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Partner Highlight: Sharing experiences about kit activity lending libraries

Frank Kusiak, Lawrence Hall of Science

Earth and Space Toolkit boxes at Gaithersburg Community Museum

As a NISE Network regional hub leader, I receive emails all the time about our NISE Network toolkits.  I get inquiries from museums that just discovered NISE Network and want to know if we have any more left or if they could buy it (we aren't able to sell kits).  I get emails from people who want to re-create the toolkit (because we all know, NISE Network toolkits are created under the Creative Commons share-alike copyright) and they’re asking advice on where to get or substitute certain parts of an activity.  My favorite emails are from partners who just received a new, multi-boxed toolkit, and they’ve just opened the boxes. Everyone is just so happy and enthusiastic about the possibilities. You receive this massive kit of activities and it feels like Christmas! Then the reality sets in: with limited resources/staff/time and a specific audience in mind, will you be able to use all of these activities and where are you going to store them? Well, I don’t know if I can answer the second question for you, but I have encountered partners who have a great solution to the first one. Part of it is realizing that you can’t use every activity in your toolkit all the time, but someone else might... so some NISE Network partners have created activity lending libraries to share activities with others in their community. Partners across the US have found that lending their NISE Network kits (see our full list of kits ) can create opportunities for broadening their reach and potentially keep their toolkits from sitting idle. 

Examples of Activity ​​​​​​Lending Libraries


So who do museums lend their toolkits to? 

Some partners, like the Gateway Science Museum in Chico, CA, Memphis Museum of Science & History (MoSH) in Memphis, TN, and Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, CA, lend their toolkits to other educators like K-12 school teachers and libraries. Some, but not all lend their kits out to other informal educators, homeschool groups, afterschool programs, and camps run by community organizations. Montana State University Academic Technology and Outreach loans their toolkits out to education classes and professors at Montana State for, as Jamie Cornish says, they “use the kits as models or for college students to conduct outreach in the community.” At the Gateway Science Museum in Chico they also lend their toolkit activities out to anyone willing to check them out! 

Video introducing the Gateway Science Museum Lending Library in Chico, CA!

A docent explains the Gateway Science Museum Lending Library Program for Earth and Space Science Toolkits.
Gateway Science Museum’s toolkit containers. 

How are kit lending logistics handled?

If you want to lend out your toolkits, that’s a big question to answer. You need to consider how you will receive requests, how you will package your activities, and how they’ll be organized topically. Organizing your activities topically is a common theme. What works in one community might not work in yours, and you might need to play around with which activities to pair together or just offer each activity individually. It’s up to you. 


As for packaging your lending library activities, Gateway Science puts one or two similarly related activities into plastic boxes. Not only is this convenient and holds-up after multiple uses, it is also sanitary: it’s a lot easier to sanitize a plastic container than a cardboard box! And they go a step further by posting how they ensure the toolkit is safe for re-use


Turtle Bay repackages their activities several ways. Kate Weber said they put the activities in “large durable plastic containers (most of them are obnoxiously yellow)” and each container can hold up to five activities that are thematically related. At the MoSH in Memphis, TN, they put their activities in a big “going on a month long vacation” style suitcase that can fit a lot of activities, and since it’s a suitcase, it’s designed to travel! 

Turtle Bay's big yellow containers for the activity lending library.
Turtle Bay in Redding, CA
uses big yellow containers! 

Each institution is unique in how they handle checking out and returning their activities. At Turtle Bay, users fill out a pdf, send it in, (, pay a yearly $35 fee that covers restocking and includes unlimited check outs, and you reserve your kit via email. After receiving email confirmation, the borrower picks up their toolkit and returns it to a designated area in the museum. The Gateway Science Museum lending library uses a Google form to take requests and borrowers can pick them up on Friday or Saturday from 11am to 4pm. They are free of charge because the Gateway Women of Wonder and the Chico Sunrise Rotary sponsors their lending library. At MoSH, they’ve set up a system that has twenty-four rental time windows throughout the year (so it’s not a rolling rental like you would expect from a traditional library) and if you’re a public school teacher located in their county, MoSH will deliver their activity suitcase. For other institutions, like private schools, borrowers go to the MoSH to pick them up.

How has the pandemic affected how you lend your toolkits? 

The pandemic has had mixed results on lending libraries but the common theme is that opportunities to expand or maintain a library do exist. As already mentioned, the Gateway Science Museum put a lot of thought into ensuring safe sharing for staff and borrowers. Before the pandemic, everyone made sure their floor activities were clean, but now we’re in a new era of being cautious about how materials are handled. Everyone makes sure their materials are sanitized. For Montana State and MoSH, the pandemic temporarily shut down their lending program. But things are looking up. Montana State was able to get their toolkits to the local YMCA camp and they’ll be using some NISE Network toolkits this summer. At Turtle Bay, initially, the pandemic shrunk the program, but they were able to partner with an afterschool program to cover the $35 registration fee for those in their region! This infusion helped them out a lot. And with schools returning in person this fall, they’re looking forward to teachers returning for the toolkits! For Dafne Garduno at the Gateway Science Museum, “The pandemic has broadened participation with our NISE kits. Pre- pandemic, many of the NISE Network kits were used during our Saturday special activities, special events or in our galleries which were all closed to the public due to the pandemic. The NISE Network kits have allowed us to stay engaged with the public while providing hands-on science activities to the public during the pandemic.”

Any lessons learned about lending toolkits? 

Turtle Bay Superintendent's Award in Excellence in Museum Education for their Lending Library
Turtle Bay Superintendent's
Award in Excellence in
Museum Education for their
Lending Library

Turtle Bay has run their lending library for many years and according to Kate Weber, a lending library, “Requires lots of space! Storing them is one thing but having space to restock the kits then to move them to where they can be picked up and dropped off is another hurdle. I think people may also underestimate the amount of staff time a lending library can require. Restocking the kits is tedious and requires a lot of practice. Also, many of our kits are older and do not directly line up with NGSS. Most teachers still agree that they are relevant but some kits are a hard sell to newer teachers. We have found a lot of success with our lending library. It offers more resources to our teachers and local parents for little cost to us and them. These materials would not be well used otherwise and we look forward to adding more kits over the years. We use the kits in our camps and other programs throughout the year so even if they’re not being checked out, they get used.” 

For Jamie Cornish, the lending library led to an amazing opportunity: “We love the NISE Network kits so much we are launching a program to create similar kits. Based on the NISENET model, college students at Montana State University and three tribal colleges in Montana will be working together to create place-based bioscience kits featuring local research that is relevant to their communities.”

Does lending your NISE Network kits appeal to you?

Lending your kits is a great way to keep a valuable resource in front of your community even when they’re not visiting your museum! Hopefully, this article can give you some ideas and inspiration for starting a lending library at your institution. It might be hard to get off the ground, find an audience, and get institutional buy-in, but think of the impact: a lending library can create a stronger connection between you and the community of educators in your area. And, you might be able to reach an audience you struggle to get into your doors. Good luck!