October 18, 2017

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Totally! How Libraries Are Preparing for the Eclipse

Children participating in a sun spotting activity at the Richland (SC) Library’s Ballentine location. Photo courtesy of the Richland Library

Eclipse fever is breaking out among space fans of all ages as Monday, August 21 approaches. That’s when a total solar eclipse will be visible from the continental U.S. for the first time in nearly 40 years, and librarians across the country are holding special programs to educate their patrons about this awe-inspiring sight.

The excitement is probably greatest in the cities along what is known as the path of totality, or where the moon will completely cover the sun and its atmosphere. The path of totality stretches from Lincoln Beach, OR, to Charleston, SC. In other areas across the country, viewers will still be able to see a partial eclipse.

“The eclipse is coming straight over us,” said Barbara Ash, the outreach/children’s librarian for the Berkeley County Library System in Moncks Corner, SC. “People are starting to get very excited. It’s a really, really big deal.”

Schools in Berkeley County open on Thursday, August 17, but they will be closed on the following Monday in celebration of the eclipse. In the weeks leading up to August 21, the library has been busy providing the public with information. One of the biggest topics is how to watch the eclipse safely. Physics and astronomy professors from the College of Charleston have held public seminars at the library to provide information.

Special protective glasses are used to prevent damage to the eyes when viewing an eclipse. In just three weeks, the Berkeley County Library System has handed out between 4,000 and 5,000 pairs, and only has a few remaining for people who attend eclipse-related programming.

The library received the glasses from the Star Library Education Network, or STAR Net, a hands-on learning program for libraries around the country. Thanks to STAR Net, more than 7,000 public libraries around the country are expected to hand out more than two million pairs of eclipse glasses for the big event. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Google, NASA, the Research Corporation and the National Science Foundation are sponsoring the giveaway.

The Richland Library in Columbia, SC, the third-largest city in the path of totality, is offering eclipse-related programming throughout August. In addition, the eclipse has been a big part of the library’s annual summer learning challenge, which aims to help children and teens avoid the summer slide—the learning loss that tends to occur when students are on summer vacation.

“We really wanted to provide [children] an opportunity to get excited, not only about the eclipse but also about solar exploration, focusing programs throughout our summer learning challenge on space, on STEM, especially focusing on science,” said Emily Stoll, the library’s community and media relations coordinator.

The library has been providing free solar glasses to anyone who signs up for the summer learning challenge and will provide them to the general public the weekend before August 21. The staff has handed out more than 18,000 pairs since the beginning of summer.

Stoll says the library is also working hard to make sure its eclipse programming provides something for both children and adults, “whether it be making an alien or a rocket ship to get kids excited, to teens getting recommendations for books that deal with sci-fi, to adults learning what’s going on in the area.”

The library brought in experts to teach adults about the science behind the eclipse as well as the economic implications for their community. The eclipse is expected to bring a million people to the state.

“It’s just been a great learning tool, and it’s been so fun to see how this has brought the community together,” says Stoll. “We just wanted to make sure that everyone has free access to be able to learn about it and get excited about it and to experience it on August 21st.”

 

 

Marva Hinton About Marva Hinton

Marva Hinton is a contributing writer for Education Week and the host of the ReadMore podcast, a show that features interviews with authors including Nicola Yoon and Daniel José Older.

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