Librarians As Engineers: Robotics at Your Library

National Robotics Week (NRW) celebrates robotics technology development each April (this year it’s April 7–15). The NRW website advocates funding robotics programs while addressing its increasing use in healthcare, medicine, manufacturing, and other sectors. The site encourages educating the public about how robotics impacts society. It also encourages inspiring students to pursue careers in robotics and science, technology, engineering, and math-related fields (STEM).

As librarians, we are at the center of educational mandates like STEM. Librarians are no different than teachers, in that they work in environments where they educate the public about technology. Robotics programming could be incorporated into your library as a way of addressing educational initiatives and advancements in technology.

If you are not sure where to begin, you may want to start with the NRW website. It offers a variety of ways for libraries to get involved. In addition, there are materials and activities to help you start robotics programs. I really enjoy the introduction to engineering with paper airplanes that Steven Oakland, an instructor at the PATH public high school in Boston, created for his classroom. While you may not be able to purchase robotics kits, you can always teach a variety of engineering activities to students.

My library, the Evansville (Ind.) Vanderburgh Public Library (EVPL), recently received a Vex robotics kit through a grant sponsored by the local Ivy Tech Community College. Vex is a company that specializes in educational design systems. For the most part, their target audience is educators, middle school students, and high school students. They sponsor a Vex Robotics World Championship every year that is designed to motivate students to learn engineering. It is the largest and fastest growing middle and high school robotics program globally.

The Vex website also provides additional STEM-related resources for librarians. There are classroom bundles that could be purchased, along with robotics curricula and education overviews. Because the classroom kits are not cheap, I would recommend looking at sites like Library Grants or checking Programming Librarian’s grant list for funding that may help your library.

With our kit and various resources like Legos and Zoob toys, we are able to teach students basic engineering. The library recently competed in a robotics competition with thirteen other teams and finished in second place. Charles Sutton, head of EVPL’s children’s department, and I taught a team of novice students how to use the robotics kit and design a functional robot for the competition. The competition was sponsored by Ivy Tech and was a requirement of the grant. We not only taught students Vex robotics, but focused on engineering through activities like catapult building, Lego speed trials, and various remote controlled obstacle courses. Students built basic models like the Vex Tumbler and Protobot before moving on to more complicated designs.

Robotics programming is not so much about engineering or STEM as it is about our abilities to build and create. These experiences are common to everyone, regardless of occupation. Next time you see a child playing with a toy, remember that experience, and use it as inspiration to teach students engineering.