What is Beginner's Mind

Having 'Beginners mind' is to approach a subject enthusiastically, with openness and without preconceptions, even if you are an expert. It represents a willingness to ask questions and challenge assumptions; both essential to the scientific process.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Helping your child LOVE science

Public libraries are very comfortable helping parents understand the keys to early literacy.  Everyone wants their child to learn to read.   But, librarians are largely absent in the effort to help children achieve science literacy.  Often, librarians and parents are struggling to overcome their own science anxiety when a child asks for homework help.  Here are a few tips for both parents and librarians to encourage children to love science.
Adult and child sampling aquatic wildlife

All young children love Science.  But by Middle School, many have developed “science anxiety” preventing them from learning and enjoying these subjects.  How can you help your child keep that early enthusiasm and sense of wonder?

Here are a few tips:
  • What you say to your child is important.   The National Science Teachers Association says that parents often transmit their attitudes and expectations about science to their children.
If you tell your children “I never liked science in school or “I got my worst grades in science” you convey the expectation that science classes will be boring or difficult, or worse, that you accept low performance in science.  On the other hand, if you say “I wish I could do that experiment with you” or “I’m so glad you are having the opportunities I missed,” you will open doors for your child.  (NSTA, 2012)

  • “Let’s find out!”  Young children have a million questions; you can’t know all the answers.  But you have a role in empowering your children to explore.  And you have the opportunity of being a science role model by working with your child to discover the answers.
  • “That’s cool!” A big part of science is observing.  Pointing out interesting science things in your daily life can lead to asking great science questions.  So, take a close look at that bug before you squash it.
  • “Remember when…” Tie science into what they know. “Remember when you saw that horseshoe crab on the beach?  Here is a baby one.”
  • “I wonder…” Have science discussions at home around the dinner table. Have you heard any science news?  Ask open ended questions and find out what your child wonders about.
  • Start with your child’s personal interests. There is science in everything.  Learning is more powerful when you see how it relates to something you like.
  • Find science in something you love. Many adults have their own science anxiety to deal with.  But, we often use science without realizing it.  Conquer your own fear of science by becoming aware of those times you use science and love it.  Are you a bird watcher or a gardener?  Do you hunt or fish?  Do you like sports or work out at the gym?  Do you sew or build things?  Do you keep track of the weather?  There is science in all of these activities.  Show your kids that science is everywhere.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Citizen Science in Public Libraries--What are we doing?

It has been two months now since we have been doing Science at our branch of the public library.  And, I keep asking myself the question, “what are we doing here”?  There is a lot of excitement and positive feedback from the community--adults, teens and children alike.  Some people come in just to see the horseshoe crabs.  The littlest kids always visit the tank before going to the play area.

But, we are not teachers, nor do we pretend to be.  We are librarians, eager volunteers, members of the public.  We are all experiencing the horseshoe crabs as a community, as we go along.  We all contribute what we know.   Debbie, who has worked in a research lab but not as a PhD, contributes her approach to lab work.  Paul contributes his knowledge of how machines work (why does the back up pump for the tank go on when the power goes off?)  Joan brings in photos of the time she saw horseshoe crabs on the beach so the kids can see them.  The kids make observations (What IS that red ball in the tank that is the size of a crab egg)?  But, we are all doing science.  We are all modeling the best aspects of lifelong learning.

What are the librarians doing?  We are acting as a focal point for discussion.  We are listening and participating in the dialog.  We are suggesting ways to find out.  We are asking questions as well and showing that it is OK to not know.  Asking the question is the most important thing.  Then we can focus on where answers may be found.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Citizen Science Communication

     I just participated in a number of back to school events with parents, teachers, principals and students.  There seems to be a push for “Project Based Learning”, where the whole school is involved in a project and teachers from various disciplines create curriculum that relates to the project. (I am most familiar with our local Friends school that has been adopting PBL for a numberof years.  One year, they monitored thewater quality of a local creek and had math, history and writing assignmentsthat related to this project.) Two of the schools that use our public library will beinvolved in projects having to do with the Chesapeake Bay.  I mentioned that my library branch is raising horseshoe crabs.  And we talked about all the cool, free resources that our state provides for the Horseshoe Crabs in the Classroom program, I was amazed to find that none of the teachers or principals were aware of it.  This raises a huge question, “How do we let teachers know about wonderful resources that are available to them?” 
Testing for ammonia in the Horseshoe crab tank

     But, as I thought about it, communication is an issue throughout many of the Citizen Science projects that I am aware of. As my branch has settled into our horseshoe crab project, we have realized that in order to keep the kids and the adults in the community engaged, we need to show them how raising the crabs, and our observations of them, are being used by real scientists.  This feedback loop, unfortunately, takes some additional commitment from already stressed researchers.

     Actually, I think that scientists themselves have difficulty planning the communication piece into their research.   The concept of  "Team Science" (collaborative research among far flung scientists) has proven to be very effective but it is fully dependent upon scientists communicating with each other.  In addition, community acceptance of science and scientific credibility depends upon the scientists being able to communicate their findings with the public.    So, this is a skill that future scientists really need to develop. 

     Citizen science has the ability to fully engage communities in the scientific process, but we are just at the beginning of tapping its potential.  There are a lot of citizen science projects and resources out there. (And I hope to expand my list of them in the Resources section of this blog.) However, we need to have more effective ways of getting people involved and keeping them involved in longer term projects.  Incorporating communication into the process is a big part of the answer.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Informal Science Education: a new beginning for Beginnersmind

File:Horseshoe Crab.jpg - Wikimedia Commons commons.wikimedia.org
All the business publications say that you need to be able to reinvent yourself in your career to stay fresh.  I find that this is very true if you want to stay in the same organization for any length of time.  My most recent career iteration came in the form of horseshoe crabs.

We are now raising horseshoe crabs at the Whiteford Branch of the Harford County Public Library and are the first library to do so under the "Raising Horseshoe crabs in the classroom project" of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.  This has been a huge boost for librarians and patrons alike with over 1,000 people visiting the tank in the first month.  The tank sits right in the middle of the reference desk and gives librarians a wonderful opportunity to engage in informal science education.   We will be raising the crabs for a year and then releasing them into the ocean at Sandy Point State Park in May.  In the meantime, children in Grades 3-8 will help maintain the tank and submit data to the State.

Scientific literacy: Parents and children. The latent interest in science among both children and adults has been a revelation to me.  Most interesting is watching the interactions between parents and children.  The parents seem to play an extremely important role in helping children process new information by providing context to the science encounter.
"Remember, we saw horseshoe crabs on the beach last summer" is a common theme.

The children also seek to validate the importance of the experience by showing their parents.
"Dad, come look at the horseshoe crabs" (this a a point where parents can make or break the experience.)
 The cultural (social) validation (science is important, curiosity should be encouraged) seems to be corroborated by some scientific studies (Callanan, 2001).

Active Science and the Library  We are trying to make the horseshoe crab program an active scientific project for our patrons.  We have journals in which they can note observations.  The children actively are involved in performing chemical tests on the saltwater tank (we test for salinity, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, pH and temperature) and in feeding the crabs.  So far, the participants in the testing and feeding process have been much more likely to monitor the progress of the crabs on subsequent visits to the library. We are exploring other ways to replicate this active participation in science and are exploring several "Citizen Science" projects to participate in.

Raising Horseshoe Crab (awareness) takes a community. In addition, adults have been very active in supporting the educational process as well.  One family brought in horseshoe crab shells that they collected from the beach.  Another brought in personal photos of the annual horseshoe crab mating that showed the vast numbers of eggs deposited and the many birds attracted to this food source.  Others have told their friends and neighbors about the project at the library.

New Directions for Beginnersmind  I hope to make this blog a record of some of the successes and failures of science in public libraries.   Over the weeks, I will be adding links to sources of Citizen Science activities and of course keep everyone up-to-date on how the horseshoe crabs are doing.  I also hope to identify some areas of potential research into science literacy and the role public libraries can play.

I also hope you will share any ideas and resources you find.

Callanan, M., & Jipson, Jennifer, L. (2001). Explanatory Conversations and Young Children’s Developing Scientific Literacy. In K. Crowley, C. D. Schunn, & T. Okada (Eds.), Designing For Science: Implications from Everyday, Classroom and Professional Settings (pp. 21–49). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Libraries and the value of free

One of the distinctive aspects of American public libraries is that they are free. In other countries, and during the times of the Founding Fathers, subscription libraries were the rule. However, both philanthropists and local governments soon realized the importance of access to information. The foundations of democracy depend upon an informed citizenry, so free libraries became one of the civilizing aspects of a community.

But now, there are many sources of information and entertainment that are approaching the "free" price point. Chris Anderson suggests that every industry that becomes digital becomes free. Google and the internet provide free news, information and entertainment. And, very low cost subscriptions such as Netflix or Hulu are within the reach of all but the very poorest as long as they have an internet device. In addition, e-books have significantly reduced the price of the novel. At the same time, public libraries, looking for new sources of revenue, may be charging for some items or jacking up their fines and fees. This does not appear to be a good strategy, in what Anderson calls an economy of abundance.

At my library, it is usually the poorest who end up with fines--often in the tens or even hundreds of dollars. So, at what point does a library cease to be free? How does this affect the library's value proposition? At what point is it cheaper for a patron to get a Netflix subscription rather than to check out movies from a library?

Total fines per day may be an excellent quality indicator--not how much we generate, but how little. I suggest that fines are a proxy for customer dissatisfaction. Their expectation when they come to the library is that they can check out items for free. Fines, although probably necessary, indicates a failure to make it easy for the customer to return their items on time. And, fines make it easier for our competitors to compete with us.

Chris Anderson's talk on "free" is available here: http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1815813330?bctid=1813637601

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Skills of the New Librarian

I have been reading about the Standards for the 21st century learner that children will need by the time they get through school and the impact that will have on librarianship. If we are demanding that our school children be able to not only use word processing, spreadsheets, publishing and presentation software but also blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 social media, it seems to me that all librarians should also be expected to use the same tools. (Standards in Action Draft, 2008) Further, how will we be poised to meet the information needs of these technologically proficient children when they enter adulthood.. What tools will we need to "organize and effectively display" information to meet their needs (RUSA Behavioral Guidelines, 2004)? Will this be through chat, RSS feeds, podcasts, v-casts and twitter? I hope we will at least be more successful understanding downloads to e-book readers than we have been with mp3 players.

And what of the skills of the digital librarian? A recent study(Choi & Rasmussen, 2006) came up with the following list of training gaps that current digital librarians felt that they had.
  • Overall understanding of complex interplay of software
  • Lack of vocabulary to communicate with technical staff
  • Knowledge of web-related languages and technologies
  • Web design
  • Digital imaging and formatting
  • Digital technology
  • Programming and scripting languages
  • XML standards and technologies, and
  • Basic systems administration.

These are all major skill sets that will need to be adopted by the average librarian. A number of our leaders have acknowledged this challenge and in my library we implemented Helen Blowers Library 2.0 initiative, where we used and blogged about 23 technology related things such as wikis, RSS feeds, social networking pages and the like. My observations during this process were that a few people dove right in and excitedly embraced the new social technologies. Most went through the process with distaste (or not at all) and often did not see the use of any of these new approaches.

My experience mirrors a study by Rabina (Rabina & Walczyk, 2007) who assessed the attitudes of librarians about adopting technology. They used an analysis of the diffusion of innovation in societies developed by E. M. Rogers in his book Diffusion of Innovations (Rogers, 2003). Rogers found that people fall into five categories in their approach to adopting innovation:

  • Innovators (2.5%)
  • Early adopters (13.5%)
  • Early majority (34%)
  • Late majority (34%)
  • Laggards (16%)

This, like most things in a population, approximates a bell curve. But when Rabina applied this to librarians, she found the following percentages:

  • Innovators (3.6%)
  • Early adopters (24.6%)
  • Early majority (17.2%)
  • Late majority (37%)
  • Laggards (17.7%)

The large number of early adopters and drop off in early majority population has several effects:

  • The preponderance of early adopters confuse the early majority by running off in different directions adopting different things.
  • The small number of early majority librarians are not enough to mentor the late majority into adopting new technologies causing a drop off in momentum.
  • The momentum loss may cause the adoption of technology in unproductive ways.

So, what does this mean for the profession? I suggest the following:

  1. Current leaders must at least develop at least intermediate level expertise (i.e., able to troubleshoot and coach) in all librarians in word processing, spreadsheets publishing and presentation software ( things that current high schoolers are expected to know). This will require more effort and time than usual due to the large numbers of late adopters and laggards.
  2. All librarians should understand RSS feeds, chat, twitter and any other Web 2.0 information flow that develops, since information flow is fundamental to the profession. Again, this will take time and resources.
  3. All librarians should have intermediate proficiency in hardware such as mp3 players, digital cameras and cell phones.
  4. All librarians should be developing at least basic proficiency in (be able to readily use) collaborative software such as chat, blogs, wikis and social networking. Organizations should adopt one or more of these technologies now and incorporate them into normal operations so that librarians can get experience using them.
  5. There should be a growing segment of the librarian population that can manipulate advanced forms of information communication and presentation: podcasts, website design, web languages etc.
  6. There should be a growing segment of the librarian population with an understanding of information systems. Perhaps joint degrees would be desirable.
  7. There should be a specific recruitment of librarian candidates who have a preference for technology, since we cannot afford to have a greater percentage of late adopters and laggards.


Choi, Y., & Rasmussen, E. (2006). What is needed to educate future digital librarians. D-Lib Magazine, 12(9) Retrieved from http://www.dlib.org/dlib/september06/choi/09choi.html

Rabina, D. L., & Walczyk, D. J. (2007). Information professionals' attitude toward the adoption of innovation in everyday life. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Conceptions of Library and Information Science--"Featuring the Future", , 12(4) papercolis12. Retrieved from http://informationr.net/ir/12-4/colis/colis12.html

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press.

RUSA Behavioral Guidelines. (2004). Guidelines for behavioral performance of reference and information service providers. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 44(1), 14-17. Retrieved from Full Text HTMLFull Text PDF HTML: http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/hww/jumpstart.jhtml?recid=0bc05f7a67b1790e1916ca00094d315af44ead79cfd5574583beed98dc22ac760596b6777653ce2e&fmt=H PDF: http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com/hww/jumpstart.jhtml?recid=0bc05f7a67b1790e1916ca00094d315af44ead79cfd5574583beed98dc22ac760596b6777653ce2e&fmt=P

Standards in Action Draft. (2008). Standards for the 21st century learner in action (draft 2) (American Association of School Libraries StandardsAmerican Library Association. (Standards in Action) Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/aaslproftools/standardsinaction/standardsinaction.cfm

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The library as a great good place

I'm probably a little late on the uptake here but I just discovered Ray Oldenburg's 1999 book The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. Oldenburg talks about the three places in a community: the first place is home, the second place is work, and the "third place" is the community hangout(s). Unfortunately, with the rise of the suburb, and the dominance of the automobile, these local hangouts--whether bars, barbershops, town squares, or cafes, are almost gone.

These third places are the bastions of informal public life; a place where you can meet neighbors from all walks of life, have discussions, blow off steam, escape family or work life and then return home. It is Oldenburg's hypothesis that communities without third places are impoverished. Third places are the places that create a sense of community; where
...people develop a fondness for each other and meet regularly...they will give each other things; loan tools, books and other objects, give of their time and labor on occasion and tell one another about useful sources of goods and services.
Lives without access to third places are not as happy as they could be because they are denied acess to an important source of support groups.

However, not all public meeting places are third places or "great good places". They must have the following attributes:

1. They are neutral ground. Individuals can come and go as they please and none are required to play host. But it is a place where people feel comfortable and at home.

2. Good conversation is at the core. Regulars keep the conversation flowing, but even the stranger may engage in the banter.

3. Regulars are crucial. Regulars set the whole tone, feeling and conviviality of the place. The regulars are more important than staff.
As Oldenburg says It is the regulars whose mood and manner provide the infectious and contagious style of interaction and whose acceptance of new faces is crucial. The host's welcome, though important, is not what really matters. p34
In fact, regulars are so important they may be extended privileges denied to other customers.

4. Plainness is important. That is to say that the decor of the place should discourage pretension and encourage a homelike environment.

5. The mood is playful.

6. All types of people are welcome. Although some traditional third places have excluded women, the whole point of a third place is one of inclusion, leveling and lack of pretension. The Midwestern German beer gardens of the early 1900, for example, included women and children!

So what does all this have to do with libraries???? Libraries may be the one local establishment left in suburbia where people can congregate. It is a place that has the potential to be a great good place if we allow it to be. If we

  • encourage people to linger and converse.
  • make things homey and not too pretentious
  • take care of our regulars
  • encourage a variety of people (including kids and teens)
  • keep it playful!