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Library Notes: Everyday people helping find solutions with citizen science

By P.L. Stiles

Rowan Public Library

With a news cycle that creates more chaos and distress than enlightenment, do you ever wonder how the human race will ever find its way out of the mess we are creating? The truth is, everyone can help, and participating in citizen science offers one way to do that.

What is “citizen science” anyway? Dictionary.com defines it as “the collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.”

Members of the general public? Hey, that’s all of us! It requires little or no experience, makes great school projects, and offers an engaging new hobby or takes an existing one to a new level. Rowan Public Library has resources that explain what citizen science is, what kinds of projects people work on, what it is like to participate and how to get involved.

Whatever age group or passion, there is a citizen science project to tap into. There are projects in art, history, zoology, medicine, astronomy, biology, the environment, all kinds of fields of interest. Some folks measure rain and snow each day to help watch for disastrous conditions or to know when to water their farms and help their neighbors do the same. Some folks review satellite data and map regions to help emergency crews and supplies arrive in case of catastrophe. Some people count birds, flowers, fish, or furry critters in the wild to help life scientists find and monitor species of interest.

For an overview of the kinds of citizen science projects that folks engage in, check out the series, “The Crowd & The Cloud” from American Public Television. It is found in the Films on Demand collection in NC Live, which you can access with your library card and PIN.

The series offers an insight into the valuable role that everyday folks play in doing broad-scale research locally as well as globally. There are stories from folks already engaged in projects, from ranchers in Colorado measuring rain to college students mapping satellite photos in Nepal, large-scale research projects that could not otherwise be accomplished.

Books in RPL’s collection offer interesting perspectives from those who currently participate in citizen science projects. Akiko Busch’s book “The Incidental Steward” and “Citizen Science: How Anyone Can Contribute to Scientific Discovery” by Kathryn Hulick discuss the experience of participating, and the myriad of ways one can participate — from fieldwork such as observing and photographing nature specimens to analyzing photos and data and sharing results over the web. These books and others can be checked out from RPL via curbside checkout.

Several websites allow you to search for projects that interest you. Zooniverse, at zooniverse.org, offers an engaging and searchable site for finding all kinds of citizen science opportunities. One favorite project involves looking at old pictures of proud fishers and their fish catches to help record fish populations, then and now. NC Wetlands, at ncwetlands.org, provides a listing of North Carolina opportunities for finding projects that fit your interest, skill level, and time availability.

You don’t have to be a scientist to have fun engaging in citizen science. Making a difference can be as simple as participating in Rowan County Creek Week’s Town Creek Cleanup on Saturday, Aug. 22. Visit rowancreekweek.org for details on participating. Getting fresh air, taking care of our local water, and having fun in nature (safely, of course) is surely the best way to get a taste of how enjoyable citizen science can be.

Paulette Stile is adult services librarian at the South Rowan Regional Library.

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