Nine public libraries around the country will present “Astro4Girls and Their Families” during National Women’s History Month this March. The project is a pilot collaboration among National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)-funded astrophysics education and public outreach programs and the American Library Association (ALA) Public Programs Office.
Some of the activities offered will include astrophotography using robotic telescopes, building telescopes, making edible active galaxies, learning about women astronomers, including the project scientist of the NASA SOFIA mission. Mangala Sharma of the Space Telescope Science Institute, who is coordinating the Astro4Girls program, told LJ the focus is on middle-school-aged girls, but many activities and events will welcome participation from older and younger children and their families.
In addition to the resources needed for the events, NASA partners are providing training and professional development to the librarians about each activity, and on best practices in working with girls and families, plus a modest stipend for programming support and collection development related to Astro4Girls and Their Families. ALA is providing publicity templates, an online discussion group where librarians can share information and ideas, and an online site support notebook.
Stephanie Stockman, education and public outreach lead for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, told LJ that Astro4Girls was the brainchild of the astrophysics forum, one of several advisory bodies which help NASA develop the educational component of each mission. The members of the forum agreed that they wanted to focus on girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) because women are still underrepresented in those fields. “Then they went into the research base and looked at what are the programs that work, and where were friendly and comfortable places for STEM education engagement. And that’s why they chose libraries,” Stockman said.
The participating libraries were chosen from among 50 libraries that participated in the NASA-funded “Visions of the Universe” traveling exhibit project in 2009-12. “The libraries who hosted the traveling exhibit said they needed more science program,” Stockman said.
Astro4Girls is not open to formal participation to other libraries this year, though Sharma says any library is welcome develop programming using the resources in the Astro4Girls online site support notebook. However, she says, once they’ve learned from the pilot, they “expect to open it to other libraries during future Women’s History Months.”