Library Life: Interview with Carnegie Mellon University Librarian Neelam Bharti

Andrew Clinton
  • 8 min read

Neelam Bharti is Senior Librarian, Science and Engineering and Associate Dean for Liaison Services at Carnegie Mellon University.

Library Life: Interview with Carnegie Mellon Librarian Neelam Bharti

Tell me about your current role:

I am the Chemical Sciences and Engineering Librarian atCarnegie Mellon University (CMU), Pittsburgh, and have an additional responsibility to serve as Associate Dean for Liaison Services. I oversee the liaison services and mentor library faculty. In addition, I work with other colleagues to help the CMU faculty members, students, and staff on our Pittsburgh and international campuses (CMU-Qatar, CMU-Australia, and CMU-South Africa). I teach graduate-level seminars and guest lectures in many undergraduate and graduate-level classes to provide students with context-specific information that they may need to do their coursework and independent research. I also manage our open access agreements with publishers and provide open access and copyright consultations.

Neelam Bharti
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I am responsible for developing chemical sciences and engineering collections at CMU with other engineering librarians, planning improvements and enhancements to the library services, and providing reference assistance to anyone having difficulty finding chemistry and engineering-related information. In addition, I work closely with the Office of Vice President of Research and coordinate a campus-wide RCR training program, and serve as a consultant on research ethics questions. Finally, I serve on university and library-wide committees and task forces, as my expertise is required.

What is your background?

I came from an interior village in India, where it wasn’t easy for girls to attend school. I always wanted to read and learn about the world, but there was no library in my school or village. My first library interaction was in high school. I still remember that sight of seeing so many books altogether for the first time that opened a whole new world for me. I chose to study science and soon realized it was a daily struggle to study science as a girl, but that experience motivated me to work harder. I was awarded a Junior Research Fellowship and later a Senior Research Fellowship from the Government of India while finishing my Ph.D. in chemistry.

I became the first person from my village to complete a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in science. As a postdoctoral scientist, I was invited to join Dr. Bergeron’s drug development group on an NIH-sponsored grant to develop iron chelators at the University of Florida. During my postdoc studies, libraries were my primary place of learning before lab bench work. While interacting with the librarians, I realized how awesome they were; they were intrepid explorers and information wizards who never shied away from embarking on a journey pursuing a question with unknown answers.

Although I had a passion for research, personal health issues made it difficult to engage in benchwork. So, I started to look for opportunities where I could still be involved in research and use my subject background and research experience to help others. I joined Marston Science Library as a Chemical Sciences and Engineering Librarian at the University of Florida. Five years later, I joined CMU as the senior librarian in Science and Engineering and now serve in an additional role as Associate Dean for Liaison Services.

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

CMU is a technology-focused research university, so the faculty and students turn to me when they have information resources or related questions. I help with the questions I can quickly answer, but for others where I’m not sure, I actively seek out guidance from my colleagues and professional peers. I regularly consult the graduate and undergraduate students on how to find information and use it for class and research work.

One of the most challenging courses is the BXA course, where students work at the interface of science/engineering and art/design on unique projects; I consult with students in those courses and collaborate with other library experts when needed. In addition, I help by getting involved in teaching various emerging topics workshops such as 3D modeling and printing, Open Access, and Copyright.

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

As the teaching and learning technologies evolve, libraries are also changing. Libraries and librarians are being creative and diversifying their services. When I joined the library in 2013, my responsibilities included providing reference services, collection development and management, and teaching how to search for chemical information. In the past nine years, it evolved into providing more interdisciplinary research, open access, research ethics and data management, and citation management consultations. As the scholarly landscape changes, universities are finding creative ways to support scholarly communication by signing Read and Publish and Transformative agreements, supporting open access publications, and actively exploring and promoting the inclusion of open source resources such as the Open Science Framework and openly available educational and research resources. At our institution, we especially focus on emerging trends such as open access, sustainable global development goals, and diversity, equity and inclusion initiative to provide timely services and lead the pathways.

What areas of interest are you focused on right now?

I have more than one area of focus at this point. As a liaison, I focus on staying informed of emerging resources and changes to the major databases and search tools in chemical sciences and engineering disciplines. We frequently communicate with vendors providing feedback on tools and resources and suggestions that could be helpful in future development, including emerging areas like text and data mining. As an engineering librarian, I work closely with students to provide artificial intelligence and machine learning tools.

Research impact measurement is another area of interest for me. Every year, we hear from students and faculty looking for ways to increase the impact of research in supporting tenure packets, immigration visa applications, and grant applications. We subscribe to several research metrics tools, but it does not help until we know what these tools can do for us and how to use them for our benefit. My goal is to enhance our user’s knowledge and skills of these tools and teach them strategies to use those tools effectively.

In recent years I got engaged in scholarly publication and spent a lot of time on open access, copyright, and responsible conduct of research. I coordinate the CMU OA agreements with publishers and focus on improving the author’s workflow and providing feedback to the publishers to improve the process, increasing awareness, and promoting open access publications among our researchers.

You are involved with the ACS’s Chemical Information (CINF) division. What is that like?

I attended my first CINF meeting in 2015 and have enjoyed being a part of CINF since then. I have met some great chemical information professionals and learn something new every time we meet. CINF members have been great and helped me grow as a chemistry librarian; I found some great mentors there. I read journal articles and used a lot of data in my research life but didn’t appreciate its complexity until I joined CINF and learned how complex data curation is.

As a result, I joined the CINF career committee and served as a committee chair. The career committee works to increase awareness among members of the American Chemical Society, the profession, and the public on careers available in scientific information fields and provide information on career pathways and professional advancement opportunities in scientific information fields. CINF is like a Chemical information family bringing expertise from a broad background where people are eager to help.

An essential question: Who is your favorite scientist?

I am fortunate enough to work with some great scientists; one of my mentors is Prof. Raymond Bergeron at the University of Florida. But I would give the credit for my scientific curiosities to Dr. Asima Chatterjee. Dr. Chatterjee was an organic chemist, and she was the first woman to receive a Doctorate of Sciences from an Indian university. She pioneered modern medicinal chemistry in India and worked on phytochemicals. Her research included vinca alkaloids and was involved in developing anti-epileptic and anti-malarial drugs. She was my inspiration going into my Ph.D. program, where I studied plant-based medicine and phytochemicals for anti-amoebic treatment.

What is a fun fact about Carnegie Mellon University?

Carnegie Mellon University is a happening place; our motto is “My heart is in the work.” CMU is home to a fascinating intersection of innovations in science, technology and the performing arts. One of the first independent research institutes focusing on chemical and industrial research, Mellon Institute, is a part of CMU. For the past century, Mellon Institute has been a place of invention of many products we use today, including the first gas mask and many others. Home of the chemistry library (Mellon Institute Library), the institute became a National Historic Chemical Landmark for its contribution in promoting applied research for industry and educating scientific researchers for the benefit of society.

CMU is at the technology forefront and leads the higher education institute in Tony and Emmy awards recipients. CMU alumni are leading the way by winning 52 Tony awards and 142 Emmy awards. CMU is also a popular location for filmmakers. Many movies, such as Batman: The Dark Knight Rises and Dogma, were filmed in or around Mellon Institute.

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