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How to Be a Subject Specialist When You Aren't: Engineering Librarianship for the Non-engineer

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Engineering Libraries Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Engineering Libraries

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Paper Authors


Crystal L. Renfro Kennesaw State University

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Crystal Renfro is the Graduate Librarian for engineering, computer science, and architecture at Kennesaw State University, where her efforts are directed toward both online and on-campus graduate programs and students.

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Lori J. Ostapowicz Critz Worcester Polytechnic Institute

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Lori Ostapowicz Critz is the Associate Director at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) Gordon Library. She has been an engineering liaison librarian for over 15 years, and although her primary area of coverage has been Biomedical Engineering, she has also served as liaison for Civil & Environmental Engineering and Chemical Engineering.

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Background: The authors hail from substantially different types of institutions and positions in engineering librarianship. One was employed by an R1, Research Intensive institution with robust, world-class graduate programs in engineering, as well as powerhouse, well-established undergraduate engineering programs that cover all aspects of the engineering arena. The other author is the sole graduate engineering librarian at an R3, Comprehensive institution with online-only graduate engineering programs and a strong undergraduate engineering curriculum.

Purpose/Hypothesis: These engineering librarians, with over 25 years of combined experience and little to no formal engineering education, will provide their recommendations for surviving, and thriving, as an academic engineering librarian without an engineering degree.

Design Method: Comparing their wide-ranging experiences to best practices, they will provide diverse options and avenues to aid the non-engineer.

Results: Planning and preparation will help determine how successful a novice engineering librarian will be. This paper will delineate the process for gaining both a “common knowledge” vocabulary and an understanding of engineering research specialties. As in liaison librarianship across the spectrum, building relationships with faculty and administrators in engineering departments is paramount. The authors will provide recommended steps and actions to help build and sustain partnerships. Each engineering school/department has its own culture and environment, with sub-cultures that provide opportunities to interact with faculty based on their status in the academic hierarchy. Successful approaches for the new engineering librarian will often include capitalizing on niche groups, at both the faculty and student level, that may have been previously over-looked or underserved. Ways to recognize these niches will be identified. In conjunction with these relationship-building approaches, there are myriad opportunities to recognize and capitalize on the engineering curriculum – leading to in-person teaching opportunities, and/or potentially profitable junctures for tutorials, class-specific research guides and project/assignment-based consultations with students. Collection development, without an engineering background, presents additional challenges. Suggestions on building expertise and approaching this work with confidence will be described. Finally, the choice of an expert guide is often the difference between success and failure. For the new engineering librarian, knowing who to seek out for advice/assistance, and when, can make his/her journey considerably smoother. Avenues for support will be provided and defined.

Conclusions: The new librarian without engineering expertise can successfully navigate her new career with the assistance of the proper tools and support such as those outlined in this paper.

Renfro, C. L., & Ostapowicz Critz, L. J. (2018, June), How to Be a Subject Specialist When You Aren't: Engineering Librarianship for the Non-engineer Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30584

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