The Evolving Role of Librarians Part Two: Ye Li

Ye Li

TYe Lihe following interview is with Ye Li, Chemistry Librarian, University of Michigan Shapiro Science Library. 

How has your job changed over the years? What is it like being a 21st-century librarian, compared with the more traditional image most people have in their minds?

Ye Li: I have been in the profession for about six years now. During this time, subject specialists in academic libraries are mostly trying to articulate our new roles in data and information management, compared to the traditional roles of information gatekeepers. In-depth engagement in the research and learning experiences of our user community truly sets our current role apart from the traditional role of the librarian sitting behind the circulation desk handing out books. We are now striving to be facilitators of academic success and interdisciplinary collaborations.

What skills are absolutely necessary for the modern scientific librarian?

Ye Li: To me, critical skills are self-learning and continuous learning; communication (scholarly, formal, and informal); data and information management; basic informatics and data science skills; and time and priority management.

What are some emerging trends in the library world?

Ye Li: For academic libraries, data/information management, sharing, and preservation continue to be fast-growing areas. Reproducible research is one of the reenergized areas for librarian involvement due to advances in data science and technology. Under this umbrella, many sub-areas like electronic record-keeping, digital workflow, preservation and dissemination of reusable data and information, and metrics measuring research impact will move forward fast in the next few years.

The current focus may still be initiating services in the data management and sharing areas. But I believe the future lies in establishing partnerships with researchers, students, and faculty throughout the research and learning lifecycle through various types of involvement in the data and information workflow.

How do the changing needs of researchers and students impact your work?

Ye Li: There are now fewer requests for help finding and accessing information. But there are more needs in evaluating and organizing information.

Similarly, people need less help with final outputs of research and learning, but more help creating and handling digital objects for research and learning as ongoing processes.

Who is your greatest influence? Is there one person you would consider to be the epitome of the “modern librarian”?

Ye Li: Leah McEwen, Chemistry Librarian of Cornell University: Leah has a clear vision of how librarians’ roles in research evolve. She is always brave in exploring innovative ways to maximize the impact of our expertise in organizing data and information. She also has “magical powers” in enabling collaborations and making connections among people, resources, and technology. I also appreciate Leah’s passion and patience in mentoring young information professionals.

What five words would you use to describe your work? Have those five words changed since you started out as a librarian?

Ye Li: Engagement, research, instruction, collaboration, and scholarly communication. When I started out, “reference” would be one of those words. Even though I still provide reference services now, the core meaning of it is shifting to aspects described by the above five words.

What organizations and/or associations have you found most valuable as a member and as a participant?

Ye Li: I rely on the ACS Chemical Information Division, the Special Libraries Association (SLA) Chemistry Division, and the American Library Association (ALA) Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL).