January 28, 2010

Librarians & Scholars

One of my ScienceOnline goals seems to be happening: scientists and librarians are improving their (intraspecies?) communication. Several folks have blogged or FriendFeeded about the interaction between librarians and scientists. What really got me going today was Greg Laden's Do you think libraries and librarians are important?, which, happily, has been retweeted many times - mostly by scientists & other science folks.

Naturally, I think libraries & librarians are important to a variety of scholars, including scientists. I believe librarians have a perception problem -- many non-librarians think we sit around and read all day, go around shushing people, and date-stamp books. We do some of that occasionally, but we also do much more. I wrote this in response to Greg's question:
What we librarians are NOT doing well is communicating what we have to scientists & other scholars. We are also NOT making our material easy to use, the way Google is. Some of it is admittedly more complex than what Google is doing, but some of it is legacy systems (and mindset) left over from the days when the librarian was not the last person in the world you'd ask for help with research.
So, what's the solution? We must be where our scholars are. This can be done a few ways: "embedded" librarians who spend a good deal of their work time with their scholars, in their departments, at their meetings, working with their scholar peers. If this is not possible, and even when it is, we should also make it a point to engage with our scholars online and at conferences.

I am extremely fortunate to be truly live among my researchers at UNC's School of Journalism and Mass Communication, as my office / library is right in the middle of the School's building, and I attend faculty meetings, see folks in the hallways, and otherwise spend most of my day with folks I am trying to support. I casually mention my research interests (usability, interaction of undergraduates with library materials, cognitive science) in conversation, and I listen to them discuss theirs. This interaction establishes that I am (moderately) scholarly myself, and it helps me integrate my scholars' & students' interests into the library.

It is not possible, or even desirable, for every librarian to be embedded with their departments in this way. There are other activities that can achieve the same goals, such as holding office hours in a department, attending receptions for faculty and students, and spending time physically in the presence of the scholars whom we are supporting.

Additionally, we should make an effort to engage with our scholars online and at conferences. There were several librarians at ScienceOnline, as John Dupuis notes, and I believe that we generated a lot of good conversations with scientists, journalists, and others about how librarians can help further their work. I know of at least one instance where this prompted a scientist to seek out a librarian at his home institution, and I'd guess that it's made many non-librarians realize some of what we can offer.

Finally, we librarians should be reading blogs and tweets of the scientists and/or scholars whom we support. This costs no money, and takes as much or as little time as you have to devote to it. By being in the conversation, we are starting to change the way scholars think of librarians -- one scholar, and one librarian, at a time.

ScienceOnline Posts about Librarians & Scientists

1 comment:

Nancy Little said...

Right on, Stephanie! I love the idea of embedded librarians. I read an article for one of classes and it makes so much sense for science. After taking 484 (Lit of Sci & Tech)and realizing how proprietary so many vendors are with their information (especially Chem Abstracts), when I had to make a web page for an assignment I chose sources that were freely available on the web an found lots of scholarly sources. It was a good exercise.