Citizen Science, Libraries, and Public Access

I’ve been brainstorming some concerns about libraries and citizen science for a current writing project. On the face of it citizen science and libraries seem to be made for each other. Libraries want to provide access to as many patrons as possible, citizen scientists have research questions that may need the help of skilled information professionals. Perfection, right.

But there are some flies in the ointment, as there always are. Reginald Smith wrote a blog post about the enclosure of libraries in August 2011. His complaint, and it is one I’ve noted too, is that more and more university and academic libraries are closing off their collections to public users. I can remember walking into the University of Minnesota library during the 1980s and copying articles for a high school project without problem; I just needed to know the name of the journal I wanted. But electronic access has changed some of that. Nowadays one needs an online account to access the computers inside of many academic libraries. I don’t know how liberal the journal access policies are, but I suspect that they are more locked-down than in the past. Before you only needed access to the stacks and a copier, now you need an account and access to the internet, which isn’t as easy to get. This may be an interesting project to investigate in more detail, perhaps a survey of library policies, or of library administrators would answer the question in more empirical detail.

Todd Suomela
Associate Director for Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship Department

My interests include digital scholarship, citizen science, leadership, and communications.