Science Online 2010: Scientists and librarians

I had the following exchange several times during the opening day of Science Online 2010:

Interlocutor: "So what do you do?"

Me: "I'm a librarian."

Interlocutor: *lengthy pause* So… what are you doing here exactly?

Er, what? A conference about science communication? How on earth can that not be imagined to intrigue a librarian?

This, ladies and gentlemen. THIS. Right here. This disconnect is the number-one threat to science librarianship today—perhaps to all academic librarianship. How can science libraries persist when scientists haven't the least notion that libraries or librarians are relevant to their work?

Stephanie Willen Brown and I did our level best to bust some stereotypes and suggest some points of contact during our (lightly-attended) session. I think we did a reasonably good job of it; I only wish we could have reached more people. I came away, though, utterly dismayed at the chasm librarians must bridge, and seriously worried about our ability and even willingness to bridge it.

I can tell you this: we will not bridge this chasm from behind our desks in our libraries. We will not bridge it at library or publishing conferences. We might be able to throw some ropes across the chasm online, but we won't do it if all we do is hang out in our own little corners of the Web.

We will not bridge this chasm if we are afraid of controversy or pushback. We will not bridge this chasm if we shrink from promoting ourselves and our services. We will not bridge this chasm if we do not listen to scientists interacting with each other. We will not bridge this chasm if we do not become a welcome, valued part of that conversation—and yes, that will mean overcoming a great deal of skepticism and even mistrust at first.

And I sense strongly that if we do not bridge this chasm, we will not survive.


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I'am afraid the greater part of librarians are staring to their belly-buttons, and do not have the attitude or communication skills necessary to connect with their customers.

Bert, I'm curious: are you a librarian, a researcher, or what?

Yesss!!! You will survive!!! You will survive!!!!

You are absolutely right, and this is very important. I feel like we have it especially bad in Minnesota because at the #1 MRU all academic departments are parts of colleges and the libraries are parts of "central" which, other than the libraries, have virtually no academic role whatsoever.

But then, you ALSO have Wendy Pratt Lougee and Karen Williams, both of whom are amazing. Count your blessings!

As a trainer of scientists and scientist myself, I wholeheartedly agree. When I was a researcher at EMBL, I found that I needed the (physical) library less and less, but I needed a librarian more and more. I found that because reference searches and references were more and more online, as were database and other resources. I needed the physical library less to do my research. Though the librarian there did a good job of outreach and 'embedding,' I think there is a lot needs to be done for a lot of libraries. As scientists use the physical space less, perhaps they are less exposed to actual librarians?

I also felt that concern recently at STELLA an science librarian unconference. There looked like a great effort to outreach, which seems to be becoming more important as scientists perhaps use the physical space less. It showed itself in sessions about embedding, web 2.0 and 'library of the future' (which looked less like a library with a lot of books).

Yes, as research moves virtual, confining librarians to the physical library absolutely DOES mean that researchers see us less. I think that's at the root of the current disconnect.

We're not going to fix it by continuing to sit in the physical library, that's for sure...

This is shocking but alas, true. It is the same situation with medical librarians and medicine. The conferences and training that I have been to lately show very little librarian presence. The new field of knowledge translation is a good example. Many clinicians attended an an afternoon session at a Melbourne hospital but not many medical librarians were there. Librarians who work in any specialist area need to attend the conferences of their clients. Gerontology librarians need to attend gerontology conferences, agriculture librarians need to attend agriculture conferences etc etc etc!! What is going on here and why isn't this happening?? The last library conference I went to (and gave a presentation at) was not that relevant to me. Bring on the next HTAi conference in Dublin!

By Catherine Voutier (not verified) on 28 Jan 2010 #permalink