How to Start an Adopt-A-Library Program


In an “Adopt-A-Library” program, individuals or groups work with a library, either public or private to provide chemistry programs or resources to support the institution. It can be anything ranging from one ACS member doing a demonstration program in one library, to dozens of members conducting programs at libraries in an entire region. An Adopt-A-Library program can be held in conjunction with a library book sale or fair (usually a large audience draw) or be done over the summer during a summer reading program. It can be a single program for a group, a series of hands-on activity tables at an open house, or the sponsorship of a journal or publication subscription for the library. It can be tailored to fit any library’s space, facilities, audience and style. It can be offered at any time of the year/several times throughout the year!

Keys to Success

If you are doing a demonstration program or open house, whether you are making plans for yourself or a large group of volunteers, a good way to get started is to make a “kit” of ideas and supplies that you can have on-hand and ready to use. Even if you are doing a program by yourself, a kit saves you from having to figure out what to do each time you receive a request to speak and it can be shared with other volunteers. The kit can be created by an individual or by a group; the more involved the activities and program, the more a collaborative group can help to work out the details, assess safety, time required, and, in general, work out any concerns. A kit does not have to be expensive. Many of the activities that would be appropriate in a library can be conducted using household and recycled materials. However, a kit should include activities that are safe, robust, and durable for storage. Many activities found at Science for Kids are good candidates for library programs.

Steps on How to Start an Adopt-A-Library Program

  • Talk with others in your ACS local section to find out what is already or being planned for chemistry outreach programs in your area (such as National Chemistry Week (NCW), Chemists Celebrate Earth Day (CCED), Volunteer in a Classroom). Pool resources and ideas as much as possible.
  • Consider your resources. How much money (if any) can you afford to spend on supplies and/or subscriptions? Would you have financial support from your employer or local section?
  • Contact the Manager at your local library. If your library is part of a larger library system, you may want to identify a contact at the main office. 
  • Find out what type(s) of programs or sponsorship they would like - programs for children, programs for adults, magazine or journal subscription(s).
  • For sponsorship of a magazine or journal subscription or the gift of a book, identify the title(s) that the library would prefer—particularly books or subscriptions related to chemistry or science. Find out if the library has a mechanism in place for receiving monetary gifts and/or items for their collection.
  • For chemistry-related programs, find out what type of a program your library would be interested in (weekly or monthly demonstration program for children, adults or families, open house, etc.).
  • Discuss the library’s resources¾size of room/facility, tables & chairs, access to sink, hours, rules, and scheduling policies.
  • Contact colleagues and friends¾recruit volunteers.
  • Determine a theme or topic for your program such as polymers, states of matter, or the chemistry of the environment. Consider making different kits for different themes.
  • Gather ideas for activities; use resources such as Science for Kids, books, and friends. Keep the activities inexpensive, safe, and reasonably clean. 
  • Try out various activities and determine what works well and is fun. Consider how the activity will be conducted for your audience. Will it be a demonstration? Can it be done as a hands-on activity by everyone in the program? Should you break participants down into small groups for certain activities?
  • Write detailed notes on the activities you have selected¾include the materials required, steps needed to complete the activity, and an explanation of what is going on.
  • Gather up the needed supplies for your expected audience. (It is helpful to ask the library to have participants register for the program so you can accurately predict the number of attendees.)
  • If you have financial resources available to your program, an alternative to developing your own activities and kits would be to purchase pre-made kits. Various scientific and educational companies offer activity kits. The American Chemical Society has a number of Kids & Chemistry kits containing hands-on activities. They are available for purchase through the ACS online store.
  • Consider having a take-home item for participants. It could be something that was done during the program or a hand-out with other activities to try at home. If the activity is done for NCW or CCED, contact your local NCW or CCED coordinator for copies of the newspaper activity publication to distribute.
  • If you have helpers or volunteers, take the time to train them before the program.
  • Help the librarian promote the program—post flyers, contact the local newspaper and schools, etc.
  • Engage your audience in the activities and have fun!
  • Celebrate your achievement. Let others in your local section know of your Adopt-A-Library experience.

Additional Resources

  • - the website of the American Library Association. 

Success Stories

Cleveland Section - Hands-on Library Demonstration Programs

For over 10 years, the Cleveland Section has been conducting hour-long, hands-on demonstration programs at libraries for students in grades 2-5 in celebration of National Chemistry Week (NCW).  Starting in May, the NCW Planning Committee, a group of 8-10 volunteers, gets together to start discussing plans for NCW.  Meeting every 2 to 3 weeks through the summer, the Planning Committee chooses a theme (which usually coincides with the NCW theme), writes up a brief description that can be used to promote the program, contacts volunteers (who schedule their demonstration dates/times directly with the librarians at the various library branches), works on developing the hands-on demonstrations (which need to meet the requirements for safety, cleanliness, and cost), writes up a detailed script for the program, purchases all of the supplies, puts together all of the kits (each kit has enough supplies for up to 30 students plus the demonstrator), and holds a training session for volunteers.

In 2004, the Cleveland Section volunteers conducted about 70 presentations in 33 libraries, 14 schools, the NASA Glenn Visitor Center, and various other locations, and provided 30 kits to area teachers at a regional teacher conference.  The kits are almost entirely self-contained so that volunteers do not have to remember to bring anything from home (except maybe paper towels and a bucket for clean-up).  In addition, safety and cleanliness are of the utmost importance since many of the libraries and other locations have nice, carpeted meeting rooms. The kits also have a requirement for "robustness" since they are prepared a month or more in advance! 

Even after more than 10 years, the programs of the Cleveland Section continue to grow.  The success is attributable to the creativity, enthusiasm, and dedication of the volunteers that make it all happen.  For more information on the Cleveland Section’s library and other outreach programs, see their website at

Columbus Section - NCW Library Event
at the Columbus Metropolitan Library & Chemists Celebrate Earth Day Library Display

The main library event for the Columbus Section has been the NCW celebration at the Columbus Metropolitan Library from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on a Saturday during NCW.   The Columbus Section has a local chemical company sponsor the “COSI on Wheels” program, the traveling exhibit/hands-on-activities from the Columbus Center of Science and Industry (COSI).  Volunteers from the ACS Columbus Section, industry, colleges, and high schools are invited to participate. 

The Columbus Metropolitan Library Auditorium has a dozen tables filled with activities and exhibits.  Six tables are covered by the COSI program and the remaining six with Columbus Section “Professor Jeff’s” presentation of Kids & Chemistry activities including the activities from Celebrating Chemistry that match the NCW Theme.

The activities from national chemistry week celebrations serve as the literature supporting the material kits at each station so that volunteers have step-by-step guidance for the activity as well as an age-appropriate explanation of the chemistry principles being demonstrated.  This literature and the Chemists in the Library (CITL) book and electronic resource lists are tremendous tools for starting new library relationships.

The Columbus Section’s library activities have expanded with a two to four week Chemists Celebrate Earth Day (CCED) display around April 22.  CCED literature, including the CITL resource list, and other ACS Earth Day items, such as the “Air: Here, There, Everywhere” kite kits, earth squeeze balls, and bookmarks are provided free to library patrons.  To help build this relationship and demonstrate the ACS resources available, items and literature are given directly to the library management and staff as well.  The library has been enthusiastic about providing books on theme to surround the earth day display and allowing distribution of ACS materials.

In all of the events, the section tries to prominently advertise the website resources through the ACS website. We also point everyone to the Science for Kids resources.