Katrina Ireland '13LS Brings STEM to Libraries

March 22, 2016

Katrina Ireland

We caught up with Katrina about the importance of STEM in libraries — and Women's History Month!

What program did you graduate from at Simmons and what's your current job title?

I graduated from the School of Library and Information Science. I'm now serving at the Northborough Free Library as their Children’s Services Librarian.

What's a typical day like at your job?

One of the reasons I love librarianship is that my days are anything but typical. Librarians wear so many hats, especially in a small public library, and I thrive in the variety. I will say that we have a large group of faithful story time attendees here in Northborough, so the mornings are joyfully chaotic! My afternoons are spent catching up on the quieter work: showing our collection some love, writing a grant or coordinating performers, program series or other events. I like to spend the evenings on the circulation desk so I can talk to the elementary school kids who come in looking for books. 

What's the most rewarding part of your work?

Oh goodness, that’s easy — the kids! I had been an early childhood educator for many years prior to my librarianship and there is nothing more fulfilling for me than watching these little people grow and develop. I have watched shy toddlers become so comfortable that they run up excitedly to take down the Humpty Dumpty flannel during Mother Goose on the Loose. I have seen the excitement on children’s faces as they draw connections between the song we are singing and the book we just read. I’ve had conversations with a teen at her wit’s end because of her family situation, when she just needed an ear and someone’s time. We’re here to serve the folks in our communities in some way or another and I feel like I’ve found my niche working with families and their children.

Tell us about securing the STEM 4 Girls grant.

The STEM 4 Girls grant was actually something that I inherited from the previous Children’s Services Librarian. My predecessor applied for an unrelated grant from the DCU for Kids Foundation; they denied her request, but encouraged her to apply for their STEM grant. She hurriedly put together an application and they granted her request. When I came on board the grant was supposed to be well under way. Thankfully, the DCU has been very gracious in the application of the grant; we just began our program this past January and we'll be offering STEM 4 Girls programs through May 2016.

I was thrilled and anxious when I learned that I had to pull together a STEM program for girls. I had had little experience in the way of grant seeking or management at that time and had no idea where to start. But I loved the idea of this program completely dedicated to inspiring young girls to pursue STEM career fields. We know that girls have the capability and the interest in science, tech, engineering and math when they're young; test scores and anecdotal data prove this. But for some reason — by approximately the time the girls reach middle school — their interest wanes. Our goal with this grant is to target girls ages 8 through 11 and create or invite in programs that maximize girls’ interest in the STEM fields. 

Why is it so important for libraries to focus on STEM?

There has been almost universal movement in education towards the awareness and proliferation of STEM-based opportunities for children. Libraries play a pivotal role in our communities: we have the easy ability to collaborate with institutions that are also STEM-focused like schools and other non-profits and we have long been a resource for the self-education of families and children. When you put all of these facts together, it makes sense that libraries support the future of our educational system by offering a STEM foundation via our collections, programs and services.

How did Simmons help prepare you for your career?

Simmons helped in so many ways! Academically, Simmons provides the courses that allow librarians to launch their careers: having basic knowledge of cataloging, reference services, technology and the like are undeniably necessary.

I came to library science a complete novice! During orientation, I felt like a fish out of water; so many of my fellow students had had previous library experience working as a page or library assistant for years and years, while I had had none. In completing my program, I got hands-on experience in a number of libraries and had many opportunities to network. I met my mentor through the internship program and I cannot tell you what a difference that made for me!

What does Women's History Month mean to you?

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton

I think Women’s History Month has a triality about it: we must look back in remembrance of women who were the giantesses of their time, look inward and try to discover what their stories mean for us personally and then look forward and apply those lessons consciously to our lives. What else is history for if not to learn from it?

What's your Simmons Moment?

I came back to Simmons recently for a workshop. It was an overcast and cold day, but the 30 some-odd school and public librarians who were there were all equally excited to learn about bringing STEM programming into their libraries or schools.

At one point during the all-day training, we were standing outside, huddled together and observing the cloud formations. Looking out over the beautiful city of Boston, being together with like-minded librarians working towards a common goal all while sharing their enthusiasm — that was my Simmons moment. Simmons brings together people striving to find a path to make a difference in the world and they do it in wonderful ways.