Newton Public Library partners with NASA, SciStarter for online events

Special to The Kansan
Newton Public Library capped its 2020 Summer Library Program with two online science events presented in partnership with national organizations.

Newton Public Library capped its 2020 Summer Library Program with two online science events presented in partnership with national organizations.

On Monday, July 27, NPL hosted a live, interactive event with a senior NASA engineer, Jose Perez-Morales. A few days later, on July 31, NPL hosted a Stanford biochemistry researcher, Do Soon Kim, as part of a series of “citizen science” events presented by SciStarter and the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM).

The NASA event came about thanks to NPL's participation in the NASA Museum Alliance. Membership is open to any library, and the Alliance newsletter regularly highlights science-related educational opportunities and free resources. NPL applied to host a “virtual chat” after the opportunity was announced in early June, partnering with the local school district to increase awareness and participation.

Perez-Morales took questions from the public, talking about his career at NASA and his work to help the Artemis program land “the first woman and the next man” on the Moon by 2024. The event was recorded and can be viewed at

On July 31, Do Soon Kim joined Newton library patrons to talk about his work on Eterna – Thousands of “citizen scientists” with no formal training are solving puzzles on Eterna, helping professional scientists such as Kim to design RNA-based medicines. Currently, Eterna players are contributing to the OpenVaccine project, hoping to find breakthroughs that could lead to an RNA-based vaccine for COVID-19.

The Eterna event can be viewed at

“Before COVID-19 started affecting us in mid-March, we were posting about one social-media video a week, and we had never hosted an online event,” library director Marianne Eichelberger said. “Since then, our staff has been generating three to five videos a week, including weekly story times and puppet shows — and so far, we have hosted around 40 interactive, online events for all ages.”

Zoom allows users to stream meetings to Facebook Live or YouTube. NPL has often given patrons the option of attending events on either Zoom or Facebook Live. Zoom provides a more interactive experience but requires a bit more setup.

Patrons, including seniors, have become increasingly comfortable with meeting virtually, and attendance at monthly history and photography programs has matched or exceeded in-person numbers from before the pandemic.

“I've heard from several patrons that they have appreciated being able to attend online programs. Some no longer live in Newton but still feel a connection. Others are homebound or can't drive after dark,” said Sam Jack, NPL's public relations and special services supervisor. “When we're able to resume large, in-person gatherings, I think we will want to figure out a good way to simulcast them, so that people can still have the option of watching and participating from home.”