A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

STREAM gains steam as natural extension of STEM education at Kenton County Public Library

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

The ribbon was cut Thursday evening on the Kenton County Public Library Erlanger Branch expansion, which features a new Stream Center of Innovation.

A group of stakeholders and guests participated in the ribbon cutting for the Kenton County Public Library Erlanger Branch expansion Thursday evening (photo by Mark Hansel).

Dave Schroeder, executive director of the Kenton County Public Library, said the expansion and a new administration building are the culmination of a strategic plan that began five years ago.

“It’s really great to see the building full tonight and being used and to see so many people from different backgrounds and parts of Kenton County coming in,” Schroeder said.

Erlanger Mayor Tyson Hermes said the city and the library have a great partnership.

“A vital part of any community is having a place where people can expand their minds and to gather, and we’ve got that here,” Hermes said. “On top of that, the library is a great community partner and they’ve got a lot of great events. We are also ecstatic that they have chosen to move their headquarters to Erlanger.”

Hermes joked that he was excited at the “once in a lifetime opportunity” to be yelling into a microphone in a library, which elicited a good-natured, “Shhh” from Schroeder.

Hermes said the expansion efforts of the Kenton County Public Library and the adjacent Silverlake recreation facility are filling a void in the city.

Undaunted by a playful admonition from KCPL Director Dave Schroeder for speaking to loudly in the library, Erlanger Mayor Tyson Hermes addressed the crowd at Thursday’s ribbon cutting.

“We’ve got lots of stuff – we’ve got municipal building, we’ve got great parks, a museum and a hospital – but we really don’t have a city center,” Hermes said. “What the library has done here, along with Silverlake, is they’ve begun to create an area that could potentially be a city center, so we’re very excited to see that.”

Schroeder said the library leadership sought input from the community on what amenities they would like to have at an expanded facility. A Makerspace environment was at the top of the list and was the inspiration for the STREAM Center.

“The Makerspace kind of began organically out of the outreach we have been doing,” Schroeder said. “We have a very strong relationship with the public, private and parochial schools in Kenton County and one thing that we are hearing from many of those schools is that they would like us to do more STEM programming. So, for the last five or six years we have been doing that and we kind of got to the point where we felt like we really needed an on-facility kind of lab.”

STEM stands for Science, Technology Engineering and Math. STREAM is an evolution of that concept that includes additional focus on reading and the arts.

Visitors made good use of the new auditorium at the KCPL Erlanger Branch. An overflow crowd was on hand to hear Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard speak following Thursday’s ribbon cutting.

The Library created the position of emerging technology programmer with the STREAM expansion in mind and hired Brandon Baldoni and Racheal Wodraska to fill that role.

Baldoni said the STREAM space is going to be available for use whenever the library is open.

“We are going to have classes, so folks can learn coding, they can brush up on their existing skills, or they can learn a new skill, maybe some of the higher-tech things,” Baldoni said. “We are also going to have just kind of a collaborative space.”

Wodraska said the potential uses for the space are limited only by the imagination and diversity of the people who use it.

“We hope to bring in all sorts of people,” Wodraska said. “People who are just starting their businesses, for example, can use our equipment to prototype and advertise their stuff.”

The month of January is going to be kind of an introductory month, but there are events scheduled, including senior programming each Monday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. There is also a sewing class on Wednesdays, where visitors can brush up on skills and maybe learn some new things.

The cost of the expansion was roughly $6.8 million, about half of which was spent on the STREAM Center, and a new auditorium.

“Pulling that together has been great,” Schroeder said. “Our foundation board has done a wonderful job of raising funds to make it happen, so it has been a real community effort to get that going and make that technology available to kids.”

Visitors explore the KCPL Erlanger Branch STREAM Center of Innovation Thursday.

The money was also used to fund the construction of the administration building, which is located across the campus from the library branch.

Schroeder said the auditorium fills a critical need. The library hosts a wide range of events and activities, but it has been a challenge at times, because there just wasn’t enough space.

“One of the things that came through the public meetings that we had was that we needed more meeting space,” Schroeder said. “More public meeting space will allow us to offer more programs and larger programs.”

A great example was the ability to accommodate the featured speaker at Thursday’s ribbon cutting, Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard.

Maynard always draws a crowd because of his wide range of knowledge and the animals that almost always accompany him on his visits.

Thursday was no exception and hundreds of people filled he auditorium to hear him entertain the younger guests with animal trivia and a wider audience with appearances by an owl, a baby alligator and an armadillo.

Schroeder said that as technology has improved and online resources are more widely used, there is a perception among some that libraries are becoming obsolete, but the numbers show just the opposite is true.

“If you come to the library, you will see that it is being used constantly, Schroeder said. “Our programming numbers have been through the roof for about 10 years and they just keep growing. What we’re finding in is that when we get people in for programming, we can start showing them some of the other things that we have available.”

The STREAM Center, with its 3-D printer and other features, has already begun to generate a new buzz throughout the region.

“We are getting some great feedback from Northern Kentucky and even Southwest Ohio about the things we have to offer,” Schroeder said. “Whether they go into a STEM field or not, I think it’s great for kids to have that hands-on learning experience. Whatever field you go into, having that experience of learning through doing is very important.”

For more information on the STREAM Center of Innovation or other Kenton County Public Library features and programs, click here.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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