It Takes Two to Tango: A Symposium Honoring Dana Roth

Chemistry Librarians Partnering with Publishers and Researchers to Advance the Chemical Sciences

“During almost 50 years of service to the chemical information profession, Dana Roth has clearly demonstrated the need for chemistry librarians and information professionals to work closely with researchers and publishers. In honor of his achievements, we present a day of accepted and invited presentations, highlighting the many ways that chemistry librarians and information professionals are working closely with publishers and researchers.” (Call for papers)


This symposium was organized by Judith Currano (University of Pennsylvania) and Ted Baldwin (University of Cincinnati) to honor Dana Roth in the best way possible. His dedication to building relationships among all the players in the chemical information “ecosystem” was emulated in all presentations. Talks from librarians described their relationships with their campuses, publishers and other information providers, and the broader community of librarians and information professionals. From the information provider side, we heard about improvements and growth that were directly influenced by valued interactions with the library community.

As the slides for all talks will be made available, the summary provided below is primarily from my own notes and thoughts, and does not exactly follow the order of the presentations – please consult the program listing for those details and abstracts (/node/621#W1a). Any mischaracterizations and omissions are solely errors on my part.

Understanding one’s campus is arguably the most important information a librarian can have. In recent years, campus libraries have borne the brunt of both reorganizations and budget cuts. Susanne Redalje (University of Washington) gave a poignant update on the closure of the campus's Chemistry Library five years ago. One important note was that with the loss of physical space also came the loss of both virtual space and organizational structure, both major hindrances to effective outreach. She stressed the importance of a physical presence in an increasingly virtual world, and how that presence involves more the librarian and the services than the actual physical place.

However, campus feedback indicated that the library was missed, and there was a distinct lack of understanding as to why it was closed. In turn, this emphasizes that direct engagement and communication with users, and especially with administration, is critical to successful outreach. This includes staying abreast of campus developments such as new research centers or initiatives, hosting on-campus events (such as ACS On Campus), surveys on services, and direct email notifications to patrons whenever possible. Finally, organizing on-campus services, as well as networking with the larger science librarian community through events such as the Science Librarian Boot Camps, has provided a structure and a “way forward” for improving and innovating services.

Ted Baldwin described several projects underway at the University of Cincinnati in response to input on meeting the needs of researchers. The Science Libraries are being reorganized to provide additional collaborative and study space, as well as a Research Commons with features including a data visualization studio and GIS capabilities. This involved significant relocation of print materials, which was done with “lots of consultation” with the affected researchers, emphasizing again the importance of clearly communicating changes. Another innovation is the creation of the “science informationist” position, working with everything from data management to digital repositories to best practices. Finally, fall 2014 will see collaborations with faculty “early adopters” of the campus digital repository and open journal systems, emphasizing the focus on responding to researchers, giving them what they need.

Understanding what your campus is doing is vital to both informing the services you provide and lobbying effectively for services that you need from information providers and publishers. Grace Baysinger (Stanford University) talked about the various needs of a campus, both in terms of education and research, and the importance of partnering with information providers to meet these needs. Campus visits, one-on-one meetings, and focus groups are just some of the ways to give feedback to providers, and one should take advantage of any opportunity presented. This will in turn improve offerings and services, including everything from content to metadata to training materials. Engaging with providers and offering substantive feedback is a highly effective method to truly “partner” with providers and serve your campus users.

From the provider viewpoint, two longtime stalwarts in the chemical information field, CAS and ACS Publications, provided insight into their development and relationship with librarians, pointing to Dana Roth as an influential partner and how librarians in general provide valued feedback.

Steve Hansen from ACS Publications, speaking in place of Sara Rouhi, echoed Grace’s sentiments, this time from the publisher side. He described ACS’ efforts to engage librarians in discussions and summits to address issues ranging from pricing to Open Access to metrics. As a nice side note, Steve mentioned a story that Sara had told him that visiting Caltech was one of her first trips as an ACS Publications representative, and she spoke warmly of Dana’s kindness and hospitality.

Roger Schenck (Manager, CAS Content Promotions) told a brief history of CAS, including the evolution of the CAS REGISTRY, arguably CAS’s most “far-reaching development.” He emphasized that the adoption by libraries and engagement of users with its services, SciFinder Key Contacts in particular, have been instrumental to CAS’ growth and success. As a Key Contact, Dana has provided feedback throughout the years to improve and expand CAS’ services, including its databases and interfaces. Roger closed with some of Dana’s most notable contributions to the “chemical information enterprise,” including co-editing the volume “Chemical Information for Chemists” with Judith Currano and his significant activity on the CHMINF-L mailing list. Roger counted over 700 messages (and rising) sent by Dana since its inception in 1991: yet another statement of his service to his fellow information specialists and his contribution to the field as a whole.

Returning to the academic realm, my presentation touched on a number of topics to show how Dana’s vision for service and librarianship at Caltech is being continued and expanded upon by his current colleagues. Among some of the projects described were innovations in awareness, the continuing relationship with Thomson Reuters by providing extensive feedback on Web of Science, and the growth of Caltech’s Institutional Repository, CODA (Collection of Open Digital Archives). Although the methods and technological tools available to libraries have changed throughout the years, we are still fundamentally doing the same things we always have been doing: serving the information and research needs of our patrons.

Taking both campus awareness and provider collaboration to a new level for patron service, Leah McEwen (Cornell University) gave an update on a data management project. There are many, many issues involved, including what to keep, how to document and annotate it, and how to store it, among others. Her collaboration with researchers at the Royal Society of Chemistry and the University of Southampton saw her embed with and observe chemical researchers on her campus. “People are already doing data management as part of their research,” she noted, “but a significant issue is a lack of standards and/or best practices particular to chemistry,” something her project hopes to help resolve. One goal will be to evaluate how an electronic laboratory notebook can be useful to streamline information needs, including linking to repository data as well as chemical safety considerations.

The presentations so far had touched upon interactions with campuses and companies, but what about our colleagues? How do librarians learn about these tools, and learn about how to communicate with their researchers? Because chemistry essentially has its own language, it may be hard for librarians without a background in chemistry to talk to researchers and understand research questions being asked. Judith Currano described the evolution of “Chemistry for the Non-Chemist Librarian,” a continuing education course offered through the Chemistry Division of the Special Libraries Association (SLA). Dana was an inaugural instructor of the course in 1999, along with Bartow Culp. At the time, the course was called “Chemistry and Chemical Librarianship for Non-Chemists,” and gradually expanded in scope after Judith and Sue Cardinal (University of Rochester) joined the instruction team. In addition to overviews of the main areas of chemistry, it covers information sources and tips for framing research questions and how to find out what your patron is really asking. One common thread was that the time slot of four hours is simply “not enough time” to explore the relevant topics. The course continues its success and influence, and was offered in 2013 outside of SLA for the first time.

Finally, Dana himself said a few words in gratitude to Judith and Ted for organizing such a wonderful slate of talks. He also thanked Caltech for being such a unique institution that allowed for much of his influential work to happen. Because of its small size and sharp focus, meeting the community’s needs still allowed for time and inspiration to pursue projects for improving service not only to the Caltech campus, but also to the profession as a whole. And this unwavering dedication to service, local and global, to students, librarians, and publishers, is what makes Dana such an extraordinary librarian and luminary to others in this field.

“Caltech Chemistry Librarian Discovers Equation for a Satisfying Career” Caltech News, 05/26/2011

Papers in Caltech CODA by Dana:

Dana Roth’s Caltech Library Profile:

Chemical Information Sources Wikibook:

Chemical Information for Chemists:

Donna Wrublewski, Symposium Presenter and Reporter