Elijah Hagelberg, 12, was one of many people who have been looking at the telescope display on the third floor of Manatee County’s Central Library.
“Many years ago, when we used to live here, I had a telescope,” he said.
His mother, Crystal Hagelberg, said it was lost in a family move. She brought Elijah and his friends, including Emma Sietsma, 9; Silas Hagelberg, 13; and Micah, 10, to the library, and were excited to learn that soon they will be able to borrow a telescope or binoculars for up to four weeks.
“That’s really cool,” Hagelberg said. “It gives people the opportunity to see the stars, which they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”
The old days of libraries as repositories of books, LPs, tapes and shushing librarians are over, said Ava Ehde, the county’s manager of library services. Near the children’s area and in “Area 52,” where youths can get hands-on training in electronics, robotics, digital media, website design and a lot more, the future is being fostered by some dedicated library professionals whose skills go way beyond figuring out the right books for people.
Incidentally, if you’re looking for books on astronomy, they’re at 520 in the Dewey Decimal System. After reading about the stars and planets, if you have a desire to get a better look at them, the library will be able to help you when 13 table-top telescopes and 13 pairs of binoculars arrive around the end of the month and are available for lending from the library’s branches, Ehde said.
A $3,000 donation from the Library Foundation enabled the county’s system to join some others across the country in lending out telescopes. With additional grants, the library system also is offering the use of electronics and robotics kits to teach programming and other skills that will be needed for today’s children to master the jobs of the future.
Ehde said the library got help from Jeff Rodgers at the South Florida Museum, and Ed McDonough, a regional sales representative for Celestron, which makes the telescopes and is well-known in the amateur astronomy community for its line of telescopes ranging in price from less than $100 to nearly $10,000.
In an email, McDonough said the telescopes will be AstroScan Millenniums from Scientific Direct. The binoculars will be seven-power Celestron AstroScan Helions.
“The order I think just went in on Saturday, and we’re hoping to get them in the next couple of weeks,” Ehde said. “They didn’t actually give us an ETA but I’m guessing by the end of the year, for sure.”
McDonough will train the library’s staff on how to use the equipment and how to teach others to use them, and then the telescope and binoculars option will appear in the library’s online catalog.
“We talked about having some sort of training session for people because they do have to sign a lease when they (the telescopes) are going out,” said Kevin S. Beach, operations manager of the Manatee libraries. “You can’t just walk up to the desk and check them out.”
The agreement will include instructions such as taking care of the equipment and not pointing them at the sun, which can damage your eyes as well as the optics.
At the South Florida Museum, planetarium manager Howard Hochhalter took a break between star shows to talk about the program, which he sees as an exciting collaboration between the museum and the library.
“Obviously, anything that brings together different organizations for the purpose of enriching the community with astronomy, we’re certainly all for that,” he said. “We’re also excited about the opportunity to engage the public with the library’s telescopes.”
There are plans for a big event Feb. 6 at the Palmetto branch involving the telescopes, Hochhalter added.
People who come to his planetarium shows often ask what they need to see something in the sky, he said, and their basic understanding is that they need a telescope or binoculars, but they don’t know what to look for.
“Popular perception is that these are things that are expensive, out of reach or require some technical expertise that’s beyond their skill set,” Hochhalter said.
The museum has an AstroScan Millennium, a small reflecting telescope with a 4.5-inch mirror. The mount and telescope are designed for use on a table top.
Renee Stokes, the youth services librarian at the central branch, said the display telescopes, which Celestron provided, are getting noticed.
“We’ve had a lot of people asking about them,” she said. “They want to know when they can check them out.”
Stokes conducts programs and classes at the library, and is enthusiastic about science.
“Renee’s really great about slipping things into her programs, like physics,” Ehde said.
Other libraries around the U.S. have been lending out telescopes, some for the past few years.
Jan Watson, a reference librarian at the Shaler North Hills Library in Glenshaw, Pa., near Pittsburgh, said their single telescope can be checked out for a week at a time.
“We have quite a few on the waiting list, people wanting to check the telescope out,” she said. “We’ve had our launch program when we first received it with a group of people from the area.”
It’s been working well. “Some of the people were thinking of getting a telescope for Christmas,” she said. “They were very pleased.”
Back at the Manatee County Central Library, Emma Sietsma practiced pointing a telescope. She also enjoyed the South Florida Museum.
“We saw the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper” at the planetarium, she said, “but you can’t really see it in the city because of all the lights.”
Maryann Thelusma of Bradenton brought her very active nephew, Dewinsky Lorfils, 10, and his brother, Richer Lorfils. They both had fun pretending to look at the stars, but more fun looking at each other.
“I think that’s really cool,” Thelusma said. She had friends from the Midwest over recently, and they were out stargazing and pointed out the constellations for her.
Ehde said it’s all a part of the library’s new mission: to help youths and adults improve themselves and their lives.
“People don’t expect to see things other than books in libraries,” she said. “There are so many people that have that so far out-of-date notion.”
Vincent F. Safuto is a copy editor for the Bradenton Herald. Reach him at email@example.com or call him at 941-745-7054.