Want to pursue STEM librarianship? Here’s what you should know!

Raveena Khatri, JoVE Writer | 6 min read
Raveena Khatri, JoVE Writer | 6 min read

The role of academic librarians has adapted to keep up with broader shifts in technology, society and demographics. Today librarians have to be more tech-savvy since their job functions involve helping scholars access and interpret data. JoVE interviewed STEM librarians Lisa Dunn, Brianna Buljung and Joseph R. Kraus from the Colorado School of Mines to unfold how STEM librarians' job function has evolved in recent years. To know more about skills required to pursue a career in STEM librarianship, read below Q&As from the interview;

Q: What professional skills would you specifically look for in a new STEM specialist hire? Does a lack of STEM knowledge hinder librarian performance? How so? 

A: It’s challenging to hire specialists with a STEM academic background; for non-STEM specialist positions, we are open to hiring librarians without the knowledge who demonstrate a willingness to explore. Librarians with experience in STEM disciplines also need to become familiar with other fields since librarians have different learning curves, including publishing preferences, types of materials, terminology, and research needs. For a STEM specialist, we prefer to hire a librarian with;

  1. Either STEM experience or a degree in a STEM field, particularly physical sciences and engineering. 
  2. Hands-on work or research experience is a bonus. 
  3. The most important thing is a desire (or ability) to learn more about STEM resources.

Q: How does your institution prepare new STEM librarians that don't come from a STEM background? 

A: We use a variety of methods to help new librarians become familiar with STEM resources and disciplines by providing a;

  1. Reference training module in Canvas.
  2. Provide mentoring and shadowing at the reference desk, including discussing past answered questions in LibAnswers.
  3. Encourage all librarians to attend on-campus lectures and events, join STEM professional societies (ASEE, GSA, ACS, etc.) and audit introductory STEM courses.
  4. Participate in professional development events such as STEM librarians bootcamp.
  5. Our STEM certification curriculum is still in development. We are developing the curriculum in Canvas, designing modules and activities for participants to complete. 

However, we prefer to hire librarians with a STEM background for STEM librarian positions.  

Q: How do you suggest librarians maintain their awareness in STEM subject areas and prepare for success in their role?  

A: We encourage librarians to maintain awareness and become more familiar with STEM disciplines at Mines. Here is our list of recommended methods;

  1. Join national email discussion lists from groups like the ASEE Engineering Librarians Division, SLA, etc.  
  2. Be active on campus and ask questions – attend events, audit courses and attend lectures. 
  3. Find the aspects of STEM that interest them – watch PBS Nova, follow blogs, and check out YouTube videos. 
  4. Learn about the different departments, research centers, emerging trends in research, publishing, disciplines, and the types of resources required, such as standards, protocols, USGS reports, well logs, etc.
  5. Explore databases and practice answering questions from different disciplines.

Q: Explain the role of STEM librarians in curriculum and course design? 

A: We actively partner with classroom faculty when preparing information literacy lessons across the Mines curriculum. Each class is focused on the course’s learning objectives and faculty goals to ensure that it is helpful to the students in the system. We do our best to use best practices to design the one-shot, Canvas lesson, or other course integration, including backward design and universal learning design. As faculty, we are active on committees, such as the undergraduate council and partner closely with the Trefny Center, Mines Online and Writing Center to lend our expertise in teaching research skills.  

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