Library’s New Learning Lab Aims to Up Its STEAM Game

Cambridge Public Library STEAM Learning LabYerosen Koricho, a student with Innovators for Purpose, one of the library's partners in its STEAM Learning Lab, uses a virtual reality rig. Photo courtesy Cambridge Public Library.

You can get a sneak peek at the Cambridge Public Library’s new STEAM Learning Lab this Thursday and Dr. Maria McCauley, the city’s director of libraries, probably couldn’t be more excited about its potential.

“My biggest hope is that people, especially young people, will be able to think about careers in these areas, especially right in Cambridge,” she says. “To be able to develop ideas further, help them by connecting them with people.”

The association of STEAM—an acronym for science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics—with educating youngsters is a natural one for people to make, but McCauley emphasizes that the library will fold it into their philosophy of lifelong learning and literacy.

And not just reading literacy.

“There’s a lot more awareness now about STEAM, math, and critical thinking literacy,” she says. “As an adult, you are in the perfect position to learn more about that intersection of these areas and explore them, whether that’s for a career change or a hobby or you’re just interested in learning about what’s happening in fields so you can better understand them.”

For example, even if you don’t plan to seek a career in bio-3D printing, you might want to know about how it is changing in the near future and what promise it may hold for your children’s futures.

But McCauley also believes the library’s STEAM programming will help people who are looking to learn new skills and technologies with future careers, or career changes, in mind.

“That might mean people are here for workshops on how to create a project and print a prototype on a 3D printer,” she says. “Or it might be that somebody learns more about applications of augmented reality in medicine because they come to a lecture they decide to talk to that scholar, and then enroll in a summer program at local university.”

Cambridge Public Library make space
Work is underway on the maker space in Cambridge Public Library’s STEAM Learning Lab. Photo courtesy Cambridge Public Library.

The lab is just the first part of the library’s new STEAM programming and is an important milestone in the Citywide STEAM Initiative, a partnership between the City’s Department of Human Service Programs, Friends of the Cambridge Public Library, and Cambridge Public Schools. The lab’s $125,000 cost was funded jointly by the city, Friends, and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

There are also are working partnerships in place with local universities, nonprofits, and city schools, as well. One of the nonprofits is Cambridge-based Innovators for Purpose, which works with high-potential, diverse young people to help them discover their passions, develop innovative mindsets and cultivate marketable skills through client-based projects and experiential learning opportunities.

Another collaboration involves an astrophysics project of the Smithsonian Institution, MIT, and Harvard’s John G. Wolbach Library.

“We are working on one of their space initiatives … to explore how to democratize space through cube satellites,” says McCauley. “Most satellites are proprietary, so there’s this vision amongst the partners about trying to further the understanding and ease to which public satellites can be built and put out into space, as well as ground stations. So we are partnering on the educational component of that, and that has been a lot of fun and will continue to be fun as we get to the next phase.

“And,” she adds, “we are hoping we can build a ground station here.”

At Thursday’s public opening of the Learning Lab, visitors will be introduced to the ideas behind the STEAM partnership and also get a tour of the area under construction, which includes not only The Hive but videoconferencing, audio-video production studios, podcast recording facilities, and a “tech bar” where people will not only be able to get help with their devices but also try out gear like hot spots, robotics, and “whatever people can play with and learn from,” says McCauley.

Space is limited for the opening; to make reservations, RSVP by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, by sending an email to The Cambridge Public Library is located at 449 Broadway.