Library Life: Interview with University of Rochester Librarian Sue Cardinal

Andrew Clinton
  • 7 min read

Sue Cardinal is a STEM Librarian at Carlson Science & Engineering Library, specializing in chemistry, chemical engineering, and materials science.

Library Life Series - ACS Publications

Tell me about your current role.

As a STEM Librarian at the River Campus Libraries of the University of Rochester, I’m a matchmaker between students and faculty and the information they desire. I listen, and then I share methods for finding, accessing, and organizing information. I view the information as voices from the past, translated into words and inked over old paper and, more recently, turned into a stream of electrons. Additionally, I predict the future by selecting subscriptions and purchasing books that I think will be used. I hedge my bets by teaching students about chemistry, chemical engineering, and materials science resources. I gently promote and highlight resources and services at departmental functions. At the library, I dream with my colleagues about new services, and we work together to make them happen. Recently, I’ve joined the Research Initiatives Department, where we are exploring topics and services related to the research impact of our University and scholars.

What is your background?

My brother introduced me to chemistry when he received a chemistry set. Mild jealousy turned into amazement and awe when he mixed all the chemicals together, and the explosion left a black mark on the basement ceiling. Weekly trips to the library were part of my normal routine because my mother was an avid reader. I loved mysteries, horses, and science fiction.

I earned my B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Iowa. After working in environmental labs in Syracuse, N.Y., I transitioned into libraries. First, I volunteered at the Fayetteville Public Library, and then I took an introductory class at Syracuse University. Soon I began working at Syracuse University’s H. Douglas Barclay Law Library while I obtained my Master of Library Science in 2000. I was hired at the University of Rochester shortly afterward and have been here ever since.

Inspired by my predecessor and mentor, Arleen Somerville, I became active in the ACS Chemical Information (CINF) Division in 2001, first as Secretary, then as Education Committee Co-Chair, then Teller, and Careers Committee Co-Chair. Most recently, I have been the CINF Program Planner. Currently, I am Chair-Elect, looking forward to leading the division in 2022.

I’ve also been active in the Special Library Association (SLA) in their Chemistry Division and have taught many iterations of “Chemistry for the Non-Chemist Librarian” with my long-time friend and CINF colleague Judith Currano. I am one of several co-authors of the References chapter in the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication.

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

This is a broad and endless question, so I’m going to focus on three challenges that many students and faculty face.

Discovering high-quality information: I work with my colleagues so that we can subscribe to the best search tools, like SciFinder-n, Reaxys, Scopus, and Web of Science. Then I regularly advertise the tools, embed them into student and faculty workflows when possible, and give instruction on how to use them. Additionally, we subscribe to high-quality journals and obtain top-notch data and books. We also discuss how to evaluate the quality of information.

Navigating the changing publishing environment: I regularly learn from colleagues both inside of my library and beyond about how the publishing world is changing. We are especially focused on supporting Open Access for our researchers. We believe that their research impact will increase, and they will have more control over their scholarly products. Additionally, their research will be read by a diverse global audience.

Obtaining access to the most relevant resources in a timely fashion: Attending scholars’ research talks is one way that I learn about what is relevant to them. I also solicit recommendations from faculty about resources that our library needs. Interest in resources changes over time, so I need to adjust our portfolio of subscriptions to match. Additionally, I educate students and faculty about our interlibrary loan system, the role of preprints, and open educational resources.

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

The nature and format of information that students and faculty are interested in are changing from traditional research papers and books to digital multimedia like social media, blog posts, videos, images, datasets, slack chats, preprints, and virtual reality. Openly available global information is increasing. The library’s physical holdings have decreased in recent years while our online holdings have increased, though this varies by discipline. As a result, our role is changing. We provide access to online materials and guide faculty and students to what they need. Additionally, many brilliant librarians are determining processes and procedures for how to collect, search and manage data and digital multimedia.

Libraries try to use our financial might to enable access to information but unfortunately, and this is a long-term trend, our funds don’t go as far as they used to. Libraries are funneling those funds into making information freely available, so we don’t need to pay over and over for the same resources.

Within the library, librarian roles are shifting from discipline-based subject librarians to functional roles like “Data Librarian” or “Scholarly Communications Librarian.” Additionally, many libraries are working towards a more inclusive workplace and more diverse collections.

You’re also the chair-elect of ACS’s Chemical Information (CINF) division. What are your goals and objectives for the division in 2022?

As the ACS’s CINF Division Chair, I hope to continue the work of our past leaders, specifically working on the Strategic Plan from 2019. Sharing information is the lifeblood of science, and we have a critical role along with ACS Publications and CAS to influence the creation, organization, analysis, and dissemination of chemical information and data. We determined that networking is one key to the success of our division. I hope to implement rapid communication to our membership, including stronger social media posting and virtual social events so that we can educate ourselves and support each other in our careers.

A very important question: Who is your favorite scientist?

My favorites have changed over the years. Currently, I’m reading a book called “Braiding Sweetgrass.” The writer, Robin Wall Kimmerer, is a botanist and professor who blends her indigenous viewpoint with traditional scientific methodology. The first thing that struck me about her writing is the gratitude that pours out for all living things. I admire her vision of restoration and harmony between the earth, plants, animals, and humans. I’m inspired to look at my world more closely and give thanks for all the plants and animals that have given their lives and all the humans that have given their time so that I might be comfortable, well-fed, and well cared for.

What is a fun fact about the University of Rochester?

Susan B. Anthony lived in Rochester, NY and her grave is in the Mt Hope Cemetery that adjoins the University. People like to add their “I voted” stickers on her grave.

There’s also a dramatic story about how women were initially admitted to the University of Rochester in which Susan B. Anthony played a pivotal role. In the 1890s, she raised an impressive sum of money in pledges to secure a promise from the University that women would be granted access and made a last-minute donation of her life insurance policy to ensure that it would happen. The University was forced to make good on its promise, and women were admitted for the first time in 1900.

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