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Cornerstones of Science

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New Collaboration Offers Healthy Lunches & Free STEM Activities

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Cornerstones of Science, Maine Campus Compact, and the Child Nutrition Program of the Maine Department of Education teamed up for a second year this past summer to address two fundamental issues facing schoolchildren: food insecurity and access to education. The new initiative called REV Up The Fun reached as many as 40,000 Maine families in the summer and is now gearing up to provide science activities and food to youngsters and their families throughout the school year.

“We are concerned that hunger and a lack of access to learning are at an all-time high during this pandemic,” said Cornerstones of Science Executive Director Cynthia Randall. “Therefore, we are happy to announce that the REV Up The Fun initiative will continue into the school year in 25 communities in Maine as the urgent need for good food and good fun continues due to the pandemic. With more great activities, videos, and partners, it is hopeful that this program can become available to more children in more states so they can receive healthy food and continue to be engaged in hands-on activities that stimulated their minds and make a difference.”

Last summer, due to COVID-19, organizers quickly pivoted to a home-based learning model which was designed to provide engaging science activities to youngsters and their families, and which was distributed via food boxes at pre-selected community locations. A new website, called, offered a large collection of online science activities, videos, and resources for kids, aged 6-12 on the topics of space, energy, wellness, and more. These science-based activities are designed to use household materials and are downloadable at

“Last summer as libraries were closed and as families were coping with the health and economic hardships presented by COVID-19, we worked even harder and faster to ensure that we could reach a greater audience of children in the safety of their own home,” said Randall.

“The goal of this initiative is to make this free educational resource accessible to everyone and to invite community organizations and families to use it,” explained Randall. “The new website is full of fun activities that allow children to explore their world from safety of their homes.” It also houses resources and a marketing packet, including local sponsor ask-sheets and a press release template for communities to launch programs in their own areas.

For more information on how to launch program in your own area, please visit “Community Resources” at

Computer render of a coronavirus

Safe Libraries in the COVID Era

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The American Library Association (ALA) has shared some important protocols for how to prepare your library for reopening, including a deeper understanding of how Covid-19 survives over time on specific surfaces. The ALA’s latest recommendations for how to quarantine items at your library, along with some relevant articles and other resources, can be found on the ALA’s pandemic response page.

Still image from How To Use Binoculars video

View the Night Sky with Your Binoculars

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Binoculars Give a Closeup View of the Night Sky

Sarah holding binocularsDid you know that you don’t need a telescope to get a closer look at the stars and planets in the night sky? In fact, a simple set of binoculars can provide 7-times the magnification that your normal eyes do.

Binoculars will give you a better view the night sky, but there are a few simple steps you need to know to get started.

In this 3-minute video, watch Sarah Post from Cornerstones of Science and the NASA@ My Library project, as she walks us through the easy steps of adjusting a pair of 7 x 50 Celestron Binoculars. This a great way to spend time with friends and family members and increase everyone’s appreciation for science and the night sky.

Using Binoculars to View the Night Sky

This quick and easy video that walks you through the easy steps to get started and will improve your ability to see the night sky in minutes. Watch Sarah and she takes us through the easy steps, including how to focus one eye at a time. Don’t miss her final trick for getting started the right way.

Once you’ve mastered this simple technique for viewing the night sky with binoculars, you can check out Sarah’s explanation for “How to Use a Planisphere” and the other Telescope Trainings and STAR Program Workshop Videos offered by Cornerstones of Science.

Still from "How to Clean Your Telescope"

Cleaning Your Telescope

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Woman holding telescopeHow to Clean Your Telescope

Now is a good time to think about creating a policy for the cleaning of your library telescope to be sure it’s sanitary and not spreading germs. Cleaning the lenses of your telescope requires a special cleaning kit. Luckily, there are some great resources out there about how to clean the lenses of your Orion Telescopes. This short video from Orion is a helpful guide.

How to Clean Touchable Surfaces

But it’s also important to clean the touchable surfaces of your library telescope. The CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that are touched often. This means sanitizing objects, such as desks, countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, faucet handles, phones, and hands-on learning items, such as telescopes.

To clean the touchable parts of your telescope, use a sanitary wipe or disinfectant to gently clean the surfaces of the telescope. DO NOT use this wipe on the telescope lenses, however (see link above for how to clean telescope lenses). Disinfectants work by using chemicals to kill germs, which can lower the risk of spreading infection.

For disinfection, diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol, and common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective, according to the CDC. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.


How to Prepare your Own Disinfectant

The CDC offers the following easy tip for making your own disinfectant.

Prepare a bleach solution:

  • Mix 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water

Or, for smaller quantity:

  • Mix 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water

For more information, visit the website of the CDC.

Click here for Environmental and Cleaning Recommendations from the CDC.

bubbles going upwards in a body of water

Cornerstones Receives Grant to “Test The Waters”

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Cartoon glass of waterThe National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) has partnered with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) All of Us Research Program to highlight citizen science and to increase involvement of people living in the United States in scientific research as a way to reduce barriers between health research and the public. Collaborations between health researchers and local communities build capacity to address problems and meet research goals.

In collaboration with Cornerstones of Science, NNLM is offering a new resource to public libraries to help library staff support citizen science outreach efforts in local communities through fun, accessible loanable kit for families. Test The Waters Family Exploration Kit will be available starting in April 2020 for NNLM members.

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.

Header photo by Jong Marshes on Unsplash

A screenshot of our new News page

Announcing: A New Website – Optimized for Librarians

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We’re excited to announce the launch of the latest librarian-optimized Cornerstones website, which features a fluid new design, extraordinary utility, and the latest news and opportunities for libraries to increase their STEM impact.

“This exciting new design gives Cornerstones the ability to be the premiere resource and a one-stop-shop for librarians seeking to increase their STEM impact,” said Cynthia Randall, Executive Director of Cornerstones of Science. “We’re excited for librarians to visit the new site and tell us what they think.”

The new website includes:

Cornerstones is also actively posting news and updates related to STEM and libraries on its Facebook page. Please be sure to visit and “Like” our page!

We’d love to hear from you

Now that we’ve launched our new librarian-optimized website, we’d love to hear from you.  Please tell us what you like, what you don’t like, and what else you’d like to see by visiting the Contact Us page. We look forward to your ideas!

Gulf of Mexico at night, from the International Space Station

Preparing for Earth Day and Citizen Science Month: April 2020

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April 2020: The 50th Anniversary of Earth DayHave you started planning in your community for Earth Day? April 2020 is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and Citizen Science Month. Find some great resources at StarNet Libraries Our Planet: Earth, or at the Cornerstones of Science Citizen Science page. NASA has some amazing open source images of Earth taken from space that could be printed and used in the library to show off our beautiful planet. And don’t forget about the downloadable Librarian’s Guide to Citizen Science through SciStarter (look in the Archived Resources column).

Special Cornerstones Project

Cornerstones is also working on a special NASA@ My Library research project called the Patron Experience Pilot (PEP) along with the Space Science Institute, Northern Illinois University, and three libraries across the US (Show Low in Arizona, Tom Green County in Texas, and Gwinnett County in Georgia) to highlight Earth Day in a special display at each library for eight weeks in order to help patrons learn more about and potentially increase their interest in earth, space, and NASA science. The display will change for the summer incorporating the Collaborative Summer Learning Program (CSLP) theme Imagine Your Story™, and then will follow the International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) theme for the fall.

Header photo by NASA.

How a Telescope Propels Hands-On Learning

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yle Neugebauer and Janie Downey Maxwell of Thomas Memorial Library show off the Cornerstones of Science telescope and night sky binocular kit.

Kyle Neugebauer and Janie Downey Maxwell of Thomas Memorial Library show off the Cornerstones of Science telescope and night sky binocular kit. In the first year, the library has already checked out the telescope for 41 out of 52 weeks.

When Reed Dyer walked into Cape Elizabeth’s Thomas Memorial Library he couldn’t miss the Cornerstones Orion StarBlast Telescope that was on display at the circulation desk. Dyer was intrigued, and a little intimidated. A self-proclaimed library junky and father of a nine-year-old, he admits to hitting the library weekly for books. This time he wondered if his family would get excited about stargazing.

“I didn’t really know much about telescopes,” says Dyer, “but the folks at the library were really supportive.” When he decided to borrow the telescope for a whole week while his family rented a summer camp up north, the library helped accommodate his request by reserving an additional day for the normally one-week library loan.

“The first night we used it, we quickly discovered that it was fun to play around with,” says Dyer. The next day, while his son and cousins were off playing in the lake, Dyer dug into the telescope instructions, learning how focus, to zoom, and discovering that telescopes can be used in the daytime too.

“Once I read the instructions, it was pretty easy to figure out,” says Dyer. One of the big surprises was that telescopes are good for more than stargazing – they work for wildlife viewing and host of other activities. The family set up the telescope on the front porch of their camp and kept it there all week for members of the extended family to enjoy.

Reed Dyer’s family members enjoy the telescope on their summer vacation in Maine.

Reed Dyer’s family members enjoy the telescope on their summer vacation in Maine. They’re planning to borrow the telescope during the winter too.

In the end, Dyer and his family made use of the telescope in the daytime more than at night. They watched loons, a great blue heron – they observed the moon, which was prominent during daylight hours.

The experience was so rewarding that the family is committed to borrowing the telescope again.

“I’m excited to sign the telescope out when the skies get darker much earlier,” says Dyer. “We’re excited to give it another try.”

Meeting the Demand for Hands-On Learning

At Thomas Memorial Library, Janie Downey Maxwell, who runs adult programming, worked with Cornerstone of Science to bring in the telescope and backpack programs (the bright orange backpack includes a night sky binocular kit).

“We have the telescope and night sky binocular kit prominently displayed at the library entrance and last summer we backed it up with books, magazines, star charts, and a space-themed reading program,” says Downey Maxwell. These two programs offer great hands-on learning opportunities for our community, and there is strong demand. In the first year, the library checked out the telescope for 41 out of 52 weeks.

“There’s a bit of trepidation at the beginning when people are getting ready to take out the telescope, but by the time they bring it back, they’re much more comfortable with it and realize it’s not something scary,” explains Downey Maxwell.

Thomas Memorial Library offers a wide range of science related programs. The library partnered with the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust on a Tide Pools at Kettle Cove program; they contracted with the Maine Wildlife Center to bring in eight live animal educational programs this year; they offer a monthly wildlife series, and they host professors and researchers for talks and lectures on a wide range of topics from lichen, to whales, to birds.

The Cornerstones Telescope is part of Thomas Memorial Library’s effort to encompass all sorts of learning opportunities for library patrons of all ages. “Libraries are supposed to be conveners and providers or all areas of knowledge. We have always had books about science and technology, and now we’re excited to offer the telescope and backpack,” says Library Director Kyle Neugebauer. These kinds of hands-on offerings are just one way that libraries can engage communities in science learning.

How to get a Cornerstones Telescope

Cornerstones will train libraries in use of the telescope and other products and services that they offer. If you’re interested in bringing STEM literacy tools, such as telescopes, science trunks, and night sky binocular kits into your library, just click here!  You can also give Cornerstones a call: 207-208-8975; or contact us here.

How One Library Used Science to Tackle a Massively Controversial Topic at Home

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When Cornerstones of Science challenged the Nevins Memorial Library to identify a real-life problem it could solve within its own community, the library staff didn’t waste any time.

“We were in a pretty severe drought in the Merrimack Valley, the river was lowering, and all of the communities around Methuen were under a water ban,” recalls Krista McLeod, librarian at the Nevins Memorial Library in Methuen, Massachusetts. But Methuen had not put in a water ban.

McLeod, a resident of Methuen, population around 48,000, was devastated. The small city, perched on the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border, sits squarely within the greater Merrimack River Watershed, and had much to gain and lose regarding the health and productivity of the river, including its importance as a source of drinking water, its recreational and scenic value, and its ecological benefit to birds, fish, and other wildlife.

“During the drought, all of the surrounding communities were regulating their water usage, but in Methuen, people were watering their lawns and letting the sprinklers run in 90-degree heat,” recalls McLeod.

How One Grant Served the Needs of a Community

Working together, and with the help of an IMLS grant that Cornerstones helped facilitate, the library staff decide it could invite local experts to offer programs that would educate the local community about the importance of the watershed, and the broad impacts of environmental degradation and climate change. “Our broad theme became Earth, Sea & Sky,” says McLeod, and a large amount of programming was developed for the community to begin educating itself.

Earth Sea & Sky explores the simple and complex inter-relationships between the earth, the sea, and the sky. “We looked at ozone and air pollution, light pollution; we had an astronomy component; we looked at land issues, such as gardening, how to make rain gardens, how to conserve water; and since the Merrimack feeds into the Atlantic Ocean, we looked at fisheries issues. It was pretty wide ranging,” says McLeod.

Partnering with Others

Importantly, the library knew that it could not do this important work alone, so using resources from the grant, McLeod and her team partnered with qualified organizations within the community who could help.

They reached out to the Merrimack River Watershed Council and local organizations associated with the Merrimack River, such as local land trusts, schools, fishermen’s groups, police officers (who were invested in healthy sport fishing), and other science-based organizations. They supported and promoted river clean-ups, which removed cars and junk from the river. “We had a huge agenda,” recalls McLeod, but working together, it seemed manageable.

The library staff knew the community needed to be introduced gently to some of the more controversial issues – and to see how decisions made at home and in the local community were impacting the community’s shared natural resources. They partnered with respected organizations to develop relevant educational content in a series of collaborations that had never been tried before.

Creating a Travelling Eco-Exhibit

One of the most fruitful partnerships was with the Merrimack River Watershed Council where, with funds from the grant, they created a 6-panel educational exhibit that would travel to communities up and down the Merrimack River Watershed.

The illustrated educational panels address everything from runoff off, to rain gardens, to water supply issues, to history, geography, and economic development issues.

The exhibit has travelled throughout the watershed, visiting 7 libraries for 1-2 months at a stop. The exhibit comes with informed staff members from the Merrimack River Watershed Council who offer free programs along the way. The exhibit has even travelled across state lines into the mountainous headwaters of the Merrimack River.

Creating Long-term Impact & More Programs

The Cornerstones training and partnership has been so successful, that Nevins Memorial Library is looking at even more ways to help connect their patrons and community with STEM experiences and science providers of interest and importance to them. “We realized that science programming is very popular in our community and we are offering more adult programs each year,” says McLeod.

Nevins epitomizes the leadership role libraries can have in helping to connect the public to information around critical science-based issues affecting their communities, says Cynthia Randall, Executive Director, Cornerstones of Science and project lead. “Nevins was one of seven libraries who all had similar successes. “I am excited about the possibilities – if this can happen in seven libraries, it can happen in any library interested in playing this important community role.”

People want to learn how to plant appropriate gardens, how to attract bees and monarch butterflies, how to deal with invasive species. Recently, the library offered an aging brain program in collaboration with a local assisted living community.

“It turns out that people are very interested in science and they will show up for good programs,” remark McLeod. “One of the great roles of libraries today is to present science and scientists to the greater public.”

Learn How to Increase STEM in Your Library

To learn more about how Cornerstones can help your library create approaches that help connect your patrons and community to STEM, give Cornerstones a call at 207-208-8975; or contact us!

Night Sky with Meteor

CoS Partnering to Offer Stargazing Programs at 12 Maine State Parks

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Maine state parks involved in the telescope program

Cornerstones of Science announced today that it is partnering with The Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund , U-Maine’s Emera Astronomy Center, and a collection of Maine astronomers and trained naturalists to develop stargazing programs for guests and visitors at twelve State Parks in Maine (see map).

A Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund grant will be used to purchase twelve telescopes and star kits, two iPads with star apps, and astronomy books, plus hold a night sky training session for park staff and program presenters at the Emera Astronomy Center in Orono. As early as summer 2020, the twelve telescopes will be accessible to rangers across Maine’s State Parks. The program is designed to encourage members of the public to get outside and enjoy Maine’s exceptional night skies. Maine is home to some of the nation’s darkest skies and has been launching an international night skies movement for the last several years.

“Cornerstones is thrilled by this new partnership because it encourages exploration of the natural world and allows increased access to STEM programming, which is critical to a science-literate public,” said Cynthia Randall, executive director of Cornerstones of Science, based in Brunswick, Maine. Randall noted that Cornerstones has helped to place telescopes in 65 libraries across Maine, and will ensure that connections to local libraries can be made by residents of towns within range of the twelve State Parks.

Stargazing programs are designed to connect the public to Maine’s extraordinary natural heritage during the nighttime hours, when increasing numbers of people hesitate to be outside. Viewing the stars has the inherent ability to make people think outside themselves and to wonder about their place in the universe. This project is designed to connect stargazers with the importance of the stars for navigation by humans and animals, and to inspire increased protection of night skies.

Look for these stargazing programs during the summer of Maine’s bicentennial, 2020. They will be announced in this newsletter and online at

Night sky photo by Neale LaSalle.