Christina's LIS Rant

Librarians & Scientists: YMMV

Dorothea Salo reports that the scientists she spoke with at Science Online 2010 did not get why she was there or even why librarians would be interested in science communication. For some reason, I didn’t get that so much, if at all, this year at this venue. Not that I haven’t gotten that in the past. What happens now is a bit more interesting. Someone who doesn’t know me either personally or through my blog will start down that direction, and someone else will say something along the lines: Oh, that’s Christina, she’s ok. This happens at work quite a bit, too. Huh.

This isn’t exactly what I had in mind. I do know that people (and more so engineers and scientists) consult their friends first, then their files, then after trying everything else, consult the library. It’s sort of the library/librarian as goalie metaphor (you know, 10 other people missed the ball so the goalie has to save it).  Of course, many – if not most – give up before getting to the library. And then there’s web search engines which may be before or after friends, I don’t think the evidence has sifted up enough to determine that order (most of the studies were done prior to the ubiquitous web).

So one of my things is to try to get into the friends list. If not friend, then at least to make enough contacts so that the scientists and engineers I work with might think of me when they need information. I also hang out where they do on our intranet.  I’m not concerned about the disintermediation thing – the scientists doing their own searching (Martin Fenner lists this as a threat). In my experience, there are always things that are too hard to find. There are also lots of scientists and engineers who don’t have the time to keep up with the interfaces and ways to search or don’t want to do their own searching and who will gladly use their money from contracts to pay my time. When they get a nicely formatted, pre-digested report back or even just an answer and a source- they’re more than happy.

Unfortunately all of this didn’t help at all when the leadership of my lab decided to do away with the physical library and the 30k books we had. When they cut 5 of our staff. Turns out that all of these friends and acquaintances were oscillating between being concerned about my future, concerned about who they would call if I got cut, and acting like I betrayed their trust by not successfully fighting it.

And so now that we don’t have the whole library infrastructure – it’s not a matter of calling the library for help, it’s even more calling Christina for help. I do help, absolutely as much as possible, but this is not what I had in mind. YMMV.