Improving ocean literacy with librariums

Written by on July 14, 2016 in Other News

By Astrid Hsu

Did you know that a recent study (Steel et al., 2005) found that only roughly a third of Americans know that their behaviors and actions directly impact the health of the oceans? While this statistic may be a bit disheartening, it’s refreshing to know that that same study also discovered that those who did have the knowledge were much more likely to support and engage in marine conservation. This illustrates the need to increase ocean literacy, and the very powerful force that knowledge can be.

Birch Aquarium. Photo credit: Astrid Hsu.

Birch Aquarium. Photo credit: Astrid Hsu.

In order to tackle this issue, I spent this past year exploring a concept of mine called the Librarium. A librarium is essentially a cross between a library and an aquarium: a facility with wall-to-wall aquarium tanks but with an interior similar to that of a library. It would house a wide selection of marine related literature—from picture books to academic journals—available to those who wish to learn more about what they see. This facility would give people the opportunity for an ocean experience regardless of geographic and/or financial obstacles. More than turning a profit, a librarium will give people a glimpse of the underwater realm, foster an appreciation for the aquatic environment in visitors, and motivate people to think and act in an environmentally responsible manner.

While this is great in concept, I set out test this program by using a three-pronged approach. First, I perused background literature to see if aquariums have a positive impact on the local and marine communities (i.e. increased learning, increased support for marine conservation, increased economy). After concluding a that aquariums do support the community, I then tested the librarium “program” by placing books in Birch Aquarium and observed changes in visitor behavior. This experiment showed that there is a notable change in behavior, meaning that there is a distinct librarium experience. Finally, I analyzed socioeconomic information (i.e. median household income, education level of a community) of libraries and aquariums to map out where establishing a librarium would make the greatest impact. To learn more about my project, watch my presentation here.

However, changing people’s mindset takes time—just one visit to the zoo or aquarium isn’t necessarily enough to cement change. However, with increased and consistent exposure to an aquatic environment, people are able to better gain an understanding and appreciation…and it might just make a difference for conservation. Can’t we strive to better understand and protect the ocean, to responsibly manage it for the next generation? I think we can, and establishing a librarium seems to be a great stepping stone to conquering such a feat.

Copyright © 2016 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

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