Member Insights: STEMM Divisions


My Member Insights Series returns to a division focus, and I sent questions out to the science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEMM) divisions, which include: Biomedical & Life Sciences; Chemistry; Engineering; Environment & Resource Management; Food, Agriculture & Nutrition; Physics-Astronomy-Math; Petroleum & Energy Resources; Pharmaceutical & Health Technologies; and Science-Technology.

My three questions were:

  1. How is the information profession changing in your field?
  2. What is a strategy for planning for the future and planning new services/tools?
  3. What is a fun fact about the information profession in your field?

There is much change in STEMM division workplaces. A greater need for computer programming and other technology skills and competencies was discussed. The information formats themselves continue to become more media rich. Communication tools such as forms and surveys are fully digital. Scholarly communication tasks from data curation and management work to digital scholarship support and new workflows are all adding to emerging skill sets.

Information professionals frequently conduct their own research in addition to helping others. Research can be an extension of expectations for special interest activities such as STEMM education. Customers also conduct a great deal of their own bibliographic research, then reach out to information professionals for a more collaborative experience.

With the expanse of regulation, mandates, and policies, many information centers are seeing their customers reach out to them to help meet requirements as well as to partner around necessary practices. In many ways this represents a flip from the need to market services, though basic outreach and awareness-building will always be critical.

As we’ve heard from other constituencies, there is a strong emphasis on proving impact and strengthening assessment skills. Instruction is shifting both in mode of delivery and in information literacy standards. See the resources for great additional reading. Susan Wainscott shared that “DST [the SLA Science-Technology division] has a Master Class panel discussion on threshold concepts and the [Association of College & Research Libraries] Framework scheduled for Monday afternoon in Phoenix: ‘Interweaving ACRL’s Threshold Concepts into an Information Literacy Program.’”

Turning to strategies for planning for the future as well as new tools and services, Donna Thompson encourages new librarians “to learn and research tools in various science disciplines as it seems that we are moving towards being science librarians as opposed to biology or physics librarians.” Staying current, going to conferences, and taking advantage of learning opportunities are all important self-development options. As we learn practices from others, we can adopt and customize ideas for our own workplaces, always being aware of our own political and work environments.

Sandra Crumlish emphasizes that we are introducing and re-introducing the library and its services with each change in personnel. Blending this introduction with our shifting technology and emerging competencies, Sandra suggests that we “develop a series of hybrid services that meet the needs of our users doing some of their own research, collaborating with the library for more in-depth services, and providing resources meshed from multiple services. This would allow the users to incorporate the fruits of that labor to be integrated into their team resources.” The design of user tools and interfaces is an important focus, and gathering feedback, testing possibilities,and delivering clean, friendly products must be added to our processes. Also, Marsha Bishop discusses “finding the ‘niche’ that the library can fulfill for the organization or company and ensuring we deliver accurately and quickly and in a standardized method those products.” The example Marsha uses within the National Radio Astronomy Observatory addresses the memos and reports issued by the organization. The library stepped into a non-standardized process and “started … by collecting all the old memos and reports, having them archive-quality scanned, and posting them.  We then continued to ‘offer’ to handle each group’s memos or reports.  It took us 5 years, but the library now issues each memo or report and we continue to try to fill in the gaps for the missing ones.” This is a fantastic example of an information center stepping up and solving an organizational problem.

And what are some fun facts from STEMM division members? The fields are full of funny acronyms. Put a STEMM librarian into a government organization and the acronyms explode! For PAM (SLA Physics-Astronomy-Math division) librarians, Beth Brown talks about the exotic places that some of their members work: “Astronomy librarians tend to work in remote locations so there is less sunlight to interfere with observing phenomena. I personally work in an area that has a public observatory—The Kopernik Observatory & Science Center.” Peter Moon discusses the limitless dimensions of requests and requesters. In one day, Peter helped with a U.K. project in the morning and with an Australian project in the afternoon. We are an international organization in more than one way!  

I am thoroughly enjoying my journey through SLA’s constituencies. As we turn our attention to our annual meeting, I’ll be devoting my next couple of blogs to our business partners and then our chapters in the southwestern United States. Happy reading!

—Dee Magnoni, 2017 SLA President

Learn more about the Members Insights Series.

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