The Thunder Bay Public Library is partnering with Science North to bring Northern Nature Trading to the city.

It's a science discovery experience based on research, and reward, says Lora Clausen, staff scientist at Science North.

Lora Clausen, staff scientist Science North

Lora Clausen is the staff scientist in charge of northern initiatives with Science North. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

She described Northern Nature Trading as a special kind of swap shop. People are encouraged to bring in things like rocks, shells, fossils, and pine cones, and then trade them.

But there's a catch, said Clausen.

Trading is based on points, she said, which are awarded for:

  • what you know about the item
  • what makes it different from similar ones
  • its quality, and whether it's clean and in good condition

"The more information they tell you, the more points they will gain, so it really is about encouraging people to learn about their items, about nature, and about science in the world around them," said Clausen.

It's the element of lifelong learning which appealed to the library, said John Pateman, the chief librarian and CEO at the Thunder Bay Public Library.

John Pateman Thunder Bay Public Library

John Pateman is the Chief Librarian, and CEO at the Thunder Bay Public Library. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

"It gets people to go out and explore the environment, stay healthy, stay fit and then come into the library and learn more about the local nature. So it just seemed like a perfect fit."

He also sees it as another way to bring people into the library.

"We're up against the gaming industry, Apple and Google and big players like that, so we're always trying to hang onto our unique selling point, which is the free loan of books and information, but we also need to always be on the lookout for new methods of hooking people in," said Pateman.

Jacob Pugliese and Rayne Beechard, grade 5 students at St. Martin school in Thunder Bay, were hooked after their first try.

"It was fun," said Beechard.

"I didn't know much about rocks and minerals and they taught me some things about the rocks," she said.

But you can't collect just anything, said Clausen, citing the "Cool Rules".

  • leave bird's nests, eggs, dead animals and living plants and animals where you found them. Nature still needs them
  • take only one of each of the different things you find, because only a few are needed to make a good collection
  • take only things that are common and not protected by law

Science North already has 50,000 registered traders, and is also available in Sudbury, North Bay, Kenora and Red Lake.

Funding to create the program in Thunder Bay was provided by FedNor, and the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation.

Here is Northern Nature Trading in action.