“You want to be a librarian?” That is the reaction I often got when telling friends and colleagues that I was following a successful career as an entomologist with the study of librarianship. The implication seemed to be that I was abandoning science in favor of learning the Dewey Decimal System. Really?
I was taken aback by how little my science colleagues knew about what librarians really do. However, I was undaunted by their skepticism about my new pursuit — because I knew better. I viewed becoming a librarian as a logical career progression, not a complete overhaul. After all, I had relied on information resources throughout my science career. Becoming a librarian was as an opportunity to continue to draw on my science expertise, but apply it in a new academic setting.
I often reflected on what I liked about my entomology career apart from the subject matter itself. I recognized that I enjoy locating, organizing, analyzing, interpreting, reporting and sharing information. My success as an entomologist had largely depended upon my ability to locate relevant and useful information to support scientific inquiry and decision-making. What better way was there to embrace those interests than to help other scientists locate, access and manage the information they needed to advance their scholarship?
As a scientist, I was already well versed in critical thinking, problem solving, the research process, data collection and analysis, scientific publishing and various workplace people skills. My library science training added knowledge about cataloging and metadata, managing electronic resources, social media and emerging technologies, and library issues and trends.
My previous experience as a scientist — conducting research, applying research results to solving science-based issues, managing data collection and analysis, and communicating and publishing scientific information — helps me relate to other scientists in my new role as a librarian. However, gaining credibility across disciplines and being seen as a partner takes time. It involves displaying subject matter knowledge (enhanced by library science skills) and understanding, anticipating and meeting needs of researchers.
Scientists are trained to be lifelong learners and independent thinkers. Given that, it should not be all that surprising that researchers tend not to think of librarians as key sources of help when they become stumped by a problem or question. They more naturally turn to their colleagues and disciplinary network for input. Librarians who become part of that scholarly community can be seen as valuable collaborators in furthering scientific inquiry.
As a scientist, I appreciated hearing about new reports of scholarly thinking related to issues I was investigating. Success in scientific research involves keeping pace with new developments. Scientists need to peruse the scientific literature for emerging ideas, critically evaluate content, integrate and build on (or refute) prior knowledge, and identify gaps in existing knowledge for further inquiry. These are competencies paralleling what librarians aim to teach in information literacy sessions. To help researchers acquire the information they need, librarians need to keep pace with new sources of information and changing technologies affecting scholarly communication, and consider how evolving information literacy concepts can best be conveyed.
My firsthand experience with the scholarly publication and peer review process, particularly as a published scientist, helps me address related questions while acting in a librarian role. Publication to disseminate creative ideas and new discoveries and engagement in scholarly communication are primary goals of research, to advance our understanding of the world around us. Researchers are challenged to keep current with the broad environment of scholarly communications.
Librarians can help scientists navigate within the constantly changing and increasingly complex and technical environment of scholarly communications. While researchers are primarily focused on disciplinary content, librarians assume expertise in the varied forms of research products. Librarians can explain differences in publishing models (e.g., open access, source types), the place of digital repositories in providing greater access and use of information (e.g., datasets, multimedia products, curriculum materials, gray literature and other scholarly outputs) and complex interconnections of copyright, author rights and licensing. The role of librarian stretches into helping people become responsible, ethical and informed producers and users of information and data.
My experience as a scientist underpins my interest in supporting delivery of newer research consultant types of library services. Researchers are under pressure to demonstrate productivity and value in their scholarship record. Offering and promoting research-focused library services can help scientists become more efficient and effective in their work flows. Librarians can help researchers become better information searchers and connect them with productivity and collaboration tools and approaches. Being a consultant for data management planning, citation management systems, and publication venues can facilitate knowledge creation. Encouraging use of author pages and publication metrics can help scientists demonstrate their worth.
Scientist as librarian
I am often asked where I came from before starting work in my current librarian position. Sometimes, I have responded that I used to be an entomologist. But someone corrected me, stating “You are still an entomologist.” How true — I am both an entomologist and a librarian. My experience as an entomologist makes me a better librarian in ways too numerous to elaborate. Assisting other scientists with their information needs, in turn, continues to feed my scientific curiosity and desire for lifelong learning. Combining scientific subject expertise with librarian knowledge and skills facilitates the research process for them and for me.