Posts Tagged ‘Libraries’

Initial Get S.M.A.R.T. @ the Library a Success

Our first Get S.M.A.R.T. @ the Library event last Saturday (March 2, 2024) was a success. The Jackson ARC is holding quarterly Get S.M.A.R.T. events at the Madison (MS) Branch over 2024. Held at the Madison (MS) Branch of the Madison County Library System, we had 13 participants. Four declared that they were committed to getting their Technician license. After Library staff welcomed the group and introduced me as ARRL Assistant Director for the Delta Division and JARC President, Jim AK5J, Board Member Clay AC5Z served as the EmCee for the session. As the picture below illustrates, some were on the edge of their seats learning about today’s amateur radio story!

We used the ARRL slide deck for the basic overview during the first hour. This material is very good for introducing amateur radio to the public from my reading. We did not use the video but will use that to review in our third event, as explained in more detail below. Clay AC5Z was the lead speaker for the first hour’s information. He began with a personal “war story” but his details made the point of our theme: this is NOT your father’s radio! Here’s a snippet of that segment.

This broad overview from the ARRL material was followed up in the second hour by localizing amateur radio to the Madison area. Using the map of hams created by Ross  KT1F, we first showed the famous Herman Munster segment operating in his basement as a ham. All in attendance had some recollection of this cartoon-ish description of hams. Afterwards, the point was made that licensed operators aren’t likely to be very scary. Many live nearby, often in an audience member’s own neighborhood! While all knew that Herman was a fictional character, this attacked head-on the notion that hams are “different” in negative ways. But no, they are a lot like you and may well live next door. This map localized the some 250 licensed hams in Madison County in a way that is not possible with mere words alone. It clearly and emphatically made the point that we needed to make with a high degree of audience enthusiasm. Here’s a screenshot of that map, centered on the Madison Branch Library.

This second hour was largely spent on several hams giving brief explanations on one of their respective specialties. Mike K5XU, a blind since birth ham of over 50 years who has a career in broadcasting, explained his use of Morse Code in his CW operations. He related his early experiences in the Mississippi School for the Blind where a librarian helped him get amateur radio materials to learn CW. Rick N5ZNL extolled his love of working satellites as the audience piled on the questions about this segment of the hobby that is growing in popularity. Rick’s enthusiasm was contagious in the group in attendance. I (Frank K4FMH) discussed my activity in building things, emphasizing transceivers packaged for portable operations. These include various transceivers, ranging from QRP-ish rigs to a 500w station in a Gator Case, and battery boxes to power them. Clay AC5Z discussed his using Arduino-based tools to construct an automatic satellite tracker device for a light-load satellite antenna. This set of brief (and I emphasize brief) comments about various specialties that local hams participate in were very effective tools to give public attendees a clear sense of what we do. Many had questions, asked with enthusiasm. I believe that they will tell others before the next meeting.


 

Librarians as Hams, Libraries having amateur radio “shacks”

In addition to hosting these Get S.M.A.R.T. events, the MCLS has announced a goal of having at least one library staffer at each county library branch licensed in the near future. Coinciding with this licensure plan, they will be obtaining a ham station at each branch with a licensed amateur radio operator on staff. We hope to assist MCLS in obtaining equipment for operating on both VHF/UHF as well as HF as this effort matures over the year. This addition to their “maker space” facility development is huge.

This commitment by the Library System was unexpected on my end. But it underscores the interest by libraries to catalyze their STEM programming efforts. With homeschooling being a significant and growing trend, local public libraries are also school libraries for some. STEM programming is a “thing” these days for public libraries as they try to better serve their market. In Madison County (MS), they see a local amateur radio club like JARC being a highly valued partner in this effort. So much so that they are willing to get staff licensed, equipment acquired and installed, and give demonstrations for library patrons. Add bringing in JARC members for enhanced instruction and there’s a winning combination.

In our next Saturday Morning Amateur Radio Time (S.M.A.R.T.) event at the Madison Branch Library, we will conduct an activation behind the library using their Garden area. It has a permanent Gazebo and fixed picnic tables with seating. There are tall trees. This is planned for early May when the weather is more predictable here in Central Mississippi. We may promote this as a field test for “Libraries on the Air (LiOTA)” but I haven’t firmly decided on that. This activity will give attendees a chance to see amateur radio in action and participate themselves under a control operator. We will have HF stations operating CW, SSB and FT8 along with a VHF/UHF rig talking to local repeaters and Rick N5ZNL waving his Arrow antenna toward the sky for satellite contacts. Rumor has it that hot dogs, potato chips, and a cold drink may be available. Hmm. Should the event be titled, “All that Ham Radio—and a Bag of Chips“?

The final two Get SMART events will be back in the Library meeting room during late summer and fall. I’ll have a better sense of the topics that will be most effective then, after the activation event. We hope to have a summer Technician training and testing class in the Library, as four declared their commitment as well as library staff who are interested.

This year-long cycle, managed by the Jackson ARC in concert with my efforts as ARRL Delta Division Assistant Director, will tell us a great deal about how to partner with public libraries as a “served educational agency” to reach the public. Thus far, I could not have asked for a better partnership than with the MCLS and the JARC.

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 QRZ.com 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!

LiOTA: Libraries On The Air

As readers of my blog have likely observed, I’ve been promoting a “served agency” partnership between the ARRL-affiliated clubs and local public libraries. I’m told by my Division Director, David K5UZ, that the Plant the Seed, Sow the Future Initiative was formally adopted by the ARRL Board of Directors in a recent meeting. I’ve had virtual meetings with ARRL HQ staff on advising them regarding technical details of adding maps, databases, and other material to the arrl.org website pages pertaining to clubs. The entire website was recently revised (again) so this is taking some time. Need I say, LoTW?

Locally, I’ve been working with the Jackson ARC in their recent formal partnership with the Madison County (MS) Public Library System to enhance the emergent “maker spaces” in that library system. Over this year in my role as Delta Division Assistant Director, I’ve been doing club development work with the Vicksburg ARC who is refocusing their activities and initiatives, including some discussions with the Warren County Public Library System, whose slogan is “We’re more than just books!” VARC is interested in partnering with them on creating maker space activities. These meetings and conversations have universally been met with a very strong desire by the library administrators there to welcome amateur radio into their programming. How can this be effected in ways that allow amateur radio to reach the two key demographic audiences of women and youth that visit public libraries at twice the rate that they visit movie theaters?

I’ve created a new but common proposed activity to be just one of several such ways to operationalize this “served agency” relationship: holding periodic “on the air” events at public libraries. LiOTA, short for Libraries On The Air, is outlined in a concept memo I’ve submitted to my Division Director, David K5UZ. I’ve posted it here for transparency. We will see if the ARRL Board of Directors takes advantage of the concept. If not, there may be other groups who wish to implement it.

Below is the spatial distribution of the 9,215 libraries in the current (2021) public library database. Not surprisingly, they follow population settlements which generally reflect the spatial distribution of amateur radio licensee locations. It’s also not a shock to know that they are not dissimilar to the pattern of ARRL-affiliated clubs. In other work for Plant the Seed, I’ve created spreadsheets by club for each Division showing for which public libraries the club is the nearest one to that library. These market areas can be used to easily identify potential nearby LiOTA sites. And, yes, POTA participants, I’ve already created an exhaustive list of public library entity numbers in spreadsheet and map format, ready for the League to use on their website for LiOTA, should they adopt the program.

Because of the targeted-marketing concept driving this prospective program, the logo I created includes a female radio operator at a library. Using control operators, getting women and young people on the air at libraries is the key metric of outreach in this program. Passive options, such as planned programs, displays or kiosks, books donated on amateur radio, club meetings, at public libraries are further means to reach this audience. But getting non-hams on the air will likely be a key. (If not, why do we use GOTA stations at Field Day?)

Targeted marketing starts with defining “who” specifically is a good fit for a product or service and delivering personalized messages directly to that targeted audience.

Dun & Bradstreet

Here is the logo that I’ve created for the LiOTA Program. Hmm. It might look good on a spiffy tee shirt.

Here’s the brief memo that I submitted to David K5UZ. Time will tell as to it’s fate. Contact your ARRL Division Director if you support the program!

A recommended strategy for planting the seed…

My two blog articles here from 2020 about the role that the Public Library System can play in reaching young people and women—two demographics that the ARRL says it wants to reach—have not fallen on deaf ears in Newington, CT. It has moved forward it seems. I’m told that the ARRL Board of Directors has embraced the concepts and directed the staff at HQ to implement it very soon.

My Division Director, David K5UZ, his Vice Director, Ed WB4RHQ, and Mike Walters W8ZY, Field Services Manager at ARRL, organized a video call with me last week to discuss steps to move forward with the Plant the Seed, Sow the Future program. I’ve been involved with program design and implementation for several decades via the US Department of Agriculture and state or local government. It’s a good sign that the BoD has issued a directive to the CEO in favor of this program. With all that’s been going on at the Board, I’m delighted that targeted actions like this are moving toward being implemented.

Mike W8ZY and I agreed that a map display would be a good tool to add to the ARRL-affiliated club search page. (They are re-thinking that page, too.) I’ll supply their IT staff with a file of public libraries in the U.S. and some attributes that are useful. Contact info for the Director, number of programs for youth and young adults, and so forth would allow clubs to target libraries that already have active programming in place and are near their location. But there’s more than just setting the table to ensure a meal that is well-enjoyed by all in attendance. Getting guests to the dinner table in the first place is one step! Engaging local clubs is that first step but they have to have access to the tools to make it efficient and effective for a longer term pay-off.

I prepared a memo some time ago to my Division Director, for whom I serve as an Assistant Director for the Delta Division. This memo recommends specific steps and stages for engaging affiliated clubs in this initiative. The Vice Director, Ed WB4RHQ, told us on the Zoom call how successful the Plant the Seed initiative has been in Tennessee already. Library Directors asked local ham club representatives if they would give programs at the library BEFORE hams could even bring it up! That’s a good sign.

It’s because programming for the public is the “new cheese” for library directors. I learned this while at the Board of Regents Office in Atlanta. The Public Library System reports to the college board in Georgia. I was tasked to work with the PLS and learned quite a bit about how local public libraries view their mission and operations. Programs are the key “cheese” that will move public library directors today.

Here are the steps I outlined in my member to my Director for implementing the ARRL program:


This is a recommended game plan to engage public libraries in the United States as a portal for education and outreach regarding amateur radio. Here are my bullet-point steps:

  • ARRL Board declare public libraries as new “served agencies” like Red Cross, not for emergency communication but for education and outreach. This makes it an official program with a League commitment. It also means it will not simply go away when some ARRL staffer decides s/he doesn’t want to deal with it anymore. Note to the skeptic: did you realize that for years the annual affiliated clubs forms that many club officers (including me) completed and submitted to HQ simply went into a file cabinet? And that the staffer who was leaving that position intended to put them in the trash dumpster out back when he retired, saying that “nobody cares about clubs anymore”? I didn’t think you did. It appears that the HQ Field Services Staff does care about clubs now. Board action can have that effect.
  • Re-introduce the $200 ARRL Library Book Set to the ARRL website. It was removed by Bob Interbitzen NQ1R, ARRL Product Development Manager, a couple of years ago as being irrelevant, right after my blog post was being circulated. It has yet to be returned as a product. Perhaps the CEO David Minster NA2AA can change that. He wants members to write him with ideas such as this so fire away: [email protected].
  • ARRL make presentation at American Library Association conference in the Public Libraries Division (https://www.ala.org/pla) to point out how the League can provide a national network of STEM-related activities to local public libraries via ARRL-affiliated clubs. The ARRL should also have an Exhibitor Booth. The League’s national network of local groups and proven outreach can greatly assist libraries in the provision of STEM-related programming and activities to children and adults.
  • ARRL negotiate an MOU with ALA-Public Library Division that parallels the one with Red Cross (and others) regarding emergency communications. This brokers an official organizational relationship between the League and its parallel organization for libraries in the United States. It also means that the Leagues means business in this educational outreach enterprise.
  • Roll-out the Plant the Seed, Sow the Future program through Divisions (BoD members) and Sections (Section Managers) but with Field Services Staff providing technical assistance. This should be a one-year targeted effort to prevent a languishing promise to the ALA. A spreadsheet identifying area public libraries nearest each affiliated club with name, address, contact information, and so forth will be provided through the existing ARRL Field Services communication channels.
  • Specific Objectives: each affiliated club create a standing written relationship with at least ONE public library in their area, negotiated through the Director of that library. This relationship must include: (1) donation of the set of ARRL books to the library that must be placed in their official holdings; (2) delivery of at least a quarterly program on some STEM-related subject at the local library by one or more club members; and (3) a display or kiosk in the library illustrating some aspect of amateur radio. This display should be changed out twice yearly.
  • To maintain Special Service Club status, a club must meet these goals within two reporting years.
  • Clubs that meet these goals within one reporting year will receive some reward from ARRL, to be determined. This will enhance the incentive for local affiliated clubs to engage with their local public libraries.

Imagine that if only 25 percent of the 2,850 clubs listed in the ARRL Club Search database were to negotiate a continuing relationship with at least one local public library, that would be some 712 libraries offering both books and programs on amateur radio to two key demographic groups: women and young children and adults. The 25 percent figure should actually be a lower bound of what all clubs should attain. But it would be leaps-and-bounds greater potential exposure than what the Teacher Institute can reach in a single year with class sizes in the 25-student range.

In the spirit of radio sport, avid contester David K5UZ asked, “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?” That would be a national contest indeed. One yielding a greater common good than a plaque for a single radio contest.

Now, to be sure, there are alternative versions of these recommended steps that better dove-tail with the League’s operation, the Divisions and Sections themselves. Some will say it’s too fast. But the thrust should be consistent with these ideas.

Not every ham thinks that public libraries would be an effective organization for amateur radio education and outreach. My own Section Manager, Malcolm W5XX, said that “no one” goes to libraries any more. My fellow podcast Presenter on the ICQ Podcast, Dan KB6NU, says he is skeptical. About ten years ago, he asked a staff member at a local public library in Ann Abor, MI where he lives about donating ham radio books. According to Dan, the staff member said something to the effect that if they took book donations from the local ham club, they’d have to take books from organizations that they’d prefer not to have in the library. I guess, think neo-Nazi hate material or something of that nature.

There may be others who disagree with the thrust of this Plant the Seed Initiative. But it may well be that there is a disconnect between the source of information that I’m using and what others are basing their opinion on. I’m using very high quality national data collected by the Gallup survey organization. I’m a professional survey researcher analyzing their raw data. I’ve done this a few times over my career so I think that I’ve got a very good handle on the national picture of reaching targeted audience groups. (Years ago, I designed the evaluations of the Smoky the Bear and the 4-H Programs.)

I love my Section Manager and respect his service greatly but the demographics of the Gallup Organization’s survey show that he himself is in a demographic (80 plus years of age and a man) that truly does not visit public libraries. Mal W5XX also has mobility issues and is retired from the US Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg MS, their hub of management. There are things you do not see if you are not in a position to look.

Now, Dan KB6NU does visit public libraries. In fact, he teaches ham radio licensing classes at one in Ann Arbor. I like and respect Dan as I’ve gotten to know him on the ICQ Podcast team. But there are a couple of things I can point out here about the basis of his stated skepticism.

One is that it’s a single library in Ann Arbor, not a state or the whole country. Moreover, asking a staff member who is not the Director is always more likely to yield a “no” to most questions. A Director is the go-to person in the public library space for any inquiries about donating books or other materials or coming in to give programs. Why? They have the authority to say “yes” without checking with anyone with the possible exception of the Library Board. It’s a relationship that a ham should seek, not just the act of dropping off a set of books.

A second thing is that the Ann Arbor library already has a number of amateur radio books and a magazine in their online catalog so they have already passed judgment on the content and sources of these holdings. Here’s a link for a search there for the term “amateur radio.” They have the current issue of CQ Magazine as well as the British magazine, Radio User (now part of Practical Wireless). They have several of Dan’s popular No Nonsense study guides, popular titles by Ward Silver, and the ARRL Operating Manual. Getting the ARRL Book Bundle would give them the latest and more depth to the content they already have in their holdings. So I do not know why the library staff member replied to Dan’s kind offer that way about ten years ago. But I’m not sure that that one experience is strong evidence that public libraries are not viable outlets for outreach and education about technology like amateur radio.

In fact, the Gallup report shows with national data that the library is the single most commonly visited public space to find young people and women. Should we ignore this critical fact? I certainly don’t. This is just an example of why it is critical to approach this “seed planting” as a relationship not a simple donation, just like we do with any other served agency in the EmComm arena of service. For instance, imagine your ARES team NOT having a relationship with the local EOC or other emergency management agency. Then just “show up” with HT in hand saying I’m a ham operator and heard you could use some help in the tornado, flood, fire, recovery effort. You’d be asked to vacate the premises very quickly because they are busy with their demanding work and they do not know you or your group! That’s what just dropping off a set of books might be like for a public library. At least, this is my take on it.

Work with ARRL Field Services and IT staff is scheduled to continue. I’ll see how this progresses and report further on the project. In the mean time, (re)read my two original blog posts on this concept. More than ever, we need to Plant the Seed of amateur radio. And use something more efficient than a screwdriver antenna (apologies to hams who use these antennas as I did some years ago). Keep up the Teacher Institute but expand into where the desired market audience can demonstrably be found. That just makes sense if we are serious about addressing the Baby Boom population exodus with a rational, data-driven plan to do what the ARRL has promised the IRS that they will do in exchange for not paying taxes on donations: education and outreach.


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