Books aren’t the only mind-growing things on loan at the St. Catharines Public Library these days. Thanks to a mini-grant from the Niagara Community Foundation, library patrons can explore the universe beyond the printed page, by checking out a backyard telescope.
Adding the amateur astronomy kits to the library’s collection was a way for the library to offer patrons safe, outdoor ways to learn, said collections librarian Jake Anderson. The telescopes have become “one of the most successful items” in the library’s non-traditional collection, which includes things like board games, fishing rods, or outdoor sports equipment. The idea came when Anderson and a colleague were brainstorming additional ways to serve patrons that would be pandemic-safe, family friendly, and both get people into the library and get them outside. “It’s the perfect educational tool,” he said.
The library started by purchasing three telescopes “but they exploded in popularity,” Anderson said. As the hold list grew and grew, the library bought seven more, and they still can’t keep up with demand. At any given time, there are 60 to 100 holds – people who are waiting to be notified a telescope, with instructions and amateur astronomy book, are available to them on a one-week loan. Other libraries are copying the idea and there is no sign the telescopes are waning in popularity.
The Niagara Community Foundation grant, which helped cover the cost of the first three telescopes, was an important catalyst to the success of the initiative. Subsequent purchases have been funded from the library’s budget, but the grant allowed Anderson to prove the telescopes’ viability. “The grant was absolutely crucial for us to be able to pilot them,” he said. Without the starter funding, “I don’t think we would have tried the program.”