Implementing Citizen Science in Libraries

Librarians know that libraries can act as community centres, bringing people together. Using that uniting advantage, libraries can play a vital role in citizen science with involving volunteers, supporting researchers and offering the library as a meeting place for the public and scientific communities. It helps spread information, work together and create innovation via citizen science activities. It is important to adjust the knowledge you have gained about citizen science to the current setting in your institution because what works in one library, may not be so successful in another.

Drivers and barriers of citizen engagement

In 2022, LibOCS project partners investigated the drivers and barriers of implementing citizen science activities in libraries. The experience and opinion of librarians, students and researchers were collected and published in report “Drivers and barriers of citizen engagement in open science and the role of university libraries in the Baltics”. Click here to view a short presentation about the report.

The main drivers that were identified were librarians’ good data management and digital literacy skills, a large network of contacts, seeing library as a physical meeting place, presence of internal library repositories, and presence of established and trusted communication channels in libraries.

On the other hand, there were areas that need further upskilling. The main barriers identified were lack of knowledge about citizen science, lack of knowledge about libraries’ services and potential among researchers, not enough visibility of citizen science projects, lack of workforce in libraries, universities priorities lying elsewhere, lack of experience and specific skills regarding citizen science, and lack of ideas in general.

As you can see, some of the barriers can be more easily overcome than others. While studying what renowned authors and institutions have written is simply up to you, transferring the knowledge and making a change in your institution is something completely different and LibOCS partners have witnessed it first-hand.

The video “Beyond the Shelves: Embarking on Citizen Science with your Library” by LibOCS project partner UT Library shows how to make first connections with librarians and get to know the role of university libraries in citizen science.

Roles and Skills

The possible roles for libraries in citizen science projects are explained in the paper “Defining the role of libraries in the Open Science landscape: a reflection on current European practice”. It suggests that libraries should:

  • develop their skills on open and citizen science;
  • should take leader role on open science field in the university and advocate the topic on any level;
  • should create infrastructure for offering support services (technology, staff, resources).

The article “Merry work: libraries and citizen science” highlights important new opportunities for libraries by analysing the roles they could potentially play in citizen science projects. It describes some case studies from university libraries where citizen science has already been embraced.

Sometimes libraries are the first institution in university dealing with citizen science. This includes advocacy as a trigger for discussion and reflection, within your institution and to help to begin to frame a strategy for supporting public engagement. The toolkit “Introducing Public Engagement” shows how universities can embed public engagement in their work.

It is obvious that libraries must face different challenges when implementing citizen science practices. In the webinar “Libraries and the Valorisation & Dissemination of Citizen Science Results” topics like metadata management and terminology used to describe Citizen Science as science are discussed with scientists and librarians.

A course “Research Data Management and Publishing” offers tips to researchers and librarians how to work with open research data, and the article “9 things to make citizen science data FAIR” offers tips to research librarians’ who are supporting citizen science projects.

But librarians can also take a leader role and libraries can start their own project in addition to supporting researchers. A good practice of planning a project is explained in the article “Citizen Science: A Developing Tool for Expanding Science Knowledge and Scientific Literacy”, which focuses on and describes the nine stages of project development, supplemented by practical examples. These nine stages are:

  1. choosing a scientific question;
  2. forming scientist/educator/technologist/evaluator team;
  3. developing, testing, and refining protocols, data forms, and educational support materials;
  4. recruiting participants;
  5. training participants;
  6. accepting, editing, and displaying data;
  7. analyzing and interpreting data;
  8. disseminating results;
  9. measuring outcomes.

A comprehensive “Manual for Citizen Scientists Starting or Participating in Data Collection and Environmental Monitoring Projects” outlines practical suggestions for how to design and carry out a citizen science project.

An example from Spain shows how “Public libraries embrace citizen science: Strengths and challenges”. During the project more than 30 public librarians from Barcelona area learned about citizen science, created small projects in the libraries and involved public to be part of research process. There are good real life examples in the article to start implementing citizen science practices in public libraries.

It is safe to say that SciStarter is familiar to anyone that has any interest in citizen science. It offers citizen science kits, projects and trainings, helps with establishing connections with scientists and gives tips on communication and marketing. In, thousands of projects are ready to join in, offering inspiration and online trainings for librarians. The webinar “Introduction to Citizen Science in Libraries – National Library Network Webinar Series” has a good overview of services what SciStarter offers.