Librarians at a Crossroad

Svetla headshotLast week I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Svetla Baykoucheva, the Chemistry Librarian at the University of Maryland College Park, to discuss her opinions on the changing role of the library in the face of technological advancement . Svetla has been working at the University of Maryland for eleven years. Prior to that, she was the manager of the American Chemical Society Library for eight years and spent a significant part of her career as a researcher studying biological membranes and lipid metabolism. The dual perspective of working as a librarian and researcher equips Svetla with a unique view of the role of librarians and the challenges they currently face.

Last year, Svetla published a book, Managing Scientific Information and Research Data, which explores how innovative technologies are changing research, scientific publishing, and the role librarians are playing in academic institutions.

“With science becoming more and more interdisciplinary and the volume of data growing at unprecedented speed, there is a need to look at scientific information and how we manage it from a new perspective.”
‐‐Svetla Baykoucheva, Managing Scientific Information and Research Data (2015)
A Changing Environment
We live in a very dynamic and connected world. With the Internet constantly available, you can tap into a lot of information and quickly find what you are looking for. And for librarians, that immediacy is felt from students and researchers who now expect information to be available at their fingertips. To meet that expectation, libraries and publishers are making it easier for users to find the information they need. New tools for bibliographic management and other applications allow users to manage and use information in ways that were unthinkable just a few years ago. Svetla teaches chemical information in large chemistry courses and sees first-hand the students’ enthusiasm for learning. Students are fascinated when they can draw a molecular structure in databases such as SciFinder or Reaxys and find the properties of the chemical compound corresponding to this structure.

The library is in the middle of a transitional period, which brings with it different challenges. Librarians are exploring new areas of engagement, adopting new roles, and embarking on a constant path of re-skilling and learning. Their role in teaching information literacy has expanded to include support for information and data management, teaching advanced technological tools, and measuring impact of research.

The Changing Role of Libraries?
As Svetla said, “It’s a very much networked world now. A very different world from what it used to be for librarians.” Librarians are becoming more involved in education and research, providing the tools for learning, which has opened great opportunities for them to demonstrate the value of their work. To stay ahead of this curve, as Svetla observes in her book, “Academic libraries need to re-imagine themselves and find new roles to play in their institutions.”

This reimagining of the library’s role can be done with the right attitude. As times are changing, it is imperative to take advantage of new training opportunities to get re‐trained and re‐educated. Connecting with peers through publishing, presenting and attending conferences is a great way to share knowledge and collaborate.

To learn more about the effects of technology on how science is performed, communicated, and shared and its lasting evolution on the library, check out Svetla’s book, Managing Scientific Information and Research Data.