9 Feb 2017

Promoting and facilitating STEM in Public Libraries

Guest post by Maeve McElligot. Maeve has an MLIS from UCD and a postgrad in Community Arts and Education from NCAD. 

Photo courtesy of Maeve McElligot
Libraries have always had a reputation for being places of learning. Traditionally, the books housed in libraries have been perceived as the library's main purpose and intrinsic value. However, in today's increasingly digital world, public libraries are also a great source of person-to-person and creative learning experiences. This learning experience is what will keep public libraries relevant in a world where access to information and books is changing rapidly. Since the early 2000’s maker spaces and workshops have played a significant part of many public libraries programs in the US. Here in Ireland we have seen the popularity of Codojo and Scratch workshops in libraries, proving that public libraries have a significant role to play in this era of digital learning.

Since 2014 a LAB program of workshops in 3D printing, coding and electronics has been happening in dlr LexIcon, Dún Laoghaire. This program has included workshops for kids 8-12 years in Scratch, Mine-Craft, Basic Coding, Raspberry Pi and teen STEM projects. dlr Libraries has developed the educational program of the LAB space with monthly Maker Drop in Sessions These sessions are open to anyone with an interest in exploring new tech ideas and developing prototypes. The Digital Technology Curator Dr Jake Rowan-Byrne is on hand to work on developing ideas and provide tech help. With a membership of over 300 individuals on meetup.com, this is proving a popular part of the program.

In 2016 a Teen STEM Entrepreneur Boot Camp was launched in the LAB Space in LexIcon, involving 6 weeks of workshops and maker sessions with 24 TY Students (15 - 16 years) from 8 local Secondary Schools. The project was funded by dlr Libraries and dlr Local Enterprise Office (LEO) with workshops given by Dr. Jake Rowen Byrne and Arial O Sullivan.

The aims and objectives of the project were:

  • To encourage STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and learning in a library environment
  • To promote skills such as coding, 3D design, electronics and programming among a mixed gender group of 15 - 16 year olds
  • To develop maths skills that could be applied in a school setting and exams
  • To build team work and communication skills through group presentations and pitches.
  • To promote entrepreneurship
  • To promote the library as a place of learning to teens.

The program consisted of 4 weeks of workshops in Coding, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, 3 D Printing, Prototype Design, Business Pitching, and Design Thinking. The workshops were student-centred with an active learning pedagogy marrying theory and practice. To enrich this experience, the students met with a new technology developer and entrepreneur, Anthony Quigley who shared insights into career options in STEM. To complete the learning cycle student teams of 4 – 5 students were challenged to develop a project to integrate and apply their learning during 2 maker days in dlr LexIcon. The program finished with a Show and Share event at dlr LexIcon on 30th November 2016 at which participants demonstrate their projects to peers and other stakeholders including the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O Connor TD. Projects include a MEDISPENSER, a programmed unit to dispense medication daily and alert your local doctor if /when your prescription was running out. An Enviro – Bin that sorts and compresses recycling waste for more compact storage in the home and the Haiku watch, a wearable usb storage device that could only be used and unlocked with an individual secure code.

Feedback from the students was hugely positive. In March 2017 we are planning on running a focus group with the students involved so we can improve and expand the project in autumn 2017.

All workshops and materials for the camp where free which does put a strain on resources but dlr libraries is hoping to seek SFI funding this year to expand and develop the project.

What we (the librarians) the learned.

Programs must be designed with
  •  Clarity: Clear aims and objectives, learning outcomes and evaluation structure
  •  Layering: Involve learning skills, while also explore theory and problem solving pathways
  •  Involve meaningful engagement in real life issues and problem solving
  •  Explore new ways of learning; group work, process over outcome, reflection etc
  •  Foster exploration, investigation, imagination and thought

Programs and workshops should be based on an Inquiry Based Learning Model: Not just facts and skills but problem solving and investigation for real life, ethical community and personal problems (Example; ECO-Bin, STEM TY Camp 2016)


The role of the library in these projects is to be less of a content/book depository or provider and more of a networking, community and creative space and platform, where participatory activities and learning is promoted and supported in the building. This is an exciting time for public libraries and Lab/Maker spaces offer new and meaningful ways to engage with our communities and library members, as well as the opportunity to attract new members.

Photo courtesy of Maeve McElligot

For more information on the dlr LexIcon and the LAB program see: dlr Libraries


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