Profile: Chemistry Librarian

If I had to do it all over again, I think I’d be a librarian. They just tend to kind of awesome, you know? (If you don’t believe me, check out the winners of last year’s ALA Book Cart Drill Team World Championship.) Today we have a guest post by librarian Donna Wrublewski, who’s in charge of the chemical sciences collection at the University of Florida. She may not play with book carts, but I think how she got interested in science qualifies her for the awesome badge as well.

Donna Wrublewski, courtesy photo.

It all started when my mom and I discovered Doctor Who when I was about 5 or 6. I wanted to be a “mad scientist” who ran around saving the world. Science in general, and astrophysics in particular, captured my imagination. When I learned that fireworks were the result of chemical reactions, I was sold on chemistry. I felt an engineering degree would be more practical than a chemistry degree so I studied chemical engineering as an undergrad at MIT. However, all the pipes and numbers didn’t really agree with me, but my polymer science classes did, so that’s the direction I went in for graduate school. I went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst for my master’s and doctorate degrees, and worked mainly on mechanics of polymers. I learned all aspects of polymer chemistry, physics, and engineering, which made me very well suited for my current position – a librarian!

I had been considering information science for a while, particularly after having experience with traditional academia and industry – neither one felt a perfect fit. Academia felt too “cut-throat” and single-track. I took time off from graduate school to work in industry, and it felt equally as single-track, as well as too dependent on the economy. I found my current job posting on Twitter, which was a perfect metaphor for my job talk (Chemistry and Web 2.0 technology, and how it applies to libraries).

I learned all the resources I am now teaching to my patrons by actually being a graduate student in chemistry. I know where to direct them for reference questions and help them find the info they need, because chances are, I once needed the same thing. When I started, I immediately had a good rapport with graduate students because at the time, I technically still was one (I just finished my PhD this summer, after starting at UF in January). Having advanced degrees in chemistry has helped me interact with the faculty as they value the subject expertise I bring to this position. And the library faculty and staff are wonderful, especially because now they can refer people to me when they want to learn SciFinder.

Librarians with PhDs in science fields are becoming more common. Many librarians that I met at the last ACS conference also have advanced degrees. Librarians are becoming more than just collection curators, we’re the information gatekeepers. Having subject knowledge is becoming more valuable, and the field of “library science” will gradually become more “information science” as knowledge access and learning are increasingly taking place outside traditional library and school settings.

Being a tenure-track faculty librarian, I have all the benefits of being a faculty member, plus the freedom to explore pretty much whatever suits my fancy in the chemical or information science fields. Library research tends to be more social science-based than lab work. However, working with faculty in your field is something the library highly encourages, so there’s always the chance to get back into the lab should I so desire.

A little light reading, photo by flickr user audreym.

In addition to research, I’m responsible for the chemistry, chemical engineering, materials science & engineering, and nanotechnology library collections at UF. I provide both general library and subject-specific training and reference services. I’m also a book buyer, contract negotiator, question answerer, chemistry teacher, faculty advisor, committee member, freshman mentor, and whatever else comes my way. Typically I spend a few hours a day providing general reference service and taking chemistry-specific referrals from other librarians. At the beginning of the semester I’m teaching, either specific classes for chemistry students, general library instruction, or citation management software. Instead of saving the world, I save graduate students’ sanities! The fact that I don’t have a library degree means that I try to attend webinars and workshops to learn about how libraries actually work and trust me, it’s not as simple as you think.

I definitely recommend getting to know your librarian and library if you want to consider a career in this field. Know what kinds of information are out there and know how to access them. Be technology-savvy – know what the new platforms and developments are because chances are you will be using them and teaching them to others. Teaching experience is a huge plus as you will need to show people what resources are available to them and how to use them. I couldn’t be happier with the choice I’ve made for a career, even if it is outside the norm. Don’t be afraid to try something just because it’s different or you think you might not like it – you will always learn from the experience.

Thanks to Donna for the great guest post!

Author: Leigh Krietsch Boerner

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3 Comments

  1. I had a part-time job working at a library during high school and part of my undergrad years. I quickly learned that a good librarian is worth their weight in gold, platinum, and titanium – combined!

    It is their job to know what resources are out there and how to use them. In this day-and-age of excess data, keeping up with all the new resources that are appearing daily is a nightmare. It use to be enough to know how to search Chem Abstracts, the Beilstein and may Gmelin – those days are gone.

    Just like we all have that trusted colleague in physics/metallurgy/whatever that we go to to ask questions, we all need a librarian in our network.

  2. Donna, where were you when I was doing my PhD at Gainesville?!?

    Instead of saving the world, I save graduate students’ sanities!

    Indeed, I left my sanity in good ol’ Hogtown.

    In all seriousness, I really appreciate your sharing with us your experiences in the library sciences. The UF science community is really fortunate to have such an expert at Marston with your chemistry background.

    Go Gators!

  3. I second David’s comments. Marston was my second dorm.