COVID has democratised data science and increasingly the public expect open data, research, and interpretation in more aspects of their lives. Who will be the ones to provide this knowledge for citizens? A proposed community publication The Citizen Science Guide for Research Libraries by the LIBER Citizen Science Working Group looks to explore these questions – putting forward that research libraries have the Open Science skills, infrastructures, and leadership to fulfil this role for the wider society. 

Research libraries have existed primarily to serve researchers from academe, but a battle has been going on for decades to open up research to all – starting with Open Access and open research literature with the Budapest Open Access Initiative nearly twenty years ago (Feb 2002) – and now with the Open Science movement where the whole research life cycle is open – for example data and software are now cited, not just literature. But even in Open Science the focus is still on the university employed researcher and very little is done to serve the public. 

COVID is a wake-up call to pay attention to the public demand for knowledge, and how and where  it is being used. Citizen Science is a way to learn about Open Science and the public are already using data, tools, and research in all part of their lives: in health and fitness people wear trackers and use apps for data analysis and sharing, or for running medical diagnostic tests; their homes are packed with ‘smart home’ sensors; communities and cities have energy and mobility data maps; climate protest youth want to know about climate models; people have become aware of data sovereignty and want to know about ethics and technical protection for personal security, even outer space has been democratized with micro-satellite launches, and the list goes on. 

The guide will look at activities that research libraries can carry out in Citizen Science, but also  look at how libraries can innovate these activities and grow their audiences to help make stronger ties between science and society. The guide will introduce issues of advocacy and strategy – but essentially Citizen Science has to be activity driven and participatory – and the framing is very well described by the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) in their Ten Principles of Citizen Science (2015), or in the UCLPress Open Access book Citizen Science Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy.

What is still a challenge is thinking about who are those citizens to be included in Citizen Science. These questions of increasing reach and depth of audiences are part of the change that COVID has brought about, but also other societal changes that have shifted the discourse window – the Infodemic (WHO/Wikipedia), Black Lives Matter and structural racism, gender equality and equity, and Fridays for Futures and climate change. The challenges for research libraries of understanding the widening audiences is multi-layered – looking at how to support researchers in their Citizen Science needs, or looking at the landscape of who a specific library could be addressing ‘outside of academia’, how many: societies, clubs, associations, community groups, professional bodies, retirees, start-up communities, or industry partnerships could they be servicing. 

Research libraries are diverse in all manner of ways – and there is no one-size-fits-all for Citizen Science. For the purpose of illustration the following are Citizen Science projects taking place either in research libraries, or which could benefit from integration to make use of library infrastructure, knowledge of good (Open) science practices, methods, and skills. 

  • Data, hardware, and open standards – Library Space Technology Network (LSTN) – ‘The LSTN project offers public library communities the chance to build and engage with space technology’, with opportunities to install a ground station, explore metadata, and engage in micro-satellites with MetaSat (a metadata vocabulary to describe satellite missions – especially SmallSats – and tools for easy implement and mission data sharing). An example ground station is at the Biblioteca Municipală “B.P. Hasdeu” Chișinău, Moldova. LSTN is a project by Wolbach Library in collaboration with Libre Space Foundation.
  • Personal data and Data SovereigntyDECODE is a research project that looked at ways for individuals to keep their data secure using a variety of hardware and software – including blockchain. Importantly the project championed data sovereignty and could be said to have brought the term into common public use as a reframing of ‘Smart Cities’. Projects such as DECODE have produced a wealth of DIY computing tools for Citizen Science to make use of.
  • Fitness and heathOpen Humans provides a web framework for the public and researchers to easily work with a wide variety of ‘quantified self’ tracking data and ensure high quality ethical data practices are adhered too.  

As a starting point the guide will use the four recommendations for Citizen Science from the LIBER Open Science Roadmap: infrastructures, good scientific practice, guidelines, and skilling. The guide is intended as a community publication and in this respect we are inspired by models such as The Turing Way  an ‘open data science’ publication. The guide is open to contributions and ideas  – large and small – if you have a suggestion head over to the call text on GitHub and leave a comment using


European Citizen Science Association. ‘Ten Principles of Citizen Science’. London, 2015.

Bowser, Anne, Aletta Bonn, Johannes Vogel, Mordechai Haklay, Susanne Hecker, and Zen Makuch. ‘Ten Principles of Citizen Science’, Citizen Science Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy, 2018. (pp. 27-40)

The Turing Way Community, Becky Arnold, Louise Bowler, Sarah Gibson, Patricia Herterich, Rosie Higman, Anna Krystalli, Alexander Morley, Martin O’Reilly, and Kirstie Whitaker. The Turing Way: A Handbook for Reproducible Data Science, 2019.


GenR editor Simon Worthington is Editor-in-chief of the community book publication The Citizen Science Guide for Research Libraries and Secretary of the LIBER Citizen Science Working Group.

Cite As

“Opening the Window of Discourse for Citizen Science.” Generation Research, 2021.

Images: Made from CC BY 4.0 | Thank you HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd (Design University) for a great open design resource