Libraries leading the way in citizen science

In the session on "Decoding citizen science: Putting libraries in the public sphere," presented by IFLA's Science and Technology Libraries section during the World Library and Information Congress in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, 21-24 August, 2023, four public librarians described citizen science activities at their libraries.  

Vivienne Byrd, from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) shared her experience in transforming the library system’s branches into neighborhood science hubs, empowering people in the neighborhood to take part in fun and engaging activities while also explaining the science behind locally relevant issues. The neighborhood science kits the library offers lower the barriers to entry and allow the community to learn about these issues at their own pace.

She described the Globe Mosquito Habitat Mapper project, a collaboration between NASA and LAPL (among others), “Can NASA see mosquitoes from space?” One of the DIY NeiSci Circulating Kits focuses on mosquito larvae sampling, and the library patron can use the GLOBE Mosquito Habitat Mapper to report mosquito sightings and favorable habitat for mosquitoes to develop and live.

Mohamed Boufarss, the head of library operations at House of Wisdom in the United Arab Emirates, emphasised that citizen science would not be seen as important to the community without tailoring the activities for local needs, as he learned from the unsuccessful attempt with citizen science in the Abu Dhabi schools in 2016. He also pointed out that in order to decentralize citizen science, libraries should be promoted as primary partners among the local scientific communities from the beginning.

When he reviewed citizen science platforms, Boufarss identified English language dominance as a barrier to citizen science in the UAE. This fosters the belief that citizen science is not for those in the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries. Boufarss also surveyed UAE librarians and identified an absence of science skills along with financial and staffing limitations as barriers to citizen science programs in UAE libraries. However, most librarians surveyed did believe that citizen science would have a positive impact on their users.

Tara Cox, an assistant director of programs at the National Girls Collaborative Project in the United States, and the director of the National Citizen and Community Science Network (managed by SciStarter), through her experience with SciStarter showed how the library community promoting citizen science benefits everyone—increasing science literacy and public engagement for the general public, accelerating research by recruiting, training, and sustaining citizen scientists, and for libraries to offer locally relevant STEM opportunities for the community.

The goal of the Network is to build a sustainable and scalable citizen science programs by building the capacity of libraries to become community hubs for citizen science. It has online, self-guided training tutorials, monthly webinars, and guides and turnkey resources.  These trainings serve their goal of building the capacity of librarians and library staff in supporting citizen science. Cox also gave programming examples that libraries can use to engage communities and broaden participation in citizen science.

Maryam Moghadami, from the University of Tehran in Iran, reminded the participants of the importance of applying digital tools for high quality citizen science projects from her discovery in the Iranian context. The eight key areas are: data management, data collection, data quality, data quality assurance, data documentation, data discovery, data integration, data preservation, and data analysis.

Her content analysis of websites to identify digital tools used in public libraries to support citizen science revealed that tools such as 3D printing and fabrication and software labs are among the digital tools provided by public libraries.

From these four stories, the library community has proven to be ready to be the local partner of citizen science. Head to the library nearest you today and have a chat about citizen science with the librarians! Be sure to check out the SciTech Section’s webinars here as well!

A version of this article appeared in the September newsletter of the European Citizen Science Association