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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Solar Eclipse and Libraries

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, September 3, 2017


I can assure you that the 69 staff members of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County were pleased to see the August Solar Eclipse pass on the calendar.


For approximately 6 weeks, we answered the phone; and answered in person; the question from the public as to whether we had any Solar Eclipse Glasses to give away.


Our best guess is that all of our locations could have easily distributed 3,000 pairs of Solar Eclipse Glasses --- but the fact remains that we had none.


Our disappointment was that many people who had never been in our libraries were met with a disappointing “we have none,” and we could only hope that people will return to the library since they have now seen what is inside our libraries.


The problem was that public excitement over the solar eclipse, partly due to social media, provoked an excitement that far exceeded expectations.  Combined with unknown expectations of people unfamiliar with the scope of public libraries in America, we were left with disappointment.


My first awareness of the solar eclipse glasses issue took place last winter when I noticed on a library blog that the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation would be distributing free glasses to libraries in the “epicenter” of the eclipse so that libraries could sponsor programs on the subject.


I remember reading about it and dismissed it as we were hundreds of miles from the “complete eclipse.”  I wondered if the Moore Foundation had any idea of what they were suggesting and how many glasses would be needed.


Time passed and I saw a similar program sponsored by the STAR Net Program which was distributing 2 million glasses to libraries.  There was an application process, and the comment was that all available glasses were already promised from the available application.


I thought that these well-meaning folks had no idea that 2 million glasses would barely accommodate just the State of Ohio and its public libraries.


Later in the spring, I read that Google and the National Science Foundation were involved with NASA in an educational program related to the eclipse and glasses, but the paperwork portion of the program was already finished.


I wondered if any of these organizations were working with the 50 State Library agencies, or the American Library Association?


Then I remembered when NASA offered to distribute unused items from the Space Program to libraries to interest young people.  I did the paperwork for the program, and our library was denied anything but NASA kept sending me annual paperwork to inventory the item(s) that we never received.


About a month before the eclipse the calls started after Internet media and the Today Show suggested that you “might try your public library” for a pair of the eclipse glasses.


I called around the other area libraries and found that some had received between 12 and 50 pairs of glasses to be used during an eclipse program, and others had library organizations who purchased some for a fund-raiser.


Most of my calls ended with some exclamation of exasperation with “No, we have no glasses and never have.”


I was thinking back to 1965 when there was a partial solar eclipse in the summer, and solar eclipse glasses didn’t seem to exist.  The school sent home instructions on how to construct a cardboard box with a pin-hole to safely see the eclipse.


My younger brother couldn’t have cared less, so he sat and played in the dirt --- something we all did in the pre-cell phone era --- but I used my box to see the eclipse.


It only got a little gloomy as the partial eclipse passed, and the neighbor called my mother and inquired if she knew that her 10 year old was in the backyard with a box on his head.


Well, I hope all of you had a great solar eclipse experience, and if you got your glasses, you saved them as another eclipse will take place in April 2024 and we will be much closer to this one with nearly 98 percent coverage.


Or, if you have friends and relatives in Columbus or Cleveland you can go there for full coverage.


Scientists prompted this eclipse as the first in 99 years to extend across the country from ocean to ocean west-to-east; which is correct.


The one in 2024 will extend Mexico-to-Canada in a northeasterly direction.  I will be retired by then.