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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

Pointing high to the stars

After learning about the galaxies in her third grade class at Sumner Elementary, 9-year-old Naomi Foster is eagerly applying her newfound knowledge to discovering the skies above.  

“My favorite planet is Saturn,” she stated without batting an eye.

Through a new program at the Claremont Library, Naomi will get a chance to get up close and personal with her favorite planet.

The Claremont Public Library is expanding its database with a new telescope-lending program, an initiative that provides a weeklong rentable telescope for library patrons.

The 4.5-inch Orion StarBlast Reflector, which made its debut at the Claremont Library last week, is the product of a collaboration between the Friends of the Claremont Library and The Pomona Valley Amateur Astronomers (PVAA). The 2 groups came together within the past year in hopes of encouraging families to appreciate the beauty of the skies and providing them with the means to do so.

“We want people to know how accessible it is,” said Matt Wedel, PVAA president. “You don’t need a million dollars. Here on out, all you need is one of these [telescopes].”

The program was launched earlier this week with a celestial viewing party held just outside the back doors of the Claremont Public Library. Mr. Wedel adjusted the blue telescope as kids and adults alike lined up under the starry evening sky to catch a glimpse of Venus.

“It looks just like the moon!” exclaimed 8-year-old David Carrasco, a student at Sumner Elementary School.

David’s 2 younger brothers were equally excited, squirming in anticipation to get their turn.

“It looks white and yellow and red and so tiny,” younger brother Diego, 7, pitched in.

The telescope landed at the Claremont Public Library as part of an initiative of the Friends of the Claremont Library to provide more educational programming and partnerships.

“We are really interested in working with other community groups to provide a wider range of programs at the library, and this fit perfectly with that idea,” said Laura Bollinger, president of the Friends of the Claremont Library. “It was a natural.”

The PVAA approached the Friends about a year ago with the idea of launching a telescope-lending program modeled after a similar program gaining speed in libraries on the East Coast.  

“We thought it was a good way to introduce kids to science,” explained PVAA vice president Joe Hillberg. “It gives them a more concrete way of learning the things they are reading about in textbooks.”

The Friends were quickly sold on the concept, funding the telescope in exchange for PVAA’s help in its maintenance. The StarBlast was chosen because of its level of ease for a beginning astronomer.

The collaboration between the Friends and PVAA is a mutually beneficial relationship between the 2 community groups. The Friends are adding much-desired programming to the library’s diverse offerings while the PVAA is getting the chance to share their passion with others.

“We want people to get the chance to see what we see,” Mr. Wedel said. “Having the opportunity to give a telescope to the whole community means a lot to us.”

Those who lined up for the evening star party felt equally impassioned. Erin Foster, Naomi’s mother, was thrilled to provide her daughter with hands-on exposure to the material she was learning in school, and to see her daughter so eager to take part.

“All day long she was telling me, ‘we need to go, we need to go,’” Ms. Foster said of her daughter’s excitement for the telescope program.

“I’m really excited to see what it’s like and to see all the planets,” Naomi said.

Curtis and Kristy Davis, who homeschool their 2 boys Justin, 12, and Kory, 9, look forward to introducing the telescope into their boys’ curriculum.

“We utilize the library a lot for our lessons. This [telescope] is a great gift for us to bring into our classroom,” Ms. Davis said. She looks forward to teaching her boys a class on the different components of the telescope along with the basics of astronomy.

The Davises also had the honor of being selected as the winners of the “name the telescope” contest. Mr. Davis’ entry, the “Claremont Galactic Space Viewer,” was the winner, giving him the coveted first place in line to take home the telescope. He opted to let another family go first so that he could bring the telescope to share with his son’s Cub Scout Pack the following week.

The telescope will be lent out one week at a time to library cardholders aged 18 or over. A sign-up sheet can be found at the library. While on the waitlist, patrons can take advantage of the library’s collection of astronomy books, currently on display in honor of the telescope’s arrival.

Though the scope is on its first renting cycle, Ms. Bollinger and Mr. Wedel hope this initial spark of interest is a sign of good things, and more telescopes, to come.  

“We will evaluate the program after a year and see if there is a demand for another one,” Ms. Bollinger said. “I definitely see this as a partnership [with PVAA] that will continue to move forward.”

The Claremont Public Library is located at 208 N. Harvard Ave. For more information on the telescope-lending program, call 621-4902 or visit the Friends of the Claremont Library website at www.claremontlibrary.org.

—Beth Hartnett

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