Beyond Core Duties

In a time of precipitous reference desk numbers, user-driven acquisition and pre-recorded library-lit instruction, science librarians need, more than ever, to expand beyond core duties into innovative functions that bring value to the library and the university.

Here is a list of over two dozen possibilities, each with a short description and an explanation why you are the best person for the job (should anyone ask).


What it is (or why if what is obvious) Why you’re the best to do it
Patent searches Searching patent databases helps engineers look for prior art and lets you keep track of research at peer institutions. Some science librarians sit on internal patent review committees. Expertise in the technical literature is easily expanded to patent databases allowing us to do rapid, thorough and accurate searches.
Citation-based metrics Hiring and tenure decisions are being made using h-indexes, impact factors and new metrics based on downloads and page-views. Both accurate calculation and deep understanding of what these numbers really mean are vital. They are also useful for analyzing journals to advise where best to publish research. Familiarity with journals and journal publishing gives us an advantage in understanding these metrics. Our expertise with manipulating databases helps us set up the sometimes complicated queries required to obtain accurate numbers.
Faculty expertise databases Services such as VIVO and Collexis collect and organize information about an institution’s science faculty allowing users to search for potential collaborators or mentors. These services require expertise in science, active liasing with researchers and skill in informatics for successful administration making the science library their natural home.
Seminar bibliographies Bibliographies of recommended preparatory or follow-up reading enhance guest speakers’ talks Only we can, or possibly want to, create such a thing.
Finding obscure material Interpreting incomplete and/or incorrect citations and tracking down obscure, rare documents, sometimes finding translations. This unsung, but common, science librarian duty requires in-depth knowledge of the literature, search skills and, sometime, the right connections.


Publishing Trends Advising faculty on their rights, responsibilities and options as they publish. Possibly manage an open-access authors’ fund. We know the journal publishers including who is open to persuasion.
Copyright and fair use I’m not sure this is a science-librarian-specific thing actually, but a lot of people mentioned it. Other librarians can teach it, but we can bring it into the science realm with explanations and illustrations that make sense for the scientist audience.
Journal alerts and RSS feeds Teaching faculty the most efficient and comprehensive way to keep up with the literature. As with copyright, any librarian can do this, but it works best with the subject librarian who can use pertinent examples.
Responsible conduct of research Instruction in the ethics of the creation and distribution of new information. This is a natural extension of our instruction in responsible use of information created by others.
Science literature 101 Science and engineering students can go through their entire undergraduate careers without encountering the literature. We can bring new grad students (or seniors) up to speed. We’re doing this sort of instruction for individual classes; this just expands the role.
Information literacy Imparting to students the basic skills needed to navigate today’s complicated information landscape are increasingly common to find in university strategic goals. To go beyond basic rules of thumb, one must ascertain the facts. Data information literacy is becoming increasingly important too. Nearly everyone uses purported facts to bolster their claims so information literacy turns into science information literacy quickly as we impart the skills to determine what’s a reliable “fact” and not just what’s a reliable source.


Compiling CVs Scientists keep surprisingly poor track of their own publishing. We can compile comprehensive lists of researchers’ publications and obtain copies of whatever they’re missing. We can search better than they can and have the connections to get hold of rare materials for them. We can also help sort out copyright issues and host articles on our respository.
Mediate with Publishers Some researchers, particularly in computer science, wish to use published material as raw data in their research. We can work with publishers to make this possible in a copyright-friendly way. We have a sense of the copyright issues, know the publishers and how to negotiate with them.
Preparing library resources for new faculty, programs and courses Science librarians need to not only support the university as it is today, but prepare for what it will be tomorrow. We look ahead to future needs to make sure the information the faculty and students need will be there when they look for it. This is a slight expansion of our standard collection development duties so it makes no sense for anyone else to take responsibility.
Archiving science materials Along with data and journal articles, scientists produce lab notebooks, photographic plates, field samples and other physical objects that need to be cataloged and preserved. Scientific expertise is required to properly organize a collection of this sort of material. The science librarian will need to work closely with the organization’s archivist or do the work themselves.

 Other services

Science consultant The science librarian can serve as a bridge between the technically-minded scientist and other departments or the general public. Science librarians can read over publications for understandability, advise on what would be of interest to the general public and help fund raisers when trying to sell to science-focused  donors. As one of the few groups on campus who work in both of C.P. Snow’s two cultures, we’re well placed to help translate between them.
Facilitating multidisciplinary research Science librarians can help faculty in disparate departments work together by finding literature at the appropriate technical level to help researchers understand each other’s research and the social norms of their disciplines. Subject librarians responsible for multiple departments, we are some of the most genuinely multidisciplinary people on campus.
Coauthor studies analyzing the scientific literature We have degrees in information science; We can do serious research if we want to. We can also aid scientists writing review articles by ensuring they can find and have access to everything published recently in a subject area. Who knows the literature better than we do?
Teaching for-credit classes on the scientific literature It’s useful for a freshly minted scientist to learn how the literature works and how to make it work for them. Most get anecdotal advice from their mentors, but a more sophisticated approach would serve them well. For scientists, the literature is a means to an end, but for us, it’s our field of study.
Re-accreditation Library support is an important part of the accreditation process; well, it’s a part of the accreditation process anyway. only the science librarian can supply the information necessary.
Implementing Electronic Laboratory Notebooks The traditional coffee-stained hand-written notebook is being replaced with something more secure, safe, organized and, most importantly, legible. They do need some tech support and training for implementation, though. Science librarians have the technical expertise to understand how ELNs work, the understanding of organizing information to advise how best to use them and the skills to train for and support their implementation in science departments.
Social technology incubator New forms of electronically-mediated social networking emerge every year. Some will become important in the academic setting, but it’s hard to tell at first glace what’s useful and what’s more trouble than worth. Science librarians’ adaptability and affinity for new communication modalities makes us a natural R&D lab for the university as a whole, testing those new technologies to see what works in the academic environment.
Science Commons The stand-alone science library is one of the few true multi-disciplinary spaces on campus. By offering meeting rooms and workspace, layman-level science lectures by faculty, film and book discussion series and popular science books, (etc), the science library creates opportunities for cross-discipline collaboration and outreach to other parts of the university and community. It’s our library. Are we going to let someone else handle this stuff?
Institutional Repository Surely I don’t have to explain this one. Managing an institutional repository requires expertise in interpreting citations, extensive knowledge of scientific publishing and strong liaison links to science departments to encourage participation. Science librarians, if not in charge of the project (and who has the time?), should be consulted frequently. Science librarians can also manage a subject repository bringing in materials from outside the university community.
Data Services Librarianship With NIH and NSF grants requiring making data accessible, scientists need librarian help in adding metadata and formatting the data in a useful way. We might as well take on hosting duties while we’re at it. With our expertise in metadata, scientific processes and the conservation of materials both physical and electronic, we’re the most qualified people on campus to take charge of data services.

compiled by Bill Jacobs with the help of the Sci-Tech PR committee