Library Life: Interview with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Librarian Ye Li

Andrew Clinton
  • 6 min read

Ye Li is the Librarian for Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Materials Sciences and Engineering at MIT Libraries.

Library Life Series - ACS Publications

Tell me about your current role.

I am currently the Librarian for Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Materials Sciences and Engineering at MIT Libraries. As a subject specialist and a member of the Libraries’ Data Management Services team, I support researchers and students with finding, accessing, evaluating and disseminating research data and information, facilitating computational access and reuse of data and texts, as well as organizing, managing, and sharing research data according to FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and reusable) principles. I strive to partner with researchers and other stakeholders of open science to cultivate good practices for reproducible research and publishing.

What is your background?

My hometown is in the mountains of Southwest China and I spent my undergraduate years as a Chemistry major at Beijing Normal University. I came to the U.S. in 2004 and obtained my Ph.D. in Chemistry and M.A. in Library and Information Science from the University of Iowa in 2009. In the same year, I started my career as a Chemistry Librarian at the University of Michigan. From 2016 to 2018, I led scholarly communications initiatives at the Colorado School of Mines. In 2019, I joined MIT Libraries for my current position.

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

The challenges I help our faculty, students, and staff to address are around research data and information. On one hand, they are overwhelmed by the amount and pace of new information and need to accurately find, evaluate and access research information at the point of need; On the other hand, our researchers need to disseminate their own research output broadly and efficiently to enhance the impact. As a subject specialist in the library, I am usually at the forefront of directly interacting with our faculty, staff and students to learn the specific problems and barriers, deliver instructions and consultations, and build partnership in teaching and research projects.

To come up with the solutions or make collective progress, I work closely with my library colleagues who have expertise in other subjects, data management and sharing, scholarly communications and collections strategies, information delivery and library access, digital library services, etc. I also connect with publishers, information service providers, open research infrastructure providers, professional societies and organizations, funders and other stakeholders in the scholarly information ecosystem to develop systematic paths forward rather than a one-off solutions to problems. I strive to contribute to a better environment for research and learning and also to cultivate more open and reproducible research practices.

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

My observation is from the academic librarians’ perspective, which mostly reflects the scholarly communication landscape in higher education. The pandemic accelerated the exploration of remote learning and research, but also surfaced the necessity of in-person interactions in academic life. Here are some trends in academic libraries to consider as we address the evolving landscape and emerging needs.

  • Digital-first has become a principle for decision-making in providing access to scholarly information and services, but tangible collections will still be important to consider for some disciplines and areas.
  • We must explore the application of machine learning and artificial intelligence in information discovery and knowledge creation. We must likewise facilitate computational access and use of data and information for data-intensive research and learning.
  • We need to develop prioritizing strategies to balance the investment in traditional purchasing and subscriptions with the investment in open publishing, open infrastructure, and value-added services from publishers and information service providers.
  • Open Science and Open Scholarship should promote equity and inclusion across disciplines, and we should partner with other stakeholders to make that happen.
  • Interest is growing in the area of cultivating open and reproducible practices for research and publishing throughout the research lifecycle.

You were also the program chair of ACS’s Chemical Information (CINF) division in 2021. What was that like?

Co-chairing the Program Committee of ACS-CINF from 2020-2021 has been a challenging but very rewarding experience. Coordinating divisional symposium organizers and speakers for the biannual international conference, ACS meetings & exhibitions allowed me to work closely with CINF members, officers, and ACS staff. With the disruption from the pandemic, all the existing timelines, logistics, and mechanisms needed to be reworked in a short time frame and everyone needs to stay nimble due to the fluid situation. I really appreciated all the diligent work of CINF symposium organizers and speakers, their willingness to be flexible, and the active participation of CINF members.

Our hard work really paid off. We were able to offer engaging programs covering hot topics, especially machine learning, FAIR data sharing, open science, and ethics in scholarly communications. The attendance of the CINF sessions was comparable, sometimes exceeded, what we observed before the pandemic. Taking advantage of the virtual conference, we were able to invite speakers who usually did not travel to ACS meetings. Being the Program Chair of CINF allowed me to learn the necessity of harmonizing our CINF members’ diverse research focuses around chemical information, data, and cheminformatics as well as the different perspectives from chemical information professionals, cheminformaticians, librarians, and publishers. I started to develop some strategies around it together with other CINF officers and hope to further that collaborative effort during my term as CINF Chair-elect and Chair in the next couple of years.

A very important question: Who is your favorite scientist?

I admire all scientists who are passionately curious and who are perseverant because of such curiosity. If I have to name individuals, it would be between Marie Curie and Nikola Tesla. They had very different styles and approaches but both were extremely curious about nature and ideas.

What is a fun fact about MIT?

“Hacking is a long-standing tradition at MIT and a part of its culture.” This is written in the official Mind & Hand Book. Here are two “Hack Etiquettes” to highlight: “Be Subtle – Leave no evidence that you were ever there” and “Leave things as you found them – or better”. Check this Wikipedia article or the MIT Hacks website for fun and famous hacks over the years.

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