Talking with faculty

Over at Confessions of a Science Librarian, John Dupuis has set out a delightful “Stealth Librarianship Manifesto” that echoes many of the comments I have made about how librarians need to get out of the library (physically and virtually) and interact with our users in their spaces, including conferences and publications.

At my library, we are currently working through a big project to help us do that.  We have a relatively new “scholarly communications” team and our goal over the next 6 months or so is to talk to faculty members across campus to learn about what they are doing.  I’ve mentioned this project before, and noted that there are some resources available to help folks understand various disciplines.  It is vitally important for us to understand what is going on on our campus.  Our faculty are amazing, but they have different pressures than the folks at research universities.

So every week I meet with two or three faculty from the disciplines I serve and chat with them about the research and publication efforts:

  • What are they working on right now?
  • Are they incorporating undergraduates into their research?  Have they co-authored publications with these students? (Quite often)
  • How do they select which journal to publish in?  Do they pay attention to impact factors or not? (Although my faculty pay attention to general reputation, they rarely mention the metrics)
  • Have they posted a copy of one of the publications online?  Do they know if they kept the right to do so? (They have no idea what rights they have to their papers)
  • What kinds of data are they producing?  What do they do with it? (I’ve already learned a lot about the distinctions between the theorists and the applied folks in math and computer science)

The conversations I have had so far have been incredibly interesting and educational.  I service 6 departments (Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Geological Sciences, Mathematics, and Physics & Astronomy).  My educational background is in Geology, so I don’t have a native understanding of what the mathematicians or physicists are doing, for example.  These conversations have given me remarkable glimpses into our faculty’s values, assumptions and goals.

One of the important distinctions I’ve noticed is the disconnect between the highly active science online community (bloggers and tweeters, etc.) and your average run of the mill faculty.  Scholarly communication may be changing, but many of the faculty I’ve talked with (including those who are still publishing actively) are barely aware of some of the fascinating changes and experiments taking place.

So far, I’ve only had a chance to talk with 13% of the faculty I work with, and an upcoming maternity leave will delay my conversations with some, but it has been an incredible experience so far, and I look forward to the rest.


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