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By Jess Sashaw on

Supporting library communities with the Summer Reading Challenge

Jess Sashaw, SMG Academy Programme Leader, shares her experience of developing a webinar to support library communities with the Summer Reading Challenge theme of Gadgeteers.

Reading has always been one of my favourite activities. During the summer holidays, I would be up in a tree in my favourite perching spot, or in my cave made of blankets, or curled up on the comfiest rug, with a book in my hand. I love getting transported to a world of imagination where I’m visiting exciting places, meeting new people and going on adventures. I always participated in the Summer Reading Challenge (well, in my case the Canadian equivalent) and would visit the library every week to share the stories I’ve read with the librarians. So, when the opportunity to help my colleague Andy with the Summer Reading Challenge came up, I jumped at the chance.

our role with the summer reading challenge

This year’s theme for the Summer Reading Challenge is ‘The Gadgeteers’ and the Science Museum Group is one of the primary partners. The goal for this year is help everyone see that science is all around them. Participants are encouraged to read science-related books and take part in all kinds of different science activities.

We know not everyone is confident in science, which may include some members of the library community who may be tasked with running this programme. We wanted to run a short webinar to provide advice on how to talk about science, reassure people they don’t have to know all the science concepts and answers to still engage the public with science, and provide an overview of some of the resources we were sharing to support the Summer Reading Challenge.

Our audience

The first step we always do is to consider our audience. For all the training we do, there are two audiences to consider. The first one is who we are delivering the webinar to, and the second one is the target audience of who they are then engaging, hopefully using elements from our training.

In this case, the target audience is fairly typical, as public engagement sessions are often for engaging school-aged children in science. The biggest difference for this webinar was that the primary audience wasn’t who typically attends our training sessions.

Many of our sessions are for STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) professionals. They have a passion for their subjects, and a key goal of training is to remind them of the importance of two-way interactions, to value the contributions of the participants, and being mindful of scientific jargon.

In contrast, the library community is already familiar with facilitating interactions and creating a safe, welcoming space. Instead, we wanted to share practical tools and techniques on how they can incorporate science into the roles they do already. This changed the focus of the session to build confidence on talking about and engaging people with science.

We also had to consider the practical elements of the course. This session was meant for library communities across the United Kingdom. As a result, an in-person session wouldn’t be feasible.

We considered running an on-line session; however, the various libraries would have different availability in what timing is best. We wanted everyone to have the same experience, so decided to run a webinar, with prompts to encourage participation.

We also wanted to keep it under 30 minutes, as longer session gets more challenging to squeeze time into a day to watch.

what we included

Throughout the session, we continually emphasized the same messaging as ‘The Gadgeteers’, that science is all around us. We shared that people often think of science as something that is just learned in school, and that there are strong stereotypes of people who do science. To help break those stereotypes and help everyone feel they can be a part of science, we shared some of our engagement reflection points. For this audience, we focused on three of them that they can use with participants of the Summer Reading Challenge:

  • Encourage people to talk about science: This is particularly relevant for the Summer Reading Challenge. The participants will be reading books all related to science, so discussing those books will naturally promoting talking about the subject. The library community can help participants to talk about the books and make personal links to their everyday lives.
  • Highlight and use science skills: The characters in all the books would use science skills such as problem solving, curiosity and/or communication, so helping participants recognize those skills and see that they use them too can help them see themselves as able to participate in science.
  • Build confidence and ownership: Libraries are wonderful community spaces, so they are in an excellent position to create a welcoming environment to build confidence in science.
  • Resources: We shared some activities that libraries could do to engage participants with science in a hands-on way.

Feel free to watch the webinar ‘Supporting the Summer Reading Challenge’ 

reflecting on the experience

This was a wonderful project to be part of. It really is exciting to think of all the children across the United Kingdom engaging in science through the Summer Reading Challenge, and the impact that a positive experience can have.

One of the challenges with running a webinar like this is that we don’t have a sense of how it is received. For in-person courses, and even live on-line courses, you get feedback, often formally, but also informally by how much the people participate, and the questions they ask.

This is something we’ll need to consider if we are to repeat a format like this in the future.

Have you run training in a webinar format? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments down below.

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