Meet Your New CINF Membership Chair: An Interview with Donna Wrublewski

Dr. Donna Wrublewski is the Chemistry and Biology Librarian at California Institute of Technology. She provides reference, instruction, and collection development expertise in the areas of chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biophysics, and biology and biological  Imageengineering. Donna’s profile is at: http://libguides.caltech.edu/dtwrub. Prior to coming to Caltech in February of 2013, she was the Librarian for Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Materials Science & Engineering, and Physics at the University of Florida, Gainesville (2010-2013). Her educational background includes a BS in Chemical Engineering from MIT, and MS and PhD degrees in Polymer Science and Engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Donna has been a prolific contributor to the CINF technical program at ACS national meetings since 2010. She served on the CINF Education Committee 2012-14 and then rose to be Chair of the CINF Membership Committee 2015-17. We met with Donna in Denver to find out more about her professional experience and what is happening in the CINF Membership Committee.

Svetlana Korolev: Donna, we first collaborated regarding your article on the symposium honoring the 50th anniversary of Dana Roth at Caltech in Chemical Information Bulletin (http://bulletin.acscinf.org/node/666). At that symposium you talked about the evolving library services at Caltech (Donna’s presentation slides with notes are at: http://bulletin.acscinf.org/PDFs/247nm99.pdf). Could you evaluate in some depth the emerging services and your involvement in those? How much effort and time do you spend on the new directions in addition to your primary activities as the Chemistry and Biology information specialist? What brings you the most joy at Caltech overall?

Donna Wrublewski: There’s been a huge amount of activity at the Caltech Library since that wonderful symposium. One of the key directions we will be moving in is supporting digital research services, or “E-Science,” including data management. Our new University Librarian, Kristin Antelman, asked me to be part of a Caltech delegation participating in the 2015 E-Research Network, sponsored by the Digital Library Federation (DLF) and the Council for Library and Information Resources (CLIR) (more information here: http://www.diglib.org/groups/e-research-network/). I’m extremely excited to be a part of this, especially since I’m already familiar with the CLIR network, having been an Academic Library Fellow for the past 2 years. The opportunity to engage with both librarians and PhD researchers to gain broad insight into current practices, and to develop new, innovative services, is very exciting. I think this can greatly benefit the Caltech research community, and in addition I can share ideas and perspectives with other institutions. All of this is in addition to my existing duties, which include supporting the Chemistry and Biochemistry Departments, and the entire Division of Biology and Biological Engineering (composed of six research areas). I will admit at times it can be hectic and a bit of a juggling act, but knowing that I provide a unique and valued service to my patrons, continuing what Dana has so wonderfully done for many years, is what makes me most happy at Caltech.

SK: You wrote “Searching for Polymers” chapter in the 2013 best-selling book “Chemical Information for Chemists: A Primer” edited by Judith Currano and Dana Roth, and have presented steadily on teaching scientific information skills and related topics in the ACS CINF technical program since 2010. Please tell us about your current research interests. Are you planning a publication and/or presentation for the near future? 

DW: With my current duties, I will admit it’s hard to find time to pursue my own research, but one project near and dear to my heart is educating students on academic integrity and avoiding research misconduct. Colleagues at the University of Florida (UF) first introduced me to the library’s role in this area. Michelle Leonard (UF Environmental Engineering Sciences & Natural Resources Librarian) received an NSF grant to develop a game to teach STEM graduate students about how to avoid plagiarism, and invited me to be on the team when I first joined UF in 2010. (More information about the project is at: http://cms.uflib.ufl.edu/games/gap.) From that project, in conjunction with Denise Bennett (UF Engineering Librarian), she developed Ethics Workshops held in the Library and a guide to Responsible Conduct of Research resources (http://guides.uflib.ufl.edu/stemrcr). Michelle also teaches a one-credit class, “Fundamentals of Research Integrity in the Sciences.” I am currently working with Michelle and Amy Buhler (UF Engineering Librarian) on a book about Academic Integrity Education in Libraries, due out in 2016. I will also be collaborating on a talk for the Fall 2015 ACS Boston meeting with Michelle, Amy, and Dr. Neelam Bharti, the Chemistry Librarian at UF. As a former doctoral student myself, I can say first-hand that this type of education is unfortunately non-existent for many graduate students. It’s extremely important not only for the future of the scientific enterprise, but also for students on a personal, individual level the consequences of misconduct can be tragic (see for example the STAP controversy from the summer of 2014: http://www.nature.com/news/stem-cell-pioneer-blamed-media-bashing-in-suicide-note-1.15715).

SK: I found your guest post “Profile: Chemistry Librarian” in C&EN’s “Just Another Electron Pusher” (http://cenblog.org/just-another-electron-pusher/ 2010/11/profile-chemistry-librarian/) to be very fascinating. Could you share with us more details about your transition to an alternative career in chemical information? What has actually motivated such a move while you were still completing PhD studies researching polymers? What was the reaction from people around you at that time? Which counterpart idea could be put on a balance for your childhood dream of becoming a “mad scientist, who ran around to save the world”?

DW: Honestly, I’d known for a while that neither research academia nor industry was for me. I had experience working in both, and had some wonderful experiences and met some wonderful people, but neither the idea of having to manage a group of students and chase grants, nor the idea of answering to a bottom line, frankly, made me happy. The economic downturn in 2009 was actually a blessing in disguise as it made me consider careers beyond those two options, and that was how I found the position at UF. Academic librarianship lets me stay close to science, “live vicariously” through my patrons, and provide much-needed, expert-level service in the realm of scientific information (among other things), while avoiding a lot of the undesirable aspects of running a research group. Most people were a bit taken aback when I said I was becoming a librarian, mainly because the stereotypical aspects and ideas of librarianship are still embedded in the mainstream perception. When I tell people what I actually do: solve problems, teach, network, research, design and play with cool tools, among other things I’m forgetting right now, they realize how perfectly it suits me. Solving problems and helping others are the things I truly relish, as it’s what the doctor does all the time, and has inspired me for as long as I can remember. Ideally, I want to be that resource that I (very unfortunately) hardly knew existed while I was a student.

SK: Donna, could you name any professional organizations or other channels that you follow closely for your professional development? What would you recommend for fellow science librarians?

DW: CINF has been a truly wonderful resource, and again I need to thank Michelle for submitting talks back in 2010, as that is what really got me into the community. I would highly recommend CINF to any librarian who has “chemistry” in his or her title, and I particularly recommend webinars and the CHMINF-L mailing list. I’m also in the SLA Chemistry Division, and recently joined the Biology Division as a way to improve my skills in that area. CLIR has also been a fantastic place to meet other PhD’s making the transition into the library and information world. Many of us have similar experiences despite different backgrounds, and it’s been illuminating to talk to scholars in history or archaeology and learn about the differences (and unexpected similarities!) in the way they do research and how I was trained as a polymer engineer. I also keep an eye on various education resources, as instruction is a large component of my work. I work closely with Caltech’s Center for Teaching, Learning and Outreach, and the Hixon Writing Center. I participate, when I can, as a volunteer mentor in activities such as FIRST Robotics and the Science Olympiad, which are great fun overall, but give me an opportunity to hone my outreach and instruction skills as well.

SK: You are a member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), ACS Division of Chemical Information, and the Chemistry Division of the Special libraries Association. I hear you have joined the Royal Society of Chemistry recently. Please tell us why you became involved in these organizations, how your involvement evolved over time, and what you find the most rewarding about your memberships?

DW: I was the Vice-President of MIT SWE for two years during my undergraduate years, and that group was a great support. I fell away from it in graduate school, but when I got to UF, I thought it would be a natural group to reach out to about library resources. After talking with some of the students at a UF SWE meeting, they asked me to be their Faculty Advisor (librarians at UF are tenure-track faculty), and I happily agreed. I was their advisor from late 2010 until I left UF in 2013, and to this day I still miss them very, very much. I consider that one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, at UF or anywhere else. Although it seems like a tired refrain these days, it is very important to support women, and all underrepresented groups, in STEM. When you are trying to do something, it’s important to have a role model that looks like you, and understands where you are coming from. Some people may disagree with that, but there’s a chance my graduate career may have turned out quite differently if I’d been in a more diverse and supportive environment.

With regards to CINF, the most important professional aspects to me are the ability to network with professionals in my area, and the opportunities to develop skills that I would not ordinarily be able to acquire in my day-to-day work. As I was a new librarian with no library degree or background of working in libraries, CINF colleagues were vital to helping me learn the ropes and understand the wild world of chemical information from the “back” side, so to speak. The Education Committee was a natural fit for me given the immense amount of instruction I was doing at UF. Being able to talk to others about education, as well as contribute to larger projects, has been wonderful. With regards to becoming Membership Chair, this position requires a lot of organization and outreach, things that are a part of my job at Caltech, but the overall coordination is something I wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do. I’m excited to work with the rest of the CINF leadership and hopefully come up with new ideas and institute some lasting changes!

My involvement in SLA only started in 2013 as that was when I finally had the resources (both time and financial) to participate. Although CINF and SLA Chemistry (DCHE) do overlap in membership somewhat, they are diverse enough groups that I find both memberships rewarding. Whereas CINF focuses more on the chemistry aspect, I find that SLA focuses a little more on the librarianship aspect.  This is a direct result of their organizational structures; CINF is a library group in a chemistry organization, DCHE is a chemistry group in a library organization. Again, having no traditional library background, SLA has been a great resource for me in terms of learning about the library profession in general.

In the fall of 2014 I was accepted as a Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and I am much honored to be a part of that organization. I am just getting into the community and exploring everything it has to offer. I am most excited for the opportunity for more international networking!

SK: Last year’s CINF membership report (http://bulletin.acscinf.org/node/677) indicated a dramatic growth in the number of members: 39.1% between 2013 and 2014. The total of 1316 included 370 new members, all in the “student member” categories. (The students are now granted “free” membership in CINF. The $3 membership fee was eliminated by the Division in 2014). Another interesting fact was observed in the shift of cross-divisional memberships with the significant increase from the Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Division (I&EC), Catalysis Science & Technology Division (CATL), and Cellulose and Renewable Materials Division (CELL) overshadowing the traditional cross-divisional overlap with COMP, MEDI, and ORGN. Could you comment on the recent trends?

DW: Since becoming Chair just this past January, I’m in the process of reviewing membership policies and data for the past few years, as I have time and ability to access it. CINF, to me, is one of those divisions that appears more specialized than it is. I spoke with many people in Denver about this, and one sentiment was that everyone in ACS uses chemical information in one form or another, so everyone should be a member of CINF. The same could be true of divisions like PROF, CHAS (for any experimentalist), and so on. Membership is something that is on almost everyone’s mind in ACS these days, and many divisions face the same challenges. Reaching out to students and other Divisions is something we’ll certainly be exploring.

SK: Donna, I would like to compliment you on new “Member Profile” initiative introduced in the fall 2014 issue of Chemical Information Bulletin. Also, kudos to Erja Kajosalo and Susanna Redalje for joining the Membership Committee this year. With this enthusiastic crew you must be considering a new exciting campaign for the Division. Could you share some of the priorities?

DW: Thanks! I must give due credit for the “Member Profile” to our Past Division Chair, Judith Currano, with whom I corresponded closely prior to becoming Membership Chair. The idea of a profile came out of her desire to get us to know one another, and see the diversity (both in people and professions) in our wonderful Division. Members should feel comfortable reaching out and networking: that’s what brought me to CINF! If you see someone who does something you’re interested in, or someone you want to collaborate with, or someone who might have expertise to help you with a problem, contact them! We hope that the profiles will encourage members to do that. Erja and Susanne have been great colleagues to work with, and although the past several months have been busy in terms of time available to work on things, we do have a few ideas in the works. We will be conducting a brief survey of the membership in conjunction with this year’s divisional elections, happening later this summer. We hope this will give us a sense of what people need. I did do some observation of other Divisions and their activities in Denver, and we have some more information to gather and compare. We have a few ideas that we are working on, but these aren’t really in a presentable form yet. Watch for more information coming later this summer!

SK: With the transition of all CINF Division’s publications from print to electronic version and from “member only” to “free access for all” how would you advocate for the “value added” of the CINF membership? Do you think that a lack of the “member only” benefits is an obstacle for recruitment and retention? Should CINF consider approaching some of its sponsors (publishers) in order to enable “member only” access to one or two chemical information sources? Are there any other channels for new membership benefits?

DW: I had several conversations with members of other Divisions in Denver and I can say that this is something with which many Divisions are struggling. There are actually some things for which CINF membership is obligatory, such as organizing a CINF symposium at an ACS meeting or holding an Executive Committee position. The idea of access to information sources is something I’ve heard as well, and is something that the RSC provides for its members. It would definitely be worth exploring if it makes sense for CINF members. There are a few others things the Membership Committee is researching: stay tuned!

SK: Let me conclude on a personal note. Please tell us something about yourself. What brings you great pleasure beyond your professional life at Caltech and CINF? Do you get some spare vacation time for sightseeing while at conferences? Are there any favorite places you like visiting? What hobbies do you have? 

DW: When I travel for work I do try to take extra time to visit with friends in the area. I was fortunate to stay with good friends during the last trip in Colorado, and also while I was in Washington, DC immediately prior to Denver for the Librarian’s Guide to NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) class. I don’t actually stay in hotels very often since I have friends all over the country with spare beds and warm hearts.  My boyfriend and I love exploring Los Angeles: it’s unlike anywhere else we’ve ever lived! We live within walking distance of the famous Huntington Gardens, and probably should go there more often than we do. I love plants and have a small succulent and herb garden on our porch.  We go out to eat fairly regularly and there are so many restaurants to try here. As someone with celiac disease and a few other food restrictions, it’s important to me to find tasty healthy food. I love going out to places that understand that, and I get inspired to try to recreate good things at home. I cook and bake gluten-free treats pretty regularly.

I’m a die-hard New York Mets fan and try to catch a game whenever I am back in New York City visiting my family. I’m also pretty obsessed with Doctor Who, and spend lots of time watching and reading it, usually in close proximity to our cat, Bowie, with whom I am equally obsessed. When all that isn’t going on, I try to read books or cross-stitch (mostly on cross-country plane flights).

SK: Donna, thank you so much for your time and the privilege of introducing you as the new CINF Membership Chair to the readers of this Bulletin. Best wishes for your success!     

Donna’s Publications:

  1. Searching for polymers. In Chemical Information for Chemists: A Primer; Currano, J., Roth D., Ed., 2013. http://www.rsc.org/Shop/books/2013/9781849735513.asp.
  2. Comparing Engineering Departments across Institutions: Gathering Publication Impact Data in a Short Timeframe. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship. Winter 2012 (68). http://www.istl.org/12-winter/refereed2.html.

Donna’s Presentations:

  1. How do you define the value of something if it’s free? Observations on Caltech’s Institutional Repository. 9-CINF. Spring 2015. (See report in this issue of CIB).
  2. Evolving library services in the ever-changing world of chemical information: From printed to electronic to networked. 99-CINF. Fall 2014. (slides with notes. Donna’s symposium report).
  3. Anything BUT overlooked: Librarians teaching scientific communication skills at the University of Florida. 87-CINF. Fall 2013. (Sci-Mix) (slides: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00003497/00001).
  4. Use of an institutional repository to promote chemical sciences collections at the University of Florida. 141-CINF. Fall 2012. (slides: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00012153/00001).
  5. Digital rights management and e-books: Perspectives from a research library. 145-CINF. Fall 2012. (symposium report).
  6. Use of course reserves as a gentle introduction to the chemical literature. 24-CINF. Spring 2012. (symposium report).
  7. Faculty-librarian partnership for a student research presentation in a physical chemistry laboratory course. 27-CINF. Spring 2012. (same report as above).
  8. Providing comparative data on published research impact (internally and externally). 122-CINF. Spring 2012. (slides: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00000776/00001).
  9. Check us out: Librarians as departmental PR agents. 45-CINF. Fall 2011.
  10. Elements of research misconduct. 46-CINF. Fall 2011. (slides: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00000672/00001).