Citizen science is a growing trend in which community members of all ages and backgrounds engage in real, hands-on scientific activity. Citizen science projects vary from monitoring water quality, tracking wildlife and insect species, analyzing and classifying images of galaxies, and so much more. Community members use the same process as professional scientists to make observations and collect, share, and analyze data so the data can be trusted and used by scientists around the world. Due to their hands-on nature and community focus, citizen science projects are a great way for libraries to encourage scientific engagement in their communities.
Biodiversity is an important marker for an ecosystem’s health. Healthy ecosystems ensure natural sustainability for all life forms and can better withstand and recover from a variety of disasters. Use your smartphone and clip-on lenses to take and share detailed pictures of nature and help create a living record of life on Earth. By recording and sharing your observations on iNaturalist, you’ll create research-quality data for scientists working to better understand and protect nature.
Pollinators are animals that assist plants in their reproductive cycles and are critical to the world’s food supply. In recent years their populations have suffered severe declines, especially among honeybee colonies. The Great Sunflower Project engages volunteers to help scientists understand and respond to changes in pollinator populations and the types of flowering plants that pollinators prefer from wherever they are.
Participants simply observe any flowering plant for less than 15 minutes, count and identify the pollinators that visit the plant, then log data online as instructed.
*Anyone allergic to bees, insects, poison ivy, etc, should use this kit with caution.
Libraries can download, print, and display interactive posters and fliers to generate thinking around the topic of citizen science.
Participating libraries can also find local project leaders, citizen scientists or related subject matter experts to invite to their library or community meeting place (in person or virtually). Typically, members of the scientific community engaged in citizen science will be eager to talk about their work and the library can be an excellent outreach venue for them. Who might be interested in giving related talks, activating a citizen science project, or demonstrating a project they lead or participate in? There are many ways to find them:
Different opportunities present themselves within the academic library setting. In this context, citizen science not only works to create a sense of community and increase science literacy, it is a versatile tool for the academic mission of teaching, research and community engagement at all levels. This section will help you think through the many roles academic librarians can play in promoting citizen science at their institutions and in the greater community, from supporting existing citizen science efforts to introducing citizen science to faculty interested in demonstrating aspects of scientific research and bolstering curricular concepts and skills for students through active participation in real scientific research.
Collaborate with Faculty
There are thousands of citizen science projects covering myriad scientific disciplines. Create opportunities for demonstrating to faculty how citizen science can be a versatile teaching tool, providing opportunities to incorporate discipline-agnostic concepts/activities such as observation, analysis, reporting and communicating.
While citizen science is not limited to any particular discipline, existing projects and practitioners trend toward the life sciences and environmental sciences, so this may be the logical place to start. Participation in citizen science can range from a single data collection activity, seasonal activities or ongoing activities not tied to a calendar. In addition, many projects are completely virtual. Here’s an example of how North Carolina State University invites all students and faculty to engage: SciStarter.org/NCSU-home.
Citizen science can be incorporated into the curriculum to support a number of course learning objectives. Offer to work with faculty to identify projects that can be used to teach one or more of the following:
Learn more about how faculty are utilizing citizen science in the Citizen Science Association’s webinar series on Citizen Science in Higher Education: bit.ly/HigherEdCSA.
SciStarter is a globally acclaimed, online citizen science hub where more than 3,000 projects, events and tools have been registered by individual project leaders or imported through partnerships with federal governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and universities. As a research affiliate of Arizona State University (ASU) and a popular citizen science portal, SciStarter hosts an active community of over 100,000 registered citizen scientists and millions of additional site visitors.
SciStarter organizes information about projects, events and tools, sharing the combined offerings through digital tools, such as embeddable Project Finder widgets used by media partners (including PBS and Discover), libraries, museums and other organizations like the National Science Teachers Association. SciStarter works with the Girl Scouts of the USA, National Geographic, school districts, colleges and universities, and other organizations to connect them to citizen science. The projects and events on SciStarter.org represent a wide array of topics and research programs that participants can engage in anywhere, anytime, just once or on an ongoing basis.
SciStarter Online Training Tutorials
Staff can complete a two-part, self-guided, online training tutorial developed by the National Library of Medicine, Arizona State University and SciStarter, designed to help increase knowledge and confidence in citizen science.
Upon completion of both parts, staff will earn badges and professional development credits from the Medical Library Association (limited time offer).
The Library and Community Guide to Citizen Science
This guide provides a general introduction to citizen science, explores ways libraries can catalyze and support citizen science engagement, highlights resources to find local citizen science projects, and provides tips to connect your existing programs and communities to projects on SciStarter.org.