Library Cafes, Intellectual Commons and Virtual Services

Charting New Routes for Users into Research Libraries

On April 7 we kicked off the ACS Meeting with “Library Cafes, Intellectual Commons and Virtual Services, Oh My! Charting New Routes for Users into Research Libraries,” an all-day symposium organized by Leah McEwen and Teri Vogel featuring eleven speakers, librarians and publishers who shared their knowledge and experience with creating new routes into research libraries. Most of the speakers joined us in person and several presenters delivered their talks remotely, which worked out pretty well.

Special thanks go to ACS Publications for financially supporting the symposium and to Dave Martinsen for his invaluable technical assistance with the remote presentations.

Nevenka Zdravkovska, speaking remotely from the University of Maryland, led off the morning with a discussion about the continuing trend of eliminating and/or consolidating branch libraries. She is the author of Academic Branch Libraries in Changing Times[1] and touched briefly on some of the research for her book, as well as some updates since. Nevenka compared the numbers of branch libraries among ARL institutions from 1983, 1999, and 2010, and in that time the number of chemistry branch libraries have decreased. Out of the 101 ARL libraries she reviewed, 20 had chemistry branch libraries, down from 37 in the 1983 survey - and there have been additional closures since. She observed that the number of music branch libraries remains strong while the chemistry libraries have closed at a faster rate. In one of the highlights of the talk, she discussed a 1949 letter from her chemistry department on why they wanted to keep the library physically located in the department. The faculty were concerned they would lose the accessibility and quality service if they lost their branch library in favor of a common science library. Nevenka also pointed out some of the reasons behind the closing and consolidation of branch libraries, citing Jeremy Garritano’s 2007 article on the state of chemistry libraries[2] and a 2010 ACRL committee report on academic library trends[3]. All science librarians at the University of Maryland are currently working on a report, Library Services to Support Scientific Research, due in May.

Andrea Twiss-Brooks gave us an update on how the University of Chicago is transforming space in their science libraries for scientific computing, discovery and learning. Their guiding principles: develop a programmatic framework, build partnerships, support programmatic needs, and be flexible. Earlier, they repurposed a microform reading room into the Kathleen A. Zar Room, a teaching and meeting space with movable furniture. Another project, though not in her library, was the TECHB@R, collaboration with campus IT to provide technical support beyond what the library staff can offer to users. They have a circulation terminal to check out equipment, and both the groups use the space for workshops. More recently, they upgraded the Zar Room to serve as a Research Computing Center Visualization Laboratory. This is a new program, and Andrea’s library provides a space to help support it while also enhancing their campus visibility. They added high performance computing and a 3D projector for data set visualizations, and introduced a library-hosted lecture series. Space also opened up in the library with the reduction of the reference collection and transfer of all print journals that were online to the new Mansueto Library. This created an opportunity for what Andrea highlighted as the final library-campus collaboration, a computer science instructional lab. It is modular to allow flexibility for the space to be configured into larger or smaller classrooms.

University of Washington’s Susanne Redalje presented on her campus efforts to connect with users and bring them into the library. Libraries want to leverage innovation, technological advances, and opportunity, and also continue to demonstrate relevance and meet needs identified by any reports or assessments. The UW Libraries are creating spaces and services designed to bring users back, and Susanne shared several of those projects with us. The first was the Research Commons, a space to meet faculty and student needs for support of data-driven research, interdisciplinary studies, and digital scholarship. The space is flexible: everything moves and the configuration of individual and group stations changes daily. Graduate funding information, a design desk, rooms for group study reservation and presentation spaces, and data services are among the services offered. Librarians and researchers are also using the space for events, including instruction sessions (some recorded). One such event, Scholars’ Studios, has students giving five-minute lightning talks around themes like “sustainability” or “northwest.” From their assessment to date, feedback has been positive though they do not yet have a “normal”: the group and quiet spaces are a premium and partnering with Graduate Services has been valuable. Susanne also told us that the graduate students appreciate the networking opportunities and diversity of services the Research Commons has provided, and that additional services may be needed for international students. Though one goal of the space was to support the interdisciplinary work, the chemistry people were just forced to use it after closing of the chemistry library. She also told us about the three new interactive classrooms for the undergraduate library. They have been designed to support active learning, and faculty can request the space for individual sessions up to the entire quarter. Again, response has been mostly positive, though there are concerns about ongoing costs, including staff, equipment, and time, as well as communicating with users. They are also applying what they have learned to improve spaces in other campus libraries.

Instead of space changes, Erja Kajosalo focused on the librarian-centered changes they have made with their transition at MIT Libraries from a traditional library organization to a more functional model. They reorganized in 2010, moving away from the hierarchical branch library silos. There were catalysts for the change. The research had become increasingly interdisciplinary, most of the faculty and students regularly use more than one campus library, and the collection expenditures shifted from mostly print to mostly, but not entirely, digital in a relatively short period of time. And like many other libraries, budget cuts were another driver for the reorganization, which is complete but still evolving. There are now five functional groups, including “Liaisons for Departments, Labs and Centers.” The liaisons are covering more areas, including the many interdisciplinary labs and centers on campus, and there are multiple models in play. Some liaisons do not cover collections development for their areas, while a group of liaisons might support a particular department/lab/center. There are currently 14 FTE for liaisons, but 27 librarians that have liaison assignments. Erja reported on the successes and challenges of their new model of split assignments. It has improved service and allows them to focus on library strategic initiatives and institutional priorities, and they also have a user experience group and assessment team in place now. However, with no heads of libraries anymore, there are sometimes questions about who to contact when certain issues arise. While there is more collaboration among liaisons and they can leverage the shared needs and values of their user groups, there has also been less face-to-face contact with users, and scheduling time for liaison collaboration has been more difficult.

In a slides-free presentation, Kiyomi Deards spoke about some of the approaches she has taken for reaching out to her departments at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, which weren’t well served in previous years. Her focus has been on building relationships with her user groups, so even if someone doesn’t need her services now, they will remember her if they need in the future. To this end, she tries to attend at least one department seminar a quarter to help maintain a presence. She also has lunch with the undergraduate and graduate recruiters once or twice a year to keep up with what’s going on the departments. One thing that Kiyomi has noticed in our profession is the amount of librarian self-doubt, something she never saw when she was working as a chemist. She advises that librarians with subject expertise not hide it, and in fact that they make sure that their users groups are aware of that expertise.

The closing of the Physical Sciences Library at Cornell (PSL) has been discussed at previous meetings, and at this symposium we had two presentations, both remote, on some of the recent service and website innovations at PSL. The challenge, as Jill Wilson noted, was how to still be relevant without a physical library. The redesigned website focuses on the essential services and resources, with new features. One of these is the Virtual Shelf Browser (VSB) (, a reinvention of a “classic” that was lost when the books were moved out. For their ACS on Campus program ( a small group of faculty and graduate students were involved in customizing the modules. Along with a la carte services like instruction, consultations, open-ended hospitality events (“Cookies with Grads”), and embedded librarianship, the PSL is developing new services to meet the needs of their users. A current focus has been around issues of scholarly communication that go “beyond the article.” The librarians hosted a 2-day workshop on speaking skills, bringing in experts to work with students on techniques like developing elevator speeches. Graduate student input has also been incorporated into an upcoming event on public communication for graduate students that will cover elevator speeches, poster presentations, etiquette, dressing for conferences and business dinners, and more. While the first workshops were created for the chemistry students, PubCon (The Public Speaking Development Conference for Graduate Students at Cornell) will be open to all graduate students.

The morning sessions concluded with a talk from ACS Publications’ Steve Hansen, who was presenting in place of Sara Rouhi. Steve highlighted their outreach efforts to libraries and academic departments, and the shared service missions of their organization and libraries in supporting research, scholarship, and teaching. As part of their effort to broaden information competency skills, they have made the ACS Style Guide[4] (not just the Reference section) available online ( for their Publications and Academic Core+ customers as well as for their ChemWorx users. They are also in the process of digitizing the Supporting Information from the 1970-1995 content that was previously available only in microform: more than 800,000 pages for more than 50,000 articles. It should all be online by the end of 2013, and there will not be an added charge for current Legacy Archives customers. Steve also talked about the just-launched ChemWorx (, a tool to keep track of references, collaborate, and share documents. While these services exist elsewhere, ACS wanted to create something that would integrate them within a single interface. On the teaching and learning front, ACS launched their Publishing Your Research 101 ( video series in May 2011, and, 60,000 video views later, are about to release the tenth and final video. Steve concluded the presentation with a mention of ACS on Campus (, which many in the audience had already hosted on their campus. In 2012, more than 2600 students and 100 faculty members attended one of the 23 campus visits.

The afternoon session focused on online information tools to reach research and teaching libraries. Susan Henderson started off with an overview of the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre (CCDC) ( They continue to heavily subsidize the cost of Cambridge Structural Database (CSD) for academics (, and more libraries have adopted site-wide licenses since the introduction of WebCSD, which does not have the installation requirements of the DVD version ( They also offer free software and services like Mercury for crystal structure visualization, and anyone can have access to the original deposited crystal data regardless of subscription. CCDC is in the process of replacing their current CSD format (ASER), legacy data, and systems. This will reduce the amount of developer time spent on redundancies and maintaining their homegrown software. Also on the horizon is a major upgrade to the WebCSD database that will add new search functionality. Once the ASER format is replaced, it will enable CCDC to make further improvements to CSD that should improve the user experience and provide better, faster data. Another feature that Susan highlighted is CSD X-Press, a WebCSD service that offers early access to newly published crystal structures prior to being fully curated by the CCDC editors. They are also linking to other collections of chemical data; ChemSpider and PubChem substances have links back to WebCSD if they are in the database, and links from RSC, IUCr, and Elsevier journal citations to the CCDC structures. Also coming soon is CSD-searching integrated into Wavefunction’s iSpartan molecular modeling app for iOS devices.

The ChemEd WikiHyperglossary (WHG) ( was the topic of Robert Belford’s (University of Arkansas at Little Rock) presentation. He gave a brief history of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), their development in the digital age from the World Wide Web to social web to semantic web, and the challenges that free agent or DIY learners face. The WHG is a glossary-generating program that uses social semantic information literacy technology to query terms in a document and return data from external sources like ChemSpider, ChemEd DL, and the Protein Data Bank. Canonical definitions are coupled with social definitions; there may be a non-editable IUPAC definition, along with up to four wiki-generated definitions that can be tailored for specific audiences. Appropriate background knowledge can be embedded for reading comprehension. Robert showed some videos to give us a better sense of the WHG in action. You choose a glossary, select text or a URL, and your document is returned with links to definitions, or links to ChemSpider.

In his talk about wiki-based chemistry resources Antony Williams (Royal Society of Chemistry) started off by asking how many of those in the audience have managed wikis, or created or edited content. Beyond the basic definition, wikis can be a place to connect and collaborate, for discussion and constructive conflict, and for community engagement. With one project to curate the Wikipedia entries for the 200 top selling drugs, Antony and others involved came across errors with structures and names, incorrect associations with names or structures, incorrect database links, property data errors, and CAS Number validation issues. They ran into challenges with CAS over using SciFinder to validate the Registry Numbers, but after some discussion CAS gave the dataset to Wikipedia to validate the numbers for the chemicals and drugs. This was a beneficial outcome for all involved. As part of the curation process, once the ChemBox or DrugBox for an entry has been validated, robots on the site will prevent further editing by automatically reverting back to the validated data. There are also gaps in the chemical information on Wikipedia; entries for drugs, but not necessarily for the scientists who developed them, for example. Because of Wikipedia’s rules about conflicts of interest and notability, Antony noted that adding porn stars to Wikipedia can be easier than adding scientists. He concluded with an overview of other chemistry wiki projects. There is work to expand Wikipedia content for minerals, polymers, and reactions. ChemSpider Reactions is in development, and it will integrate ChemSpider SyntheticPages ( and several RSC databases. ScientistsDB ( is a wiki that allows scientists to create and maintain their own wiki pages and use widgets to embed content from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Mendeley and other sites that make up their profile. There are also related wikis for science databases and mobile applications, and the RSC Learn Chemistry ( wiki for secondary and undergraduate education resources is another one that is looking for more content. It includes substance pages with a simpler interface than ChemSpider, plus teaching resources like lab experiments, tutorials, and quizzes. They are also working on a chemical structure collection that they will donate to anyone who wants to link to Wikipedia by a chemical (and you should contact Antony if you are interested).

Dianne Dietrich at Cornell University closed out the presentations with her talk about more of the work on the technical side of the Physical Sciences Library (PSL) ( One of their most significant projects has been CuLLR, short for Curated List of Library Resources, the librarians’ tool to display key resources for astronomy, chemistry and physics, divided by sub discipline. Dianne and Leah McEwen have separate pages set up on the PSL homepage to retrieve annotated lists of databases, e-book collections, and e-journals. Work on the library website is iterative and done in programming sprints. Every six to eight weeks, the PSL librarians “borrow” a programmer from the Libraries IT Division for a three-day sprint, at which time he essentially belongs to PSL to work on their projects.

We concluded the symposium with an open discussion and Q&A on several topics, including Wikipedia and web discovery systems. Thank you to everyone who attended and participated.

Slides for some presentations are posted at: /node/413#Sc

Teri Vogel, Symposium Co-Organizer

[1] Zdravkovska, N. Academic Branch Libraries in Changing Times; Chandos Publishing, Oxford, 2011.

[2] Garritano, J. R. Current and future status of chemistry collections and chemistry libraries at ARL institutions. Iss. Sci. Tech. Librar. 2007, 50. DOI: 10.5062/F4222RQP (accessed online April 26, 2013).

[3] ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee. 2012 top ten trends in academic libraries: a review of the trends and issues affecting academic libraries in higher education. Coll. Res. Libr. News. 2012, 73 (6). 311-320. URL: (accessed online April 26, 2013).

[4] Coghill, A. M.; Garson, L. R. Eds. The ACS Style Guide; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, 2006. URL: (accessed online April 26, 2013).