How has your job changed over the years? What is it like being a 21st-century librarian compared to the more traditional image most people have in their minds?
Donna Wrublewski (Librarian for Chemistry, Biology, and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology): Well, I’ve only been a librarian for about five years, so the only things I can compare it to are the librarians I knew in college and graduate school – or rather, didn’t know. That right there shaped how I approach my job. Once I became a librarian, it was eye-opening how useful librarians and libraries can be. I was a heavy library user, especially in graduate school, but had no idea what else was available in terms of things like database training, book requests, citation management, etc. My goal is to be that person I didn’t know in graduate school – by being active and engaged with my patron community.
What skills are absolutely necessary for the modern scientific librarian?
Donna Wrublewski: Obviously I want to say “a science background” but I have gotten to know some excellent science librarians who trained in other fields prior to becoming librarians. So, I would say it’s extremely helpful to be able to “speak geek” with your user community, but with enough time and resources, I think any good librarian will gain that skill. I think the two things that are absolutely essential these days are (1) a service mentality – a desire to provide the highest quality service to your patrons at all times; and (2) an outgoing personality or the ability to fake it really well – librarianship now isn’t about the resources, because they change, but it’s about communicating with users. Neither of these are “skills” per se but are more “traits” — they may be something you either have or don’t have. Combining the two of these would result in a teacher – which, essentially, is what librarians are now.
What are some emerging trends in the library world?
Donna Wrublewski: One area I’m heavily involved in is academic integrity – i.e. Teaching ethical and responsible conduct of research, including (but not limited to) avoiding plagiarism, ethical data management, avoiding data fabrication and falsification, authorship issues, etc. This is something that is sorely needed, particularly in graduate education, and more and more institutions are partnering with librarians to provide this. Having been an engineering graduate student myself I can attest that this kind of “soft skills” education was completely nonexistent when I was in school. With fraud cases and funding mandates around every corner, this is something that today’s graduate students – and all researchers – need to be aware of. Since libraries traditionally conducted plagiarism avoidance workshops (primarily in the form of citation management software training), it’s a natural extension for the other topics, especially when more and more librarians come to libraries from research careers.
How do the changing needs of researchers and students impact your work?
Donna Wrublewski: I’ve become an expert in data management plans, data repository requirements, and the NIH PubMed Central deposit requirement very quickly. You don’t know what is around the next corner that will be affecting how researchers do their work. Increasingly it is becoming less about “can we purchase this resource” – although still important, the dire state of library budgets is now common knowledge at least on our campus – and more about “how can you connect me with the information I need”. That information could take the form of a dataset, a book, a funding requirement, a campus resource, or a community hive mind. So it is important to be engaged professionally, and as aware as possible of new resources or techniques in the field.
Where do you see your profession going over the next 20 years? 50 years?
Donna Wrublewski: I think that so much of where we will go will depend on the technology – the Internet turned librarianship on its head making librarians go from gatekeepers and mediators to instructors and liaisons. Technology is putting more and more power in the hands of the users, but the problem today at least is there’s no training or understanding going along with it. The Internet is highly non-linear which is wonderful in many ways but kind of bad when it comes to scaffolding learning. Too often people are confronted by entirely too much information and lack the skills to critically evaluate what they are looking at, separate the good from the bad, and organize it in a way that makes sense to them. So from that perspective librarians will have jobs for at least the next 20 years just in terms of information literacy education. Beyond that, who knows what technology will be invented to solve problems we didn’t even know we had. Maybe in 50 years, society will realize we are drowning in crap, and finally place emphasis on information literacy and organization, and there will be some sort of mandatory brain implant everyone gets to navigate the web of information around us (think of that cool tech in “Minority Report”). Will there still be libraries? Maybe. Will there still be librarians? I’d like to think so, as they would be the ones setting the literacy and organization standards.
Who is your greatest influence? Is there one person you would consider the epitome of the “modern librarian”?
Donna Wrublewski: Dana Roth, hands down. He’s the reason I took my current job and it’s a huge honor to be his successor at Caltech. He has seen and adapted to more catastrophic change that I probably ever will. He’s really a complete class act and is my inspiration behind my answer to Question #2.
What five words would you use to describe your work? Have those five words changed since you started out as a librarian?
Donna Wrublewski: Helpful, dynamic, frustrating, rewarding, challenging.
What organizations and/or associations have you found most valuable as a member and as a participant?
Donna Wrublewski: ACS for sure. The Chemical Information Division has been essential to what success I’ve had, both in terms of resources and community. I’ve made good friends and have a good professional group to work with on projects and go to for advice. SLA Chemistry is also an excellent group – some (but not all) of the same people, and some different perspectives, including more industrial and small/special libraries. A lot of times we face similar problems, but hearing different perspectives can inspire us to seek more creative solutions.