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Training for science librarians

Page history last edited by shelly.sommer@... 11 years, 9 months ago

Discussion notes

 

Julia opened the topic with some thought-provoking themes:

  - pros and cons of science degrees vs. MLS degrees in the library?

  - value of MLS?

  - how do we support learning on the job?

  - what kinds of expectations do we have for people we're hiring into science libraries?

  - specialists vs. generalists?

  - many librarians retain multiple identities: how are we balancing these?

  - scientific vs. scholarly communication: where do we publish?

  - how are science librarians supported financially?  How are they evaluated and by whom?

  - real job vs. job description.

 

One focus of the discussion was which was more important: information and navigation skills or scientific knowledge.  Consensus came down on the side of information skills.  With some notable exceptions, libraries would rather hire flexible librarians who can change their subject focus as required than really in-depth subject specialists who have been bench scientists, etc.  Understanding how information is created, structured, paid for, distributed, organized, accessed is more valuable than detailed subject knowledge in the majority of cases.  First we need to teach the library basics that empower our users.  Rarely, we'll get beyond that and need to bring in someone with in-depth subject knowledge.  In small libraries, in particular, librarians have to cover several disciplines.

 

TRAINING TO BE GENERALISTS

We spent a lot of time discussing a pretty radical new model from the University of Arizona libraries that Kimberly shared.  The librarians there wanted to move toward some of the new functions that we all noted in Friday's discussion of emerging trends: outreach to faculty, instruction and tutorials, information management, and digital products.  To do that, they realized that they'd have to drop other things to make room--and subject specialization was one of those things.  They've gone to a function-based model.  Librarians no longer staff the service desk; all reference questions come into a single queue.  Staff still know who to go to if a really thorny question comes in that needs in-depth subject knowledge.  And librarians have both the flexibility to move between areas of subject expertise and the time to pursue more strategic, value-added activities.

     Faculty seem fine with it so far, but there are a lot of internal struggles over the new way of doing things.  UofAZ doesn't know yet what's working and what isn't.  Is this model sustainable over time?  Questions arise about long-term deep expertise in various subjects--how will librarians keep up to date in the sciences?  What will happen as subject experts retire?  There's also the question of how these changes will affect collection development over the long term.  At the moment the committee on collection development is composed of subject specialists across the disciplines--they may not use the subject specialist organization any more, but they still have all that knowledge.  As those people retire and are replaced, how will that affect the materials that are acquired?  So far, however, Kimberly feels that the potential that they're moving toward with these changes outweighs concerns about possible consequences.  The model will undoubtedly need refinement, as all new models do.  But UofAZ libraries are used to doing radical things.  (Hurrah for them!!)

 

If librarians are moving toward becoming generalists, what about training?  What are people doing now to train to meet different demands, especially as science becomes more interdisciplinary?  An organization has to be nimble enough to recognize that training is important.  Research changes all the time, and hot topics today won't be tomorrow.  It is possible to transition to new fields using taxonomies, etc. as learning tools and getting some help from other science librarians.  What matters seems to be interest: willingness to learn and to ask questions, not being afraid of the subject.  How do we find and hire those people?  They need to be independent and curious learners.

     If one's institute isn't flexible, you might be best off making traditional hires.  If it is flexible, you can take on new things and have a richer portfolio of library perspectives/skills without breaking.

     One participant's library had made independent learning a performance metric: librarians had to go to three brown bags by their researchers each year, for instance.

 

Chris from School of Mines pointed out that we should be encouraging good students in the sciences to consider library school--just ask if they've thought about it.

 

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Jill pointed out that when you come into a job, everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  It's key to ask yourself--regularly--how do I build skills in weaker areas?  What do I do when my job requires more breadth than I have?  Chris suggested that he conquers his "lazy gene" by forcing himself to go teach someone about something.  Shelly uses a similar approach: she announces a workshop on a new database or tool, then has to go push all its buttons and learn about it before people show up.  Carol says that her favorite coping mechanism is, "That's an excellent question; let me email some resources to you."  Julia insists on 4 hours per week of reading time for her and her staff.  We have to assign tasks to ourselves and be diligent--and we have to figure out how to evaluate when we're improving.  Also, "We all steal from each other.  We all help each other."  We're indebted to librarians in more specialized environments for putting their materials online.

 

When asked "what means of professional development do you rely on?" many of the answers made it obvious that we're pressed for time.  Choices included:

  - webinars from vendors and associations (short, focused)

  - library association training

  - going to dept. seminars and colloquiums

  - publishing: the process prompts learning

  - blog posts and how-I-did-it articles

  - teaching workshops

 

 

 

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