In the wake of the recent U.S. election, we’ve started these “Friday Action Item” posts with ideas about specific things you can do to support science — from calling Congress to helping crowd-fund a cool new research project. Got a suggestion for a future Action Item? E-mail and tell us all about it!
Among many other accomplishments, Benjamin Franklin — the American Founding Father who’s probably nearest and dearest to most scientists’ hearts — was instrumental in founding what was arguably the first public library in what would become the United States. Today libraries are one of the most remarkable commonplaces of U.S. society, publicly supported institutions that make information available to anyone, for free.
The library Franklin founded was closely tied to scientific work, including in its collection zoological and botanical specimens, fossils, and technical apparatus — and to this day, the libraries of public research universities provide access for anyone who wants to read new scientific publications. Some of my own first encounters with peer-reviewed “primary” scientific literature were in the stacks of libraries, browsing the bound back issues of research journals. As most journals have gone online, actually going into a physical library is probably pretty rare for most of us, but the subscriptions and servers that make digital publications available to us all have their roots in campus libraries.
So that’s your Friday action item: take some time this week to visit a publicly accessible library, on campus or off. Browse the shelves. (The Dewey Decimal code for Biology is 570; Genetics and Evolution are under 576, and Ecology is 577.) Pull something down, find a seat, and read for a bit. Chat up a librarian and ask if there’s any way you can be of service. Or just be a good, quiet library patron. Like a lot of public spaces, libraries need our civil, civic-minded solidarity now more than ever.