Diversity through Library Makerspaces: An Example of Community Collaboration of Girls in STEAM

photo by M. Murphy

photo by M. Murphy

Many of us in the independent school realm are continually striving to reflect and foster multiple perspectives for our community through diversity initiatives. Past AISL conventions, professional development, and blog posts have featured diversity, equity, and multiculturalism to our collective knowledge. I want this post to be a complimentary bookend to the diversity post Christina McClendon wrote for AISL, “Best Practices for Creating (and Using!) a Diverse YA Collection.” I found the information in her post rich in scope for collection development and useful to my thoughts of creating a well-rounded and represented collection. I would like to delve into how library programming and facilities can also mirror this focus on diversity and equity in our libraries through my experience with makerspaces, STEAM initiatives, and collaboration with the our technology and science departments.

I have chronicled the journey of creating, growing, and sustaining a makerspace at the Shorecrest Preparatory School’s library; and just as our book collections can serve, support, and foster a diverse community I have learned that the creative spaces in our libraries are powerful resources for equity and access to the tools of creativity and innovation. The digital divide has been a common topic in education circles in which there are segments of our society that are without access or are underrepresented in tech and innovation. Libraries of all sizes and scopes are beacons of resources to narrow this divide. As the research and design program has grown at our school through our makerspace and with our collaboration with the technology department I have witnessed how creating a creative space generates a ripple effect in self-efficacy, personal empowerment, and community engagement. I want to share how a focus of STEAM themes and programming grew organically at an individual level, then to curricular level and now has expanded into community partnerships because we updated our resources to include materials and machines for making over the past three years. I am honored that I played a minor supportive role to a collective endeavor initiated by a pair of students. This seems apt to share  today on ADA Lovelace Day-attributed as being the first computer programmer, but has only recently been recognized.

Co-Founders of the Girls' STEAM Club

Co-Founders of the Girls’ STEAM Club

About two years ago two upper school girls noticed that they were one of the few females in the computer programming and robotics class. The pair discussed this and then talked to a few more of their friends and decided to form a club with a diverse group of girls that focused on STEAM for girls. They approached several teachers: our Director of Technology, Dr. Baralt, because she is the leader of STEAM and her exhaustive knowledge of technology; Lisa Peck, a science teacher that heads our medical science program alongside environmental initiatives too. I think they reached out to me because they had seen the development of the makerspace in the library and the outreach our library program was doing to promote innovative and design thinking. I want to stress that because there was a specific creative space and a push to offer different materials of learning in the library the students sought a librarian to join on as one of the mentors. Additionally, our upper school art teacher, Charla Gaglio, rounded this group of mentors to encompass all the areas of creativity and subjects of STEAM. The great part about this grassroots development was that it started to develop at the same time as the national focus on underrepresented groups in tech and commerce through the awareness raised by organizations like Lean In, Code.org, and Girls Who Code.

STEAM Ambassadors lunch meeting for planning

STEAM Ambassadors lunch meeting for planning

In the early stages of setting a mission of the club to encourage and support girls in technology, robotics, and engineering the girls recognized that reaching girls younger than high school would be instrumental in growing the numbers in STEAM fields and classes. So from this focus the high school girls of this club emerged as STEAM ambassadors to the rest of the school. The goal was to share stories of women thriving in STEAM fields and generate activities for middle school girls that give them skills and experience with coding, game design, engineering, and science concepts, etc. As the structure of the club was taking shape a local school had been communicating to Shorecrest about both our robotics program and makerspace program. Dr. Baralt saw the opportunity to share our experience and invite Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg to be a part of our STEAM for girls club. She was instrumental in setting up the logistics of bringing our middle school girls together with the middle girls of Academy Prep while under the guidance of our high school STEAM Ambassadors. The upper school girls were responsible for searching, designing, and delivering the lessons to the middle school girls. For the first couple of sessions the mentor teachers explained lesson development, modeled activities, and helped gather instructional materials, but as the upper school girls gained confidence and experience they began to shape their own lessons. Now in it’s second year once a month the science teacher at Academy Prep, Latasha Seay, brings middle schools girls over after school and collaborates and celebrates STEAM activities with our girls in the library.

Wireframing for Game Design on the iPad

Wireframing for Game Design on the iPad

Electronics and Circuitry

Electronics and Circuitry

 

 

 

This school year in addition to the Girls’ STEAM club using the resources in the library one of the original student founders of the club also saw the opportunity to involve the National Honor Society to do more outreach and service through our makerspace. She contacted PACE Center for Girls in Pinellas whose mission involves,”PACE began as a community response to the lack of female-specific programs for girls involved in the juvenile justice system, at risk of dropping out of school, or facing other serious risks. Since 1997 PACE Pinellas has served more than 1,500 girls by offering them and their families hope and opportunity for a brighter future.” The experience of setting up programs that she learned from Dr. Baralt and the mentors gave her confidence to create more community outreach and reach more girls. I noticed that when she was planning this meeting she only needed a little consulting with me, but then she lead and organized the first activity of paper circuitry activities with a few high school girls in the program along with a different group of girls at our school.

SPS Tech Director, SPS Science teacher, APC Science teacher

SPS Tech Director, SPS Science teacher, APC Science teacher

My role as a librarian in all this is was as a host space, resource collector, and subtle support. In many ways this program borrows from the ways public libraries offer programs and resources to their communities. It is a joy to see all the girls together being creative, curious, and empowered with new knowledge. Honestly, programs like this in which students lead the inquiry are the epitome of what library strive to attain: self-sufficiency and efficacy. On the days when I am struggling with the balance of all the realms of librarianship: collection development, reader advisory, research and information literacy instruction while sustaining a makerspace the experience of being a part of Girls’ STEAM club affirms my goals as a librarian. I feel as equally empowered as the girls do.

Through this process I have learned of some sites and organizations that support girls and other underrepresented groups in STEAM:

Girls Who Code

She++

Ada Lovelace Day

Black Girls Code

Black Nerd Problems

Blacks In Technology

Latina Geeks

10 Inspiring Women in Tech from Asia and the Middle East

Sylvia’s Super Awesome Maker Show

Project H

Out In Tech

Start Out

Lesbians Who Tech

Additionally, here are a few businesses that were founded by women that supply resources for tech and makerspaces-

Adafruit founded by Limor Fried

Littebits founded by Ayah Bdeir

I also want to highlight a program that brings together all STEAM elements but is anchored with the author Octavia Butler. I loved how sci-fi literature was added with the arts and tech so  natural integration for libraries.   The Octavia Project

Finally, this story is just one example of library programming and facilities supporting diversity and inclusion. I would love to hear how other libraries may be supporting diversity, affinity groups and service organizations. I would like to learn more ways of reaching and supporting many different voices.

 

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