Grove City Library: The Evolution of Science Fair Research
Anne Libby, State Library of Ohio
The Grove City Library has always seen a fair amount of traffic from middle school students around science fair time. Students are generally in grades 5-8 with a few 4th graders thrown in to the mix. However, the science fair traffic patterns have changed in recent years – as have the research questions themselves.
According to Bethanne Johnson, Reference Librarian at the Grove City Public Library, they don’t receive the huge volume of students they did several years ago. While speculative, Johnson wonders if the decrease in the number of students participating in science fair reflects the increased focus on proficiency testing. This decrease has led to the elimination of special displays in the library during science fair time – a time Johnson says no longer seems to span the traditional mid-October to late February part of the year.
Johnson also points out the types of questions have changed over the years. She notes, “Students frequently pursue consumer-related questions. Which popcorn pops best? Which paper towel performs best? Which soda do other kids like most?” Another interesting trend parallels the current worldwide focus on the environment. “Something that has shown up in the last few years is an interest in recycling and energy efficiency.”
According to Johnson, students for the most part come into the library with Internet sources already in hand simply searching for the required print sources for their bibliographies. This enables their reference staff to provide them with books, periodicals, and the opportunity to introduce them to online databases. Overall, Johnson notes the science fair projects reflect many of the same changes that homework in general has shown. “Kids and their parents are in a hurry. If librarians could just hand over the finished package, that would be really terrific for a lot of busy people! But librarians still love to teach kids how to do the research for their projects. It's a valuable tool they will be able to use for the rest of their lives.”
When asked about where she saw science fair research at the library heading into the future, Johnson had this to say, “The push is on for a renewed emphasis on science, math and technology education. Real, hands-on science gives students the opportunity to see science in action. Showing kids that science is exciting, interesting and alive is a great way to encourage young scientists.” This evolution of science fair research is one the library community needs to be ready to meet head on.