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Sewickley library chosen for unique program

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

From the icy waters of the arctic to the mysteries of prehistoric man, four books have been chosen as a part of a pilot program at two local libraries to connect discussion participants with science in their everyday lives.

Murrysville Community Library and Sewickley Township Public Library were chosen as two of 20 that will premiere a discussion series across the country called “Pushing the Limits” sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Dan Rockmore, a principal investigator who developed the series with the foundation, said he and a Portland filmmaker came up with the theme.

“How fast can you run, how high can you climb, how far can you go, those kinds of things,” he said.

Librarians across the country were chosen and traveled to Portland for a day-long seminar on how to lead the discussions and present information connecting science literature to the discussion groups.

Sewickley Township library director Mandy Luchs said the program, which starts Monday and continues monthly through June, hopes to build connections between science and reading.

“(The foundation) wants to show them that it's accessible to everybody and you can apply it to things that happen in your life,” she said.

Murrysville and Sewickley Township were suggested by former Westmoreland Library Network executive director Denise Sticha, said Murrysville library director Jamie Falo.

“This is something for them, the community. They were selected; it wasn't just the library, it was the community,” Falo said, adding that these groups, including ones as far away as California, Vermont and Utah, will give feedback on the themes, books and accompanying videos for the next implementation planned for 100 libraries.

The four books include different themes, like “Nature” for Monday's discussion at Sewickley Township and Tuesday in Murrysville featuring “When the Killing's Done” by T.C. Boyle.

Scientists try to eradicate unwanted animals from islands off the coast of California, said Charles Greenberg, who is moderating the discussions at both libraries.

“It's sort of like the Galapagos of the California,” he said. “(In the book), those three islands have had species invade and take over the native species,” said

Greenberg, who is also the Murrysville Community Library Foundation board president and Westmoreland Library Network board president.

The book examines how humans have impacted the environment and vice versa, the moderator said.

“There are human conflicts, that's how it relates to nature­—the competition of the species and the influence of human beings on changing habitats,” he said.

Having earned a doctorate in materials engineering from the University of Illinois, Greenberg has long worked toward literacy in a wide variety of subjects, including science.

“Literacy has to include science, technology, engineering and mathematics and I am intent on doing whatever I can to help bring that to people, that's why I'm involved in the library world because that's where learning goes on,” he said.

The theme of the May discussion is “Survival,” and includes the book “Arctic Drift” by Clive Cussler, which Rockmore said is about a female scientist who finds a way to engineer photosynthesis.

“I don't want to give too much away, but when a nefarious energy industrialist finds out about it, he wants to find a way to squash the idea or steal it,” Rockmore said.

The accompanying videos at each session are meant to connect to the theme, he said. For the May video, a family who is struggling to save their farm participates in combine demolition derbies.

“When you listen to them talk about the machines, it's obvious that they're engineers,” Rockmore said. “Most of us, if not all of us, are scientists in our daily lives.”

The farmers are hoping for the survival of their farm while also gunning for the survival of the machines in the demolition derbies, he said.

At both libraries, the programs will be limited to between 20 and 30 participants, so each person can contribute to the discussion.

The books are available for borrowing from both libraries once participants register.

Greenberg is excited to hear the contribution of readers.

“The rules are, the less I speak the more successful it is perceived to be,” he said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 724-836-6660.

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