If you had the ear of the R&D scientists in your organization, what would you tell them? Mary Ellen Bates posed this question to STEM information professionals in a wide range of settings and presented her findings at the MLA | SLA ’23 conference in Detroit, MI on May 17. Following are the messages that STEM info pros emphasized as most critical for R&D scientists to hear.
Information whisperer, Mary Ellen Bates is a trusted voice in the information industry. She brings fresh insight, new perspectives, and actionable advice around the world and across industries. Mary Ellen spoke at this year’s MLA|SLA ’23 conference, where members took advantage of 100-plus education sessions and learned to talk about their challenges in different settings. She shared her experiences on the critical role info pros play in the world of data scientists.
What info pros want R&D scientists to know
As info pros and librarians sit at the heart of the organizations in which they operate - bringing together resources, ideas, and people - it comes as no surprise that they have an important role to play when it comes to research projects. But what role do they play exactly? In the eyes of info pro veteran Mary Ellen, these are the most critical messages she wants R&D scientists to know:
- It’s all information science now: Search engines’ search bots powered by artificial intelligence, machine learning algorithms, and text and data mining applications are predicated on learning from high-quality data. Info pros have experience evaluating data sources, identifying taxonomies, and enhancing the data with semantic enrichment. They can look at the information needs of a project and determine where and how to best address those needs.
- See us as collaborators, as part of your team: Even when the info pros are not domain experts, they can serve as resource specialists who proactively address the ongoing information needs of a team. Info pros can monitor internal community platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams and anticipate a team’s information needs. They know what to look for when evaluating a data source, and they may have access to resources with which the scientists are not already familiar. When info pros are embedded (virtually, if not in person) in project teams, they can assist in the data acquisition planning process and can ensure that spending on information is done strategically.
- Include us in all steps of the research lifecycle: There are roles an info pro can play during all stages of a project. They can assist at the start of the research by advising on data acquisition and identifying any potential gaps or limitations in the data. They can augment the data by normalizing unstructured data. They can provide guidance in the discovery and analysis processes, licensing APIs and building knowledge graphs. And at the end of the project, they can maintain access to the data and tools used during the project.
- We can save you time and money: Info pros can evaluate open-source tools and open-access data and determine whether a fee-based alternative would be a more cost-effective choice, based on the information needs of each project. They can anticipate problems with a data source based on prior projects. Info pros know how to work with publishers and information suppliers and can negotiate licenses that enable scientists to do more with the content they acquire.
- We monitor new research tools and resources: Because info pros are often involved in acquiring data for project teams, they are always monitoring the field for new tools and resources, and proactively evaluating possible additions to the library’s collection. They can provide a project team an overview and demonstration of a data set, connect them with other teams that have used the data set for a similar question, and identify when an additional license might be cost-effective.
- We can build search tools that know what you’re looking for: One of the biggest challenges of R&D scientists is keeping up with new developments in their field. Info pros have sophisticated tools that enable them to anticipate users’ interests and information needs and can deliver pre-vetted articles to their users’ desktops. While many scientists may rely on familiar tools such as Google Scholar or the PubMed database of biomedical literature citations, info pros have access to tools that search deeper into the literature and can identify articles that are targeted to each researcher’s interests.
- Introduce us to the new scientists in your team: Researchers often seek information from their own community before they reach out to their enterprise’s library or information center. Given the primacy of digital resources in STEM domains—e-journals, preprints, data sets, API codes, and so on—new scientists may focus on what they can access from their desk rather than coming to the library. When a respected senior member of the team introduces new scientists to the info pros in the library, the info pros can help establish the habit of consulting with them at the start of any new project.
Bringing a fresh perspective to a research project
Mary Ellen had a few additional pieces of advice for info pros working with R&D scientists. Most importantly, the value of info pros is their ability to understand users’ information needs and information-seeking behavior. While this skill seems like second nature to an info pro, it brings a fresh perspective to a research project. She also pointed out the importance of info pros being proactive in getting included in data-intensive projects and encouraging teams to institutionalize the practice of involving the library at the start of any project.
Finally, Mary Ellen reminded info pros of the importance of being familiar with the tools and resources of the R&D scientists in their organization, so that they can better identify possible use cases for the information resources to which they subscribe.
About Mary Ellen Bates
Mary Ellen Bates is the principal of Bates Information Services Inc., based in Colorado, US. Since 1991, she has provided strategic business research and analysis to decision makers and consulting services to the information industry. She earned a masters in Library and Information Science from the University of California at Berkeley and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from the University of California at Santa Barbara. After 15 years managing corporate information centers and specialized libraries, Mary Ellen started her business in 1991 with the intent of providing high-end research and analysis services to strategic decision-makers.
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