The library telescope program has been successfully launched and operated in over 20 states in the USA. If you are interested in starting a program for your local library, there are number of things for you to consider:
NOTE: Refer to our "Resource Center" for all documents referenced below.
- Getting Library Approval - You will need your library's approval to implement the program. Sometimes this is easy and sometimes it is difficult. Funding is only part of the issue. Not all libraries are comfortable with checking out telescopes. The good news is that your library will not be the first. The library telescope program has been implemented across many library systems and is very popular with library patrons and staff. The St. Louis program provides a FAQ to new libraries interested in adopting the program which can be found in "Resource Center" .
- Telescope Purchase/Modifications - The program uses the Orion StarBlast 4.5" reflector which is modified to make the telescope more patron friendly and durable for library use. At first, the modifications can seem a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, the New Hampshire Astronomical Society has prepared a number of useful documents that explain the telescope modification process and provides templates for the various decals, stickers and user manuals. You might be tempted to make changes to "improve" the design of the telescope, but we recommend that you stick with the proven design as there are plenty of other areas, as noted the subsequent steps, where you will need to spend your time to make sure the program is a success. Instructions/templates for modifying your telescope can be found in the "Resource Center".
- Telescope Checkout Procedures - It is likely that your library will need implement special procedures for checkout of the telescope. In the St. Louis program, the checkout period is 7-days and checkout is limited to adults with a valid library card. Additionally, the libraries do not allow transfer of the telescope from one branch to another which is different than checking out books. The high cost of the telescope means that there are patron responsibilities if damage occurs. To get you started, two different sets of sample telescope checkout procedures are provided in the "Resource Center".
- Telescope Maintenance - Generally speaking, the library telescope as designed by the New Hampshire Astronomical Society has proven to be durable and user friendly. However, heavy use by library patrons means the mirrors and eyepieces will need cleaning, the mirrors re-collimated and red dot finders/headlamps will need new batteries. More serious issues can occur too such as damage to the telescope, scratches to the eyepieces or red dot finder switches that stop working. For your program to be a success you will need to establish a regular maintenance program to keep the telescope in good working order. A high level guide to maintaining a telescope can be found in the "Resource Center".
- Telescope Funding - Funding your telescope program is always a consideration. Your costs may vary but typically the final telescope cost will range between $300.00 USD to $350.00 USD. A variety of funding methods have been used by various sites including self-funding, funding by individual donors or organizations such as "friends of the library", writing grants and winning awards/prizes. Surprisingly, funding is not usually the issue that most people think. If you can get people in your area excited about launching the library telescope program, someone will usually step up and provide funding.
- Library Staff Training - Library staff need to be comfortable with the library telescope. They need to assure the library patron that the telescope is robust and easy to use. One of the best ways to raise the comfort level of the library staff is to give them "hands on" training. Even 10 minutes of working with the telescope can help the library staff be comfortable with the telescope and be able to answer basic patron questions. Library staff training should be conducted at the launch of a new program and periodically thereafter to refresh library staff on how to use the telescope. A high level guide to training library staff can be found in the "Resource Center".
- Patron Training - The best way to keep your library telescope program healthy is to hold periodic "star parties" where library patrons learn how to use the library telescope. The St. Louis program uses a standard 90 minute program that starts inside a conference room where library patrons learn about the telescope parts and how to focus the telescope on objects inside the library. This part takes about 45 minutes. For the final 45 minutes, library patrons are taught about night sky navigation. If the weather is clear outside, the patrons take the telescopes outside to apply their new knowledge to finding objects in the night sky. If the weather is not clear, the final 45 minutes is held inside the conference room where basics of night sky navigation are discussed. There are many variations of this program in other cities so you will need to decide what works best for you. Most importantly, the hands on training for library patrons is important to raise their comfort level. A high level guide to training your library patrons can be found in the "Resource Center".
Once you get serious about starting your own program, we suggest that you contact us with your questions. There is no reason that you should not benefit from the tremendous amount of knowledge gained by others who have successfully launched and maintained their own program.