Get S.M.A.R.T. @ the Library

Agent 86 in the 1965 NBC Television comedy, Get Smart, was a raging success during the years it was on network television. The phrase, Get Smart, became a water cooler slogan in the United States. While it was a comedy of errors on the part of the “smart” agents, the phrase has continued on for a half century.

Agent 86 in Get Smart

We are reviving that phrase but it’s no comedy! As part of the Plant the Seed, Sow the Future initiative with the ARRL, I have resurrected an acronym that I created some years ago. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Saturday Morning Amateur Radio Time. Saturday morning is a time when many amateur operators and the public are away from their weekly schedules and attend to other matters. Like hobbies.

David KC5AAW used that phrase to organize a couple of outings in local parks in Madison MS before the ARRL’s National Parks on the Air program was created and, of course, prior to POTA(tm) becoming popular. It fizzled out after a few highly enjoyable outings due to KC56AAW entering graduate school while maintain his professional career but I had not forgotten the acronym.

My resurrection of S.M.A.R.T. is this. The Gallup organization has found that women and youth frequent public libraries twice as often as they do movie theaters. It’s the most common cultural crossroads for these two demographic groups in the United States. Supporting the newly-approved program by the ARRL to assist affiliated clubs to partner with local public libraries, the concept is for a local club to organize periodic ham radio activities at area public libraries on Saturday mornings. These programs are not directed at fellow amateur radio operators but to the general public. Patrons can thus Get S.M.A.R.T. at the library!

To kick this off locally, I’ve been working with the Jackson Amateur Radio Club to implement a formal partnership with the Madison County (MS) Public Library System. The JARC is securing funds to donate material and equipment to help build-out the MCLS “maker spaces” for STEM programming. JARC recently donated $2,000 of books and posters to the MCLS as described on the ARRL News feed. They are attempting to secure funds to donate the first of several 3D printers to the system, among other “maker” equipment.

A Get S.M.A.R.T. at the Library series will begin on March 2, 2024 with an introduction to patrons about today’s world of amateur radio. In May, when the weather is more predictable, a live activation of the Madison MS Branch Library is planned. It will be in a garden area behind the building, containing a gazebo and several permanent picnic tables. There are large, tall oak trees for antenna placement! We will setup portable stations so patrons can see and participate in today’s amateur radio action. (I’m looking for a hotdog vendor…) All of the Library System Administrators are anxious to attend and get a turn operating a radio. The flyer I’ve developed for the first event is shown at the end of this post.

Activities like these are planned to continue. The JARC will gauge the interest for a Technician Class during the year. The STEM programming from these activities will significantly enhance the Library system’s offerings to the public. We expect that new hams will become minted as a result.

Here is the standardized logo for branding the concept. It’s designed to be reusable with new dates, times and places. This will help build logo recognition for the program over time. If you’d like to use this concept at your local club, just drop me a note at my email address for permission to use the copyrighted logo. I’ll send you a blank one for your artwork and non-commercial use.

Amateur radio clubs should consider “getting smart” at their local libraries as an educational outreach program. The future viability of the hobby may just depend on it. Plus, it’s fun to share what you do in amateur radio with others who are already at a place because they want to learn stuff.

The Get S.M.A.R.T. at the Library concept has now gone international. The Sutton & Cheam Radio Society in South London has adopted the program (with express permission). Martin M1MRB and Chris M0TCH will lead an eight-week series at a local library, teaching the public about today’s amateur radio scene. Martin has created a website for “smart radio” in the UK to support the efforts. It’s exciting to see this idea gain traction across the pond!

This program concept can easily be replicated wherever there are ham radio groups and public libraries. It is far, far easier to get into libraries, who actively seek outside groups to provide content programing, than it is schools. Both are important for training a new generation of hams. Public libraries are the place where “home schooled” children frequent to get educational resources. So “schools” are not the only place where children are getting “schooled” as the home-schooling movement is significant in terms of size. A Washington Post article claimed it is the fastest-growing form of education outside of a conventional school setting in the U.S. Most estimates of the total numbers range from 3-4 million children nationwide.

See my previous blog articles on engaging with public libraries as another “served agency” for amateur radio. Libraries want ham radio clubs there for STEM programming. Just build a relationship with the Library System Director, much like an Emergency Operations Center relationship. Similarly, this is not a “drive by” donation to a library but a served agency relationship that is built over time.

The ball is in your court. We are already dribbling here in Central Mississippi!

Frank Howell, K4FMH, is a regular contributor to and writes from Mississippi, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

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