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Children and Nature Network

Outreach in Libraries: The Children and Nature Network

Although every library needs outreach, not every library has a librarian doing it. Further investigation into the world of outreach in libraryland has yielded another dozen incredible examples for me. But one of the best learning opportunities I discovered was the Resource Library at Children & Nature Network.

What is The Children & Nature Network?

The Children & Nature Network is a non-profit co-founded by Richard Louv, author of well a known book advocating for outdoor play in children’s lives, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder.” Their mission is:

“[to lead] the movement to connect all children, their families and communities to nature through innovative ideas, evidence-based resources and tools, broad-based collaboration and support of grassroots leadership.”

The Research Library hosted by the Children & Nature Network is a digital collection of specifically curated academic research related to the multidisciplinary themes of nature’s impact on children. Not only that, but the two Children & Nature Network staff members who direct and curate for the library, respectively, are Dr. Cathy Jordan and Dr. Ruth Wilson. Neither holds a library degree, but both work hard to create a library that provides services and access to information, for all.

About the C&NN Research Library

To be fair, I knew about this resources from previous work I have done in environmental education. I still receive a regular e-mail called a “Research Digest” that keeps me updated on the library’s latest resources. So I reached out to Cathy Jordan, director of the Research Library, to learn more about how this resource was created and how this particular library engages in outreach to its patrons.

The Research Library started when Children & Nature Network started a little over a decade ago as a repository for white papers and other literature. It was created expressly for the Children & Nature Network to build on and provide access to existing research related to the mission of encouraging youth environmental education.

That work evolved as the Children & Nature Network and the movement grew – until Cathy Jordan met Executive Director Sarah Toffler. They came up with the idea to create a searchable database to build out the repository and provide access to more direct research. Slowly, they built a database with an online interface. As peer-reviewed research came out related to topics like environmental education, child development, and outdoor exposure, it was linked in the database – sometimes with direct access available to the resources.

Even if the paper is behind a paywall, Children & Nature Network purposefully provides a thorough summary (longer than an abstract) with key “sound bytes” to provide Children & Nature Network members with information for their work, advocacy, funding, or sharing needs.

Children & Nature Network’s Activation Drive

The Research Library’s mission is to bring accessibly information about the relevant scientific research out to constituents.  It is also to support and drive the initiatives of Children & Nature Network. Organizing content, creating an accessible website, and developing valuable summaries are all ways that this library brought its resources closer to patrons.  But, “it was still passive,” Jordan explains.

Jordan’s background in Land-Grant extension work has provided her with this keen perspective on outreach, to “activate” the research, namely her collection.

The Research Digest is a way of bringing resources to constituents. With brief, descriptive headers, and organized by thematic category, the Research Digest disseminates the great work and resources of the Children & Nature Network Research Library. Signing up for the email meant that members of Children & Nature Network were directly receiving the most up to date information to their inbox, regularly, and thus able to act upon it or incorporate it into their own work, all the faster. Also, soon more infographics (including the references!) will be available from Children & Nature Network to help ‘activate’ the research and bring resources to the constituents.

Outreach Takeaways

When doing outreach for the library, Jordan’s goal is to “create an active and engaged pathway” for constituents to interact with the research. She also wants to ‘activate’ the research she and Dr. Wilson curate. This is done by improving access through more meta-analyses, facilitating literature reviews, and using other “synthesis” methods.

This library’s unique development and purposefully active role in its home institution is an example of 21st-century librarianship at its best.  New technology and new needs in the information landscape provide opportunities like this for the next generation of librarians.

Adrienne Canino

Adrienne Canino

Adrienne Canino is a second-year student at the MSLIS program at the iSchool. She has a B.S. and M.S. in Environmental Studies, and currently works in a non-profit that focuses on youth development through environmental conservation work in Syracuse. She enjoys joining her love of science education and outreach with her zeal for information literacy.

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