Library Life: Interview with Caltech Librarian Dr. Donna Wrublewski - ACS Axial | ACS Publications
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Library Life: Interview with Caltech Librarian Dr. Donna Wrublewski

Dr. Donna Wrublewski, Ph.D., MRSC, is the Head of the Research Services Department for the Caltech Library and the Librarian for the Division of Chemistry & Chemical Engineering (CCE).

Tell me about your current role.

I was originally hired in February 2013 to assume liaison librarian roles to the CCE and Biology & Biological Engineering (BBE) Divisions, taking over for the legendary Dana Roth. In March 2020, I was asked to take on the department head role on an interim basis. In November 2020, I applied for the position permanently, and after a competitive selection process, I received it. From March 2020 until last month, I was also the interim librarian for humanities.

In my department head role, I supervise five full-time librarians and two full-time library support staff. I coordinate activities within our department and between our department and other areas of the library and other organizations on campus where appropriate. I also serve as the de facto collections coordinator, working between three departments to evaluate and acquire materials for our library.

In my CCE Liaison role, I provide the usual services one would expect – reference, instruction, collection management, grant support, etc., and focusing on meeting the needs of the CCE Division.

What is your background?

My S.B. (Bachelor of Science) degree is from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Chemical Engineering. I also dual-minored in materials science and engineering and in writing. I have my M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in polymer science & engineering. I started my career as a librarian at the University of Florida in 2010, and came to Caltech in 2013, where I have remained since. Since 2016, I have also been an Associate Editor for the journal Science & Technology Libraries, and contribute an annual analysis for science librarians of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

How do you help to address challenges faced by your institution’s students and faculty?

I am usually the first port of call for my division’s members when anything related to collections or library reference comes up. Over the past 18 months or so, a lot of work has been devoted to evaluating and acquiring electronic resources in support of our teaching and research. I also answer reference questions about everything from chemistry to engineering to undergraduate humanities research projects.

All of our librarians get questions about grant support, so I do some work ensuring open access compliance and answering questions about publishing as well. With our campus moving towards largely in-person instruction this fall, I’ve been helping with outreach and public service staffing for on-campus patrons, answering questions on everything from physical space access to course reserves to our new library catalog.

What are some trends that you are observing in the library world right now?

It’s a bit hard to judge now because I think COVID has paused a lot of things that were going on before and has instigated a whole new set of processes and concerns. I think that digital access to print materials is going to continue to be a topic, so things like Hathitrust’s ETAS might be extended to non-emergency situations depending on copyright. Academic (and potentially research) budgets will continue to be squeezed as institutions will cut funding for things to make up for losses during COVID.

I suspect that with the long duration of COVID (18 months and counting), more relief may be needed, and collections may be scrutinized even further. “Subscribe to open” and “read and publish” deals are here to stay, and I think they will have to be looked at carefully due to budget situations. On a happier note, the number of instructors reaching out to the library for information literacy and library orientations seems to be on the rise, and with more changes to systems and access always on the horizon, I see this as a very good thing.

You’re also the chair of ACS’s Chemical Information (CINF) division this year. What was that like?

The main challenge during my term has been COVID, as I’m sure it was for everybody everywhere. The nature of the pandemic over the last year made it difficult to plan events because the safety guidelines were constantly changing. In addition to the obvious effect this has on ACS events, it also took considerable time out of volunteers’ schedules, leaving many with less time to devote to ACS and CINF this past year. Our main goal was to just keep moving, and to that effect, I think we were successful.

We are implementing Google Workspace as an internal organization workspace for our division, and we’ve updated our website (in large part thanks to Dr. Stuart Chalk, our treasurer and interim website administrator). We also had two very successful programs at the Spring and Fall ACS National Meetings, thanks to the excellent work of our Programming Committee, led by Dr. Ye Li. We’re hoping to launch more communication efforts with our division and also to take advantage of the rise in acceptance of virtual events to continue programming outside of ACS National Meetings. Our incoming 2022 Chairperson, Susan Cardinal, has some great ideas that the Executive Committee is pretty excited about supporting!

A very important question: Who is your favorite scientist?

I would say it’s a toss-up between Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking. When I was young, I really wanted to be an astrophysicist. I loved reading about space exploration, and my copies of Cosmos and A Brief History of Time are pretty dog-eared at this point. So, of course, my favorite fictional scientist would then be The Doctor from Doctor Who.

What is a fun fact about Caltech?

One of the undergrad houses here, Fleming, has a large cannon that gets fired off a few times a year. In 2006, MIT managed to steal said cannon and transport it to Cambridge. I remember being at an alumni event in Cambridge and hearing about it. It was pretty great. Caltech and MIT have had a great prank rivalry throughout the years, and I hope it continues!

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