Nicole Hershberger wants kids to understand that science is cool.
That’s why Hershberger, the children’s librarian at NOPL @ Cicero, initiated Second Saturday Science at the library. The program kicked off last Saturday, Feb. 11, with a program about air pressure and how air moves.
Hershberger said she wanted to give kids more hands-on experience with science and technology, as well as open up the library to more scientific pursuits.
“The impetus behind it was that libraries tend to do a lot of humanities-type programs,” she said. “We do plenty of that, and I really thought it would be nice to do more math and science hands-on stuff. All of the math and science programs that we’ve done, we’ll have The MOST come in and do demonstrations, and they’re always super popular, so we know there’s a lot of interest in the subject.”
In addition, the programs offer younger kids an opportunity to work with concepts they otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to experience until high school.
“When you’re in elementary school, for instance, you don’t get introduced to physics and chemistry very often, because, physics, in particular, the thought is, well, those involve math, so until you can do math, we’re not going to do too much of that, so you have a lot of focus on animals and Earth science and all of that,” Hershberger said. “And that’s great, but there’s no reason you can’t start exposing kids to concepts like air pressure and the way that gases behave in certain conditions and things like that. There’s no reason you can’t start exposing them to those ideas earlier so that when they do get to physics class in high school, they go, ‘Oh, yeah, I do remember that.’ The soil has been primed a little bit. They’re ready to absorb those concepts a little bit more.”
Most importantly, the physical expression of those concepts is fun.
“I remember when I was in school, the most fun labs ever were in chemistry and physics when you got to burn things and you got to see things explode,” Hershberger said. “Why can’t you do that when you’re younger?”
Future Second Saturday Science programs have already been scheduled.
“Next month, we’re doing the science of tricks and practical jokes, with a few weeks’ time of practice before April Fool’s Day,” Hershberger said. “Most of those will involve water or ice in some way. This time it was air, so next time it will be water, and we’ll use it to play practical jokes on people – harmless ones. Nothing really mean. Just funny stuff that you can do using science. In April, we’re going to do circuits and electricity, and then in May we’re going to be doing messy science outside, and hopefully that will involve some explosions…. Depending on how all that goes, we’d like to make this kind of a year-round thing, because there’s really no end to the fun stuff you can do.”
Hershberger said the Second Saturday Science program is something of an experiment.
“This first set of four is kind of a pilot to see what the interest is and work out the kinks and figure out how you go about doing a program like this, to figure out what’s possible,” she said. “Once I’ve done that, I’d really like to apply for funding to get equipment and other stuff so I can do even more.”
Hershberger said she’d love to see other libraries implement something similar; she knows of other libraries in the area that have done programming that focuses on science and technology.
“If somebody wanted to try something like this, I would love to help. That’s part of the reason I’m doing it, to work out the kinks and do a little write-up for other people to follow. I would love to see other people try this sort of stuff,” she said. “The Fayetteville library with the fabrication lab that they’re trying to build is, I think, starting to do that sort of thing. They’re moving away from the mentality that ‘Oh, we’re just a repository for books’ toward ‘We’re a place where you can come and do things.’ That’s what I’m trying to hook into. Libraries aren’t just a place where you have to come and be quiet and read. There are other things to get other parts of you engaged.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.