On a beautiful Fall, Saturday morning in Brunswick, Maine (a small mid-coast town known for Bowdoin College), the Curtis Memorial Library held its annual How-To Festival, which brings together local businesses, organizations, and individuals. Attendees shared their skills and knowledge of doing all things under the sun, ranging from activities that require highly specialized skills to those anyone can do, anywhere.
This year, participating library staff coordinators highlighted something right in the middle: citizen science. I am the Program and Library Support Manager of Cornerstones of Science, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping communities ignite the spark for science through the public library system. During the festival, our organization acted as a catalyst for science, presenting SciStarter to attendees and helping them find projects to participate in for themselves and their families.
The three-hour event brought people of all ages and interest to learn about print making, green screen videos, typing on a typewriter, setting a formal table, how-to call a strike (baseball), and how-to keep bees and worms (not together, of course) — just to name a few of the diverse activities. The specific citizen science opportunities included how to use a telescope and view the night sky (presented by a local astronomy club) and learning how-to document the changes in seaweed (the research of a university cooperative extension project). It was not only a joy to introduce people to citizen science who had never heard of it before, but to also help others find projects that they can engage in through the online SciStarter project finder.
Two experiences stand out for me from that day. While navigating through the project finder and asking a man about some of his interests, a bee project caught his attention. The Search for the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee project description and associated resource materials provided great insight for him; he was eager to use the resources to identify bees, planning to use this information to see if the bees at his northern Maine camp are the Rusty Patched type. Another woman described her young son’s interest in becoming an arborist. She gave a little chuckle and mentioned that she did not really know how to help him with that. I typed in “arborist” instead of “trees” into the SciStarter Project Finder search bar, and we came up with Curio. She could not have been more thrilled with this age-appropriate project for her son who loves trees.
At the How-To Festival and beyond, Cornerstones of Science works with libraries to create experiences of science that spark curiosity and foster a deeper connection with the world around us.
Want more citizen science? Check out SciStarter’s Project Finder! With 1100+ citizen science projects spanning every field of research, task and age group, there’s something for everyone!
Would you like to learn more about efforts to unite the Maker movement and Citizen Science?
SciStarter and Arizona State university hosted a Citizen Science Maker Summit in 2016 and published this white paper earlier this year.
We discovered that scientists struggle to discover low cost tools that could be applicable for their citizen science projects; makers and manufacturers struggle to make their tools discoverable; and citizen scientists struggle to discover and access the tools. As a result, SciStarter is building a Citizen Science Tools database that will be relational to our project database.
Citizen Scientists will be able to learn how to build, borrow, or buy the tool, based on information provided by the tool maker. With ASU, SciStarter is currently piloting the viability of loaning tools through public libraries. Six public libraries in the Phoenix, AZ region have citizen science kits in circulation now!
Sarah Post is the Program and Library Support Manager at Cornerstones of Science. Her work ranges from supporting librarians with their STEM efforts that will nurture interest in science to working with experts in the STEM fields to help make science more understandable and relevant to the general public.