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Let's Hear It for Libraries

Ray Bradbury is trying to save his local library. Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 and zillions of other works is holding a fundraiser to help cash-strapped libraries in Ventura Country, California. In a New York Times profile of Bradbury's library work, Bradbury says, "Libraries raised me." I strongly identify with that remark -- I spent nearly every afternoon at the Venice Public Library in Venice, Florida, for the seven years of middle and high school. I did my homework there, read books there, and volunteered there, shelving and checking in books straight from the return slot (a very Zen practice, if you've never tried it). Hell, when it was time for college I went and got degree in Library Science! So despite my strong interest in all things internet and high-tech, I love the library. Libraries act as both social spaces and repositories of shared wisdom. We need libraries to survive in the digital age, because they are a rare public space devoted to learning and erudition, mixing generations, and providing invaluable research materials (yes, including materials not on the internet -- just try writing a magazine article for mental_floss and you'll realize how quickly you need to turn to actual books in order to do actual research). Anyway, enough of my ranting. The NYT piece on Bradbury's work is inspiring, wacky (he's getting a little kooky in his old age), and worth a few minutes to read. Here's a snippet:

...among Mr. Bradbury's passions, none burn quite as hot as his lifelong enthusiasm for halls of books. His most famous novel, "Fahrenheit 451," which concerns book burning, was written on a pay typewriter in the basement of the University of California, Los Angeles, library; his novel "Something Wicked This Way Comes" contains a seminal library scene.

Mr. Bradbury frequently speaks at libraries across the state, and on Saturday he will make his way here for a benefit for the H. P. Wright Library, which like many others in the state's public system is in danger of shutting its doors because of budget cuts.

"Libraries raised me," Mr. Bradbury said. "I don't believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don't have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years."

Read the rest to learn how Bradbury is working for his community. And hopefully we can forgive Bradbury his dismissal of the internet as "meaningless."

How Have Libraries Affected You?

Were you a "library latchkey kid" like me? Do you take your own kids to libraries now? Do you use library reference services? How about online services? (Where I live, the library's online resources -- including online renewal and free research librarian help -- and awesome.) Share your library stories in the comments.

More coverage of libraries on the 'floss: Historical Libraries Closing Nationwide, 8 Library Cats, Quick 10: 10 Surprising Former Librarians, How Big IS The Library of Congress?, How You Organize Your Home Library.

(Ray Bradbury photo courtesy of Flickr user Time Portal, used under Creative Commons license.)

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The ‘Scully Effect’ Is Real: Female X-Files Fans More Likely to Go Into STEM
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Fox

FBI agent Dana Scully is more than just a role model for remaining professional when a colleague won't stop talking about his vast governmental conspiracy theories. The skeptical doctor played by Gillian Anderson on The X-Files helped inspire women to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, according to a new report [PDF] from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which we spotted at Fast Company.

“In the world of entertainment media, where scientists are often portrayed as white men wearing white coats and working alone in labs, Scully stood out in the 1990s as the only female STEM character in a prominent, prime-time television role,” the report explains. Previously, anecdotal evidence has pointed to the existence of a “Scully effect,” in which the measured TV scientist—with her detailed note-taking, evidence-based approach, and desire to autopsy everything—inspired women to seek out their own science careers. This report provides the hard data.

The Geena Davis Institute surveyed more than 2000 women in the U.S. above the age of 25, a significant portion of whom were viewers of The X-Files (68 percent) and women who had studied for or were in STEM careers (49 percent). While the survey didn’t ask women whether watching Dana Scully on The X-Files directly influenced their decision to be a scientist, the results hint that seeing a character like her on TV regularly did affect them. Women who watched more of the show were more likely to say they were interested in STEM, more likely to have studied a STEM field in college, and more likely to have worked in a STEM field after college.

While it’s hard to draw a direct line of causation there—women who are interested in science might just be more inclined to watch a sci-fi show like The X-Files than women who grow up to be historians—viewers also tended to say Scully gave them positive impressions of women in science. More than half of respondents who were familiar with Scully’s character said she increased their confidence in succeeding in a male-dominated profession. More than 60 percent of the respondents said she increased their belief in the importance of STEM. And when asked to describe her, they were most likely to say she was “smart” and “intelligent” before any other adjective.

STEM fields are still overwhelmingly male, and governments, nonprofits, schools, activists, and some tech companies have been pushing to make the field more diverse by recruiting and retaining more female talent. While the desire to become a doctor or an engineer isn’t the only thing keeping STEM a boy’s club, women also need more role models in the fields whose success and accomplishments they can look up to. Even if some of those role models are fictional.

Now that The X-Files has returned to Fox, perhaps Dana Scully will have an opportunity to shepherd a whole new generation of women into the sciences.

[h/t Fast Company]

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Yale's Insanely Popular Happiness Course Is Now Open to Everyone Online
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iStock

Yale University's happiest course is giving people yet another reason to smile. After breaking registration records, "Psychology and the Good Life" has been repurposed into a free online course anyone can take, Quartz reports.

Psychology professor Laurie Santos debuted the class in the 2018 spring semester, and it's officially the most popular course in the university's 317-year history. About 1200 students, or a quarter of Yale's undergraduate student body, are currently enrolled. Now that a free version of the course has launched on Coursera, the curriculum is about to reach even more learners.

The online "Science of Well-Being" class is led by Santos from her home. Throughout the course, students will learn about happiness from a psychological perspective, including misconceptions about happiness and activities that have been proven to boost life satisfaction. "The purpose of the course is to not only learn what psychological research says about what makes us happy but also to put those strategies into practice," the course description reads.

Each section comes with readings, video lessons, and a quiz, as well as the chance to connect and brainstorm with classmates. After passing the assignments, students come away from the six-week course with a certificate and hopefully a broader understanding of the factors that contribute to a happy life. You can visit the course page over at Coursera to enroll.

[h/t Quartz]

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