Observing the night sky seems like it comes at a cost. Pricey equipment like telescopes and accessories like filters and eyepieces aren’t things people typically have just laying around. But it might not be as inaccessible as you might think.

What You Need To Know

  • Backpacks include telescope, books, other space exploration objects

  • Can be checked out of Erie County libraries for seven days at a time

  • Available to anyone with a library card (free for those who live, work, go to school in Erie County)

"Yeah, it's a bit of a walk," said Dan Lewandowski, manager of children’s services at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library's central branch. "But, I think it's really worth it."

The tiers, or stacks, of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library’s central branch are a maze in which these items can be found. Within the never-ending shelves is one to unlock the skies.

"So these are space exploration kits," Lewandowski explained, standing in front of a shelf with brightly colored backpacks.

Amid the contents are books, planispheres, and of course, a telescope.

"There's actually kind of a lot in such a small bag," he remarked.

These kits were put together by NASA and given to the library back in 2017 during the partial solar eclipse. Lewandowski only expects interest to grow surrounding April's total solar eclipse.

"I really love this. It's called a planisphere," Lewandowski said, grabbing a circular item from the bag. "So this one would be the constellations that you could see right here in Buffalo [...] What you're doing when you're moving this wheel around is you're matching it up to the time and date you're expecting to view the night sky."

The prize item isn't a solar telescope though, so you can’t use them to look directly at the eclipse.

"The most basic lens has, I believe, a 15 times magnification," explained Lewandowski.

That’s what eclipse glasses are for, which also given out for free at the library.

"Your child or someone in your family could just have all these questions about what's going on, and that's where something like this comes in," Lewandowski said. "So this could really be a stepping stone into a curiosity a child has or even- like I said, I'm 35. I checked out this stuff not that long ago. I went through a lot of it and learned a lot too."

The backpacks can be checked out seven days at a time, plus one renewal.

"Libraries are constantly evolving, changing to serve our communities and what our communities are interested in or what we can do to help them," Lewandowski said.

So whether it’s for a scouting troop, date night, or anything in between, Lewandowski says the library is here to serve.

"My thing that I think is really neat and interesting about space is that everyone seems to be really interested in it, but we all have different familiarities and backgrounds and comfort levels with science," said Lewandowski. "It does break down a lot of barriers of access into kind of exploring a hobby that you otherwise may not have the chance to get into."

Local libraries have a variety of resources for the upcoming eclipse. Check out your local branch online to see what’s available.