ALA Annual 2017

#alaac2017 shelves on Wheels: Space for STEM

Think about deselecting everything that does not circulate to dispose of unnesessary shelf units. This is exactly what the Speakers of “Stay and Play: Open Space for STEM” did at their libraries in Canada. Literally, they deselected 30% of the children’s collection. The most unthinkable idea for many of us. The end result: an open space for programming inside the Children’ Room, sharing space with the collection.

This is a new modeling for programming that frees us from the pressure of using one single program room. In this setting, we can create “explore on the floor” activities, activities to promote connection among caregivers and children, and activities involving “risky play.” Yes! You read it well. In fact, the slide shows a girl hammering a nail in the company of a caregiver. Naturally, with risky play a caregiver must always consent and be present at all times. The  Speaker refers to research that shows that children should be exposed to control risky activities and use this experience to talk about risk and safety. A funny moment presented when the Speaker reminded us that this was Canada, where the culture of taking you to court is not as prominent as here.

There are unseen benefits with an open space setting among the shelves. Playing in this space brings people to the library to check out what is new. Remember! your floor activities will be changing. Your space will be transformed to welcome daily new experiences – a concert, performers, guitar night, and even a circus time, for example.

However, little can be done to initiate this change if we do not have the space, the motivation, the budget, and the staff support. The Speaker suggests to include STEM training in staff meetings and adjust the operating budget so is aligned with your STEM expenses. The Speaker tells us that the fund of the 30% of items deselected is used for STEM programming.

Last, You must be wondering how many staff members must collaborate when bringing programs to the collection’s space? Our Speaker says: “we have 300 volunteers.”

I admire the determination and ingenious ideas of these librarians. Moreover, I am ready to talk to my director about these ideas. What about you?

Kathia Ibacache is a Youth Services Librarian at Simi Valley Public Library.


  1. Roxie Munro

    Love the idea of “risky play” (overseen or monitored). Many types of play are great for learning and engagement, collaboration, and building physical skills. It’s how children (even animals) develop and cope in the world… Plus, it’s fun, and fun is not a bad word!

    1. Kathia Ibacache

      Hi Roxie,

      I agree, but I have to admit that “risky play” used to make me nervous with my own kids. My husband bought a science experiment book for kids and one of the points of the book was to expose kids to the concepts of risk and safety. Thanks for your thoughts.

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