays are meant to be both fun and educational, and part of the fun is knocking the arch down after it’s built. After Silverstone demonstrated how simple it is to construct, she extended her finger toward a block in the center and gave a gentle push. Bam! Down came the arch with a satisfying crash. The children’s area may not be very quiet this fall.

And that’s OK. “We want folks to come explore, play, have fun, and if learning happens …” Chilson said.

Other interactive displays include “Solar Possibilities,” a quiz game complete with video screen and colorful lighted buttons, and “Bewildering Bots,” which explains the use of robotics throughout the world.

“Sadly, no robot was included,” Chilson said.

This emphasis on technology is intentional. “We’ve made a commitment in our children’s department to incorporate STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in our programming,” Chilson said.

What’s unusual about this exhibit is the connection it fosters in the community. A display board featuring pictures of local engineers is included and, Chilson said, “We’re cross-promoting this with Mobius, which is just across the street.”

In addition the library has planned a series of programs for children and adults to coincide with Discover Tech. Children can attend “Build-A-Palooza – Bridge Edition” and practice bridge-building skills, or learn about electricity at the Power It Up program. While “Discover Tech” is only at the Downtown Library, these two programs will be offered at branch libraries, as well.

The third kids’ activity, “If You Build It They Will Come,” is offered only downtown. Children and teens will be invited to create a city park.

Adults and older teens are encouraged to attend a series of workshops facilitated by area businesses and universities. The programs address community engineering issues. Topics include past and future engineering projects in Spokane, the city’s storm water system and advances in medical engineering.

Chilson wants the community to view the library as more than just a place to find a good book.

“In the ’20s and ’30s the library was the poor man’s university,” she said. “We’re hoping that people come see the library as a place where lifelong, informal learning happens.”

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