Plant the Seed! Sow the Future

There is much rhetoric in amateur radio about getting more people into the hobby. Especially young people. The ARRL has a Teachers Institute which reflects the conventional “train-the-trainer” model of getting K-12 school teachers (mostly) into ham radio in order to expose their students to the fun and learning. The challenge of this is that it’s quite small, even when effective.

Moreover, clubs face increasing challenges simply getting into schools, particularly public schools, to offer programs to students. It doesn’t take much imagination for a school administrator to evaluate the typical proposition. Hmm, a group of usually old guys want to spend time with students during or after school to talk about something called “ham radio.” I can say no and that’s that. I have no consequences in my decision. I can say yes but I need to do background checks to rule out folks on some nefarious list, find a teacher who will stay with them to watch over the process, deal with space requests and insurance liability (“Can we put up an antenna permanently?”) and so forth. If something bad happens, I have to deal with that and I could get demoted or worse, fired. Which option would you most likely take if you were the administrator and not a licensed amateur radio operator yourself? I have only spoken with a few Principals and Superintendents but I was told by these career professionals that this is likely to occur in many instances. It varies, of course, but this does illustrate the vagaries of getting programs from outside into schools these days.

Visiting the library remains the most common cultural activity Americans engage in, by far.

Gallup Poll Report, 2019

The ARRL and other EmComm groups often use the term, “served agency,” to indicate an agency or organization needing specific attention by amateur radio groups. We have yet to implement a similar perspective or approach for educational outreach, from everything I’ve read. Schools can be one. But so can public libraries. In fact, Gallup just reported from one of their surveys that “Visiting the library remains the most common cultural activity Americans engage in, by far.” Visits to libraries were 10.5 per year in 2019 which exceeds eight other leisure time activities. Library visits were about double annual visits to movies (5.3 per year).

The number of public libraries in 2016 (latest year data is available, covering 98% of the total public libraries in the U.S.) is more than 17,000 central libraries, branches, and bookmobiles in more than 9,000 public library systems. According to my analysis of the 2016 data, this includes a median of 122 children’s program per year, which means at least one half of the 9,000 or so public library systems had at least that many programs directed toward children. (This includes 205 that reported having zero programs directed towards children.) There is potential here!

Public libraries may well be a more efficient “served agency” within which to reach children, young adults and older persons in communities as compared to schools. I do not make this argument to lessen the attempts to get amateur radio curriculum and experiences into schools but simply want to emphasize the untapped potential that the Public Library System has for reaching the public to promote amateur radio.

Which Section can get the most libraries served by constituent ARRL Affiliated Clubs donating the League’s 10-book Library Set to libraries near them?

David Norris K5UZ ARRL Delta Division Director

Starting with the ARRL Louisiana Section Convention in Minden LA last December and continuing to last weekend’s Mississippi Section Convention in Jackson, Delta Division Director David Norris K5UZ and I created a new program just announced in Jackson. It’s the Plant the Seed! Initiative. It’s being rolled-out in the four Sections comprising the Delta Division as a Director’s Challenge to the Section Managers. Which Section can get the most libraries served by constituent ARRL Affiliated Clubs donating the League’s 10-book Library Set to libraries near them? The League offers these book sets, including the two big ones (Handbook, Antenna Handbook), for $200 including shipping. The contents and offer description from the ARRL website is as follows:

Special money saving offer! This book set includes popular ARRL publications, intended for clubs or individuals that wish to make a gift to a local library or school. Only complete sets of these publications are available at the special price of $200 per set. Price includes ground shipping throughout the 48 contiguous states, only. Call for other shipping options. Editions sent will be those available at the time the order is received. Publications and prices are subject to change without notice. This special offer applies only to orders purchased directly from ARRL. Orders must be pre-paid.

ARRL No. Title Value (Retail Price)
 4050    ARRL Handbook $49.95
 6948    ARRL Antenna Book $49.95
 5965    ARRL Operating Manual $29.95
 #9857   ARRL Satellite Handbook $24.95
 0977    Ham Radio License Manual $29.95
 8119    ARRL General Class License Manual $29.95
 5170    ARRL Extra Class License Manual $29.95
 0823    Understanding Basic Electronics $32.95
 0915    RFI Book $29.95
 8737    ARRL Instructor's Manual $19.95
 9728    Getting Started with Ham Radio $19.95
 1173    FCC Rules and Regulations $5.95
 7717    ARRL Map of the World (Azimuthal) $15.00

As David said in his announcement to Section Managers on Friday, “This Initiative has indeed already begun. The Mississippi Section’s affiliated club, the Central Mississippi Amateur Radio Association, has already obtained two (2) commitments: one from the Board who challenged the membership to match which they quickly did. Other clubs can quickly follow suit. As described below, the affiliated club membership numbers show that the donation per-member to reach the $200 goal is minimal, ranging from $1.46 to $40.00 in the Division with an average of $7.36 (median is $5.00). So, for the average price per-member of less than ten dollars, ARRL-affiliated clubs can plant the seed of amateur radio and sow the future of the hobby.” CMSARA’s two sets of book have already been delivered and the club has identified two area libraries that will receive them shortly.

The median contribution throughout the Delta Division of just $5 per club member can potentially reach many people in the community for years to come. I constructed a map using GIS software and databases to identify which club is nearest each public library. These are shown by (tan) lines below. Spreadsheets were then exported for each of the four Sections and, within each Section, each club. These files are stored online with a link included in David’s email to each SM in the Delta Division. The Section Manager can email the club contact using information in each club’s spreadsheet with their customized listing of potential “served libraries” nearest them. This makes it very easy for Section Managers and local clubs to consider the Initiative and take action without much spin-up on their end.

Map of Delta Division Clubs (Red) and nearest public libraries (Green) linked by lines (Tan)

Vice Director Ed Hudgens WB4RHQ added, “This is a very exciting Initiative that we are launching. It puts action in the hands of local ham groups who can easily make an impact in their communities with public libraries.” I’d have to agree with Ed’s sentiments. It’s not a vague idea to change the world waiting for “big things” to happen. The Plant the Seed! Initiative is something that for less than a pizza or hamburger lunch per member, a local club can get a broad set of books from the ARRL onto the shelves of a local public library. Getting a photo of the donation into the local newspaper wouldn’t be a bad thing for the club, either. I hope you’ll agree. You can spread the word by copying the logo I created for the Delta Division Initiative below and using it to promote the program in your club, section or Division. The Delta Division has already started and Malcolm’s (W5XX) Section is in the lead. You’re playing catch-up…but the competition is what this kind of “radiosport” is all about. And to Sow the Future of the amateur radio hobby.

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

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