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"A Little Brown Bat Story" sign

Webinar Series Highlights Library Innovation and Outdoor Activities During COVID

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Many of us have struggled to find our footing during COVID-19. Others have seized the opportunity and managed to adapt and thrive. As we look to 2021, we know there will be more social distancing and interrupted programming for libraries, so watch these recently archived webinars to learn what programmatic endeavors library staff have engaged in recently and see what they have planned for the near future.

Webinar Series Addresses Pandemic-Era Library Programs

Last summer, recognizing that library professionals across the country were struggling to adapt during the COVID era, Cornerstones of Science launched a webinar series designed to bring together library professionals from across the country to share ideas. These webinars ended up being fun, educational, and offering a valuable way to connect too!

Little Brown Bat story panel

“Little Brown Bat Story” panel

To date two webinars have been offered with more to come. The first: “Library Innovation and Pivot Activities During COVID-19” included two extraordinary presenters – Amy Hand, Children’s Librarian at the Camden Public Library in Maine, and Adam Pitts, Branch Manager at the Gwinnett County Public Library in Lawrenceville, Georgia. During a lively one-hour presentation, Amy and Adam walked through the strategies they have employed in order to deliver quality programming to their library constituents. The biggest takeaway for both librarians has been the critical importance of virtual programs and video. “Gwinnett had never done virtual programs before,” admitted Adam. “It was uncharted territory and there was a learning curve.” But library staff eventually mastered it and it has made all the difference.

Rocket Camp, San Angelo, Texas

Rocket Camp, San Angelo, Texas

The second webinar: “Outdoor Activities for your Community during COVID-19,” with presenter Wanda Green, Assistant Library Director, from the Tom Green County Public Library System in San Angelo, Texas, discussed how libraries can do outdoor programs during the pandemic. Green focused on a summer rocketry camp that was part virtual and part in-person. There were challenges and success that Green discussed in detail, but overall it was a doable program and much beloved.

Outdoor programming can be important even through the coldest winter months. Fortunately, engaging STEM passive and active programs, such as story walks, story-hour, stargazing, animal tracking, tree identification, etc. are already well-suited for the shorter days of the year, and with the right gear, getting outside and learning outside is not only possible, it’s fun and healthy too.

Cornerstones is excited to be presenting more webinars in the future. We hope you will join us either as a participant or a presenter. Let us know if you have a topic you think we should cover.

Get inspired by watching our last two webinars:

Stacks of Test The Waters kits ready for shipment

Distribution of “Test the Waters” Science Kit

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A stack of Test the Waters kits

Test the Waters kits

Test the Waters Family Exploration Kits are ready for distribution! Cornerstones of Science has been working with public libraries for over 20 years to create science experiences that spark curiosity and foster a deeper understanding of the world around us. This time, we partnered with The National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to increase public involvement in scientific research as a way to reduce barriers between health research and the public.

Test the Waters Family Exploration Kit is designed to support libraries’ citizen science outreach efforts in local communities through a fun, accessible, and loanable kit for families. Each kit contains four family-friendly citizen science water-themed activities and all the instructions and materials needed to conduct them.

Cartoon glass of waterThe collaboration with Cornerstones of Science is part of NNLM’s partnership with the NIH’s All of Us Research Program which seeks to shine a light on citizen science as a means to connect people with research that has real-world impact.

“After some delays due to COVID, we’re thrilled to be distributing 500 Test the Waters Family Exploration Kits to regional NNLM centers,” said Cornerstones of Science Executive Director Cynthia Randall. “We know that when librarians receive their kits, they will be excited to share them in their communities.”

National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) member libraries are eligible to order a kit. Click here to order a Test the Waters Citizen Science Kit.

NASA@ My Library kit

Cornerstones Completes Five Year Contract on NASA@ My Library Project

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NASA@ My Library displayCornerstones just completed its five-year contract as a Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI) on the NASA@ My Library grant project funded by NASA. Partners on this exciting project include the Space Science Institute and its National Center for Interactive Learning (PI), American Library Association, Educational Development Center, Pacific Science Center, Lunar and Planetary Institute, and Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, and NASA. All of the work resided under NASA’s Science Mission Directorate with the NASA@ My Library project being a national Earth and space science initiative that connects NASA, state library agencies, public libraries, and their communities.

Another NASA@ My Library displayThe first year of the project consisted of choosing 70 public libraries to participate with us and for piloting community dialogues and science kit activities. The next year was all about developing more of the STEM Activity Clearinghouse, working with our partner libraries and getting them ready for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse. The next few years we continued developing public library kits pertaining to relevant earth and space science activities. We also chose 18 state library agencies to work with us and we ultimately developed circulating state library science kits for public libraries and a guide for other state library agencies interested in this type of work. Click here to see how the Maryland State Library promoted some of their kits.

In the last two years, in collaboration with a professor at Northern Illinois University and the Space Science Institute, Cornerstones undertook an exciting research project to determine ways to increase science interest in patrons in a public library setting. The final year (2020) had its challenges with the COVID-19 virus, but our work continued, and we were able to pivot and still make a difference in helping library patrons connect with earth and space science content. SSI’s National Center for Interactive Learning STAR Net website holds most of the tools and resources that have come out of the NASA@ My Library project, with more content being added in the future including articles and a video about increasing science interest in libraries which offers ways of getting more patrons to programs and events, and also the state library agency guide mentioned above.

“We are honored to be a part of this important work of increasing access to earth and space science content,” said Cornerstones of Science Program and Library Support Manager Sarah Post. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made us even more aware of the critical importance of STEM literacy and outreach.”

REV Up The Fun logo

REV Up the Fun Featured at STEM EXPO

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At the recent Service Learning & Volunteering STEM EXPO 2020, held virtually in Portland, Maine, Cornerstones of Science was excited and honored to showcase its Rev Up the Fun project of online science activities and associated videos. This year’s STEM EXPO offered a wide range of presenters and exhibitions for students in grades K-12 who are passionate about STEM. As an added inspiration, the president of EnviroLogix, a global leader in the development of STEM technology, gave a keynote speech, as well as the Dean of the College of Science, Technology, and Health at the University of Southern Maine, and the Superintendent of Portland Public Schools. Their message? STEM leads to great jobs!

Because of its reputation for exceptional STEM learning resources, Cornerstones of Science was invited to showcase a brand-new activity called Flip the Switch, designed in collaboration with Maine Campus Compact through a Maine Department of Environmental Stewardship program. Flip the Switch is designed to inspire and excite K-4th grade students about energy conservation. An entertaining 3-minute video, shown below and hosted by two engaging Maine AmeriCorps volunteers, accompanies the activity and explains not only why conserving energy matters but shows youngsters how to follow an easy checklist that can make a big difference at home.


The video and a helpful activity sheet are also available on the Rev Up The Fun website, along with more energy conservation activities, as well as fun health- and space-related activities . was developed by Cornerstones of Science in the summer of 2020 to pivot from in-person science activities to science activities that can be done at home with common household items.

Best of all? These programs are free and available to anyone, anytime.

Find free videos and activities at

Zoom Web Meeting screenshot

Here’s How Librarians are Innovating and Pivoting Now

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Maybe one of the only great things about COVID-19 is that it’s requiring all of us to think anew and to adapt to new ways of working. This means that if we were in a rut thinking of our jobs and our libraries in only one dimension, then we are now liberated to imagine something totally new.

Cornerstones wants to hear about how you are adapting to the world of COVID-19. How are you doing? Are you innovating and pivoting? Have you been inspired by something you’ve seen from a staff member in your library or in another library? Have you run into a few recognitions of what NOT to do?

We’ve been inspired by what we’re seeing in library communities across the country. There are so many examples of librarian pros innovating:

  • In Texas we saw a virtual family rocketry camp and outdoor rocket launches
  • Across the US are Take-and-Make activity bags
  • Front windows of libraries used as programmatic displays

Whether you’re still swamped with COVID-19 planning, or you’re sitting on your hands because you don’t know what to do, it’s time to start innovating.

The world will never be the same. Doors are closing that won’t reopen. But there are also doors swinging open that you never knew existed. Don’t sit and wait. Be creative. Collaborate. Innovate. Adaptation is key to success and sharing ideas was never more important.

Sharpen Our Pencils Together

As we move through this together, Cornerstones wants to be a resource to you. We are offering free resources to help you advance your skills and value even during a challenging time. We also want to hear what’s on your mind.

Send us 1-2 of your most burning questions, and then join us for a Webinar to discuss our answers together!

Join us and your fellow librarians for the Cornerstones of Science Fall 2020 Webinar Series

Library Innovation and Pivot Activities during COVID-19

September 23, 2020 at 2 p.m. ET

Have you found some interesting ways to work with your community or are you really burnt out from all the new outreach you are doing? Join us for a discussion and to get some inspiration to keep you going through these strange times. You will hear from your fellow librarians and others about ways libraries and librarians have changed their programming, outreach, and daily admin. during COVID-19.

Register for this Zoom webinar here!

Outdoor Activities for your Community

October 21, 2020 at 2 p.m. ET

Getting outside for library and community programs seems like the right place to be right now. Find out about what is happening in the library world around outdoor activities to help bring some joy (and maybe something spooky for Halloween) to your community in a safe way during COVID-19. Bring your ideas and experiences to this discussion too!

Register for this Zoom webinar here!

Finding Your People: Librarians interested in Science

November 18, 2020 at 2 p.m. ET

Come to this webinar to find other librarians who really like science. It is important to find your people in order to stay invigorated and excited (it’s ok to geek out here!). You will be able to share new ideas on how to best facilitate more science in your community and also discuss what works well and what is really challenging.

Register for this Zoom webinar here!

Campers at Camp Susan Curtis with Cornerstones Telescope

Campers Enjoy the Magic of a Night Sky

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Cornerstones of Science was pleased to collaborate with a supporter of the Susan L. Curtis Foundation to bring a telescope program to Camp Susan Curtis this summer. The “Look Up” program, which was integrated into the Camp’s science and nature classes this summer, utilized six modified Orion StarBlast 4.5 inch telescopes. Camp Susan Curtis is a tuition-free, outdoor, residential learning experience exclusively for Maine boys and girls, ages 8 to 17 whose mission is to ensure that economically disadvantaged Maine youth develop the individual character, self-confidence, and skills essential to becoming independent, contributing citizens.

The summer camp telescope program was scheduled to begin at the opening of camp season in June but was delayed because of COVID-19. However, Camp Susan Curtis Director Terri L Mulks said campers and staff got busy using the telescopes during session two, which began in mid-July.

“The program has been a hit and it’s been fun to see campers making use of these incredible tools for viewing the night sky,” said Mulks, adding that one staff member has astronomy background. In late July, Mulks reported that the camp community enjoyed three consecutive nights of awesome viewing.

“The kids are really enjoying the program and have lots to say about it,” said Mulks. “One camper named Jeff confessed: ‘”I thought this was gonna be a real drag but it’s actually pretty cool. I would spend 4 more hours out here if I could!’”

The telescope project is designed to allow campers and staff the use of the telescopes in the summer months. Then the telescopes will be placed in two Maine schools after the summer ends.

“We are excited to provide a way for young people to be inspired by the wonders of the night sky,” said Sarah Post, Program and Library Support Manager at Cornerstones of Science

The modified Orion StarBlast 4.5 inch Telescope comes complete with a simple instruction book and guides to additional resources (such as books, websites, and most importantly, local astronomers and clubs). Each telescope is modified and upgraded to help assure a positive user experience.

What campers said about the telescope program:

  • “Wait, that star is actually a planet!?” – Chad
  • “This will be my best memory of camp.” – Linwood
  • “I got to see the moon up close for the first time.” – Ayden
  • “I’ve always been so interested in space. There is so much out there to see!” – Delaney
Cornerstones of Science: awakening curiosity, enriching lives

Our View, From The Cornerstones Corner

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COVID-19 has changed everything about the way we work and interact, but one thing is certain, public libraries have shown enormous resiliency and ability to transform themselves in the COVID era. Following is a short Q&A with Cornerstones of Science Executive Director Cynthia Randall and Program and Library Support Manager Sarah Post, which reveals some great COVID adaptations and why there’s room for optimism.

What has transformed since March?

Cindy: In the time of COVID, science kits and telescopes are all products that will mostly continue to sit on the shelves while libraries remain closed or have minimal circulation activities. We have found a way to transform these science kits and telescopes to an inventory of STEM enrichment activities, called Rev Up The Fun, that library staff and other community organizations like food distribution sites, can easily hand out to their customers. Families can explore health, energy and space themes from the safety of their homes. Check out!

Campers at Camp Susan Curtis with Cornerstones Telescope

Campers at Camp Susan Curtis with a Cornerstones telescope

Sarah: Because of COVID-19, The NASA@ My Library Patron Interest Project (PEP) had to quickly pivot from being an in-library research project to an online format. Then, we pivoted again – with Take-and-Make bags – to align with summer reading and night sky content. We’re also working on corresponding video and journal articles based on the previous year’s data, when libraries were open, that focuses on best practices for increasing patron interest in the library setting. We also worked on a Light Pollution science kit for the National Institute of Health, with an emphasis of making it accessible for low-sited and blind individuals.

What do you feel have been the biggest COVID impacts on libraries?

Cindy: I see two big impacts: 1) library staff livelihoods and 2) lack of access to critical library services. COVID, has put an economic strain on funding jeopardizing library jobs. As the pandemic continues, these jobs continue to be threatened. Secondly, lack of public access to the library resources, computers, books and others services that certain populations depend on further isolates them from critical information, social contact and tools they need as part of their daily lives.

Sarah: Having the libraries closed to the public has impacted how libraries function in every way. Librarians have had to quickly change how they do their jobs and reach out to their communities because even though many libraries are closed or partially closed, many libraries are still working and trying to offer programming to patrons. Uncertainty has impacted libraries the most, which is both good and bad. Just like in the NASA@ My Library project, libraries are having to pivot multiple times to find what works best.

What’s an example of a great adaptation you have seen as a result of COVID?

Cindy: Public libraries are amazing in their resiliency and ability to transform to where the need is great, informing the public, and adapting services and programming to meet changing community needs such as: online story time, setting up food distribution sites, and even 3D printing tools to help the frontline health workers.

Sarah: Based on my observations, the sheer number of online librarian discussion groups have provided librarians support through peers to share ideas, frustrations, successes and challenges. I see librarians from all over the world contributing to these discussions and supporting one another. I can’t think of anything more important right now than finding ways to feel supported in these times.

Lydia Collins, Participant Engagement Lead NNLM All of Us, Training and Education Center as a co-presenter

Cornerstones Explores Universal Accessibility

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Lydia Collins, Participant Engagement Lead NNLM All of Us, Training and Education Center as a co-presenter

Lydia Collins, Participant Engagement Lead NNLM All of Us, Training and Education Center, as a co-presenter

Executive Director, Cornerstones of Science Cynthia Randall along with Dr. Laura Bartlett, researcher from the National Institutes of Health, and Lydia Collins, Participant Engagement Lead NNLM All of Us, Training and Education Center, gave a presentation entitled Hear and See Your Audience: Intentional Program and Resource Design and Delivery, on June 12, 2020.

The goal of the presentation was to shift the discourse about accessibility from the way most people think about it—as something that’s done to accommodate people with disabilities—to redefining design itself in a way that intends to accommodate everyone.

The presentation focused on universal strategies for intentionally designing and re-designing library programs and resources for the hearing and visually impaired as well as the general public.

The presentation explored considerations for designing and serving a variety of audiences; ways to refine your design to accommodate a broader number of users; and a tool to help library staff assess the level of accessibility of existing programs and resources.  You can download a copy of the presentation’s slide deck right here.

Ultimately, the question is: Why wouldn’t we try and strive to accommodate as many as possible?

Photos of PEP Training, NASA Nugget, February 2020

Cornerstones Heads up a Research Project that Gets NASA’s Attention

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Each month, the NASA@My Library project team leader (Space Science Institute) uploads slides on a specific piece of the project (called a “nugget”) to NASA. NASA then looks at each of the slides from over 27 Sci-Act Group CAN projects and chooses one to send up to the White House to highlight. For the month of March, NASA selected the NASA@My Library Patron Experience Pilot (PEP) slides to go to the White House.

You can see our presentation at NASA Science’s Nugget page – just scroll down to March.

This part of the NASA@My Library project is a small research project led by Cornerstones of Science and a researcher from Northern Illinois University (NIU) that looks at building patron interests in Earth and space science through a library setting. In February, Cornerstones of Science Program Manager, Sarah Post, and NIU researcher Dr. Amanda Durik conducted a two-day training for librarians from three libraries to help test the second year of the PEP model. These libraries learned about and received a specific freestanding display that they set up in their library and update every two weeks to help people realize interests in a specific topic. The display has large attractive images, easy and interesting facts, short reading passages, interactive content, and ways to support patrons with other hands-on activities and events that help build interest.

Participating libraries are the Stephen’s Central Branch of the Tom Green County Library System in San Angelo, TX, the Lawrenceville Branch of the Gwinnett County Public Library in Lawrenceville, GA, and the Show Low Public Library in Show Low, AZ.

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“What is a nugget?

A nugget is a one page snapshot of an event that impacted learners using NASA Science-funded experts, content, or authentic experiences.” — NASA Science website


Cornerstones of Science along with NIU and the Space Science Institute are currently producing a video, developing journal article, and publishing a case study on the NASA@My Library PEP project that will be available to all libraries interested in incorporating interest development strategies and this type of model.