Science Librarian Success Stories



This is a very new page & I am eager to have real-life success stories submitted from a wide range of science and engineering libraries.  The purpose is to create a page of stories reaffirming the need for science libraries and librarians and to hopefully inspire others to follow the same path.  Oh, and it never hurts to re-read some of these when morale might be dragging a bit on a given day.  J


Please note the author names are authentic – but patron names, topics and/or locations have been changed slightly to protect their identities.



The library and their personnel certainly changed my life – written by Jacqui Joseph-Bowen in 2002

“The task looked insurmountable, but before throwing away the opportunity to finally do a PhD, I rang the Medical and Dental Library for help.  I felt somewhat ridiculous asking for help at such mature age. However, the response and encouragement was just superb. I was given encouragement and practical help. By the time I left on day one, I felt elated that such assistance and organizational tools were available and that my needs had been anticipated. Thus began my association with our wonder library information staff.” (Taken from ALIA’s Library Stories.  Full story available.)



cowmilkerpatent1886Patent searcher worried librarian would steal his invention – from a former librarian at the University of North Dakota

The library, in conjunction with the Small Business Institute on campus, used to semi-regularly offer workshops for the general public on how to patent something.  This included basic information on what is patentable, searching the U.S. Patent Gazette to see if it had already been patented, and providing information on next steps if indeed their invention had not already been patented.  It made for the most humorous and yet painstaking reference interviews.  There is nothing quite as tricky as helping a patron conduct a subject search, when the patron is trying to not divulge his potentially-profitable idea to someone.  It turns out the gentleman was worried the librarian would race out and apply for a patent before he could become knowledgeable about the process.  Once I was able to reassure the patron that it was not only against my own personal ethics but also that of the profession, he finally opened up and we were able to construct a search strategy.  Do I know if he ever managed to patent his idea or sell it to someone else who patented it?  No.  Do I think his idea was likely to change the quality of life for some Americans, very definitely!  Even better – he walked out of the library with a wonderful experience to share with his friends about how great the library was and how eager the librarians were to help “a regular Joe.”  The library now has an interesting phrase about confidentiality on their Patent & Trademark Services page.  (1/12/06)



columbidaeThe Bird-man from Small Town, USA – anonymous submission from a librarian at a large Midwestern university

    The Internet has really expanded the possibilities for communicating with researchers who are unable to physically travel to our library.  I really enjoy getting a request for research assistance that requires physically going to the book stacks, pulling a volume off and looking for a “vital” piece of information that just cannot be found any other way.  For many years, staff here corresponded with an elderly gentleman that we affectionately nicknamed “The Bird-man.”  He may (or may not) have worked on our campus at one time – we didn’t really care since it did not affect the level of service we provided to him.  He was compiling a bibliography and every couple of months he would ask for help filling in the missing bits and pieces of references to obscure, very old publications on his favorite genus and species of bird.  Some were chapters in books while others were journal articles that may or may not be indexed in Zoological Record – most of which were only available in a handful of libraries in the U.S.  The main purpose of his query was to find out enough information to enable him to request the articles or books through his local public library’s interlibrary loan service without risking it coming back as “unavailable due to insufficient information.”  Given that many of the volumes were from the late 1800’s or early 1900’s, an element of the query was usually something like – would you lend this on Interlibrary Loan if asked or is it a non-lending item?  He was a very polite gentleman who regularly expressed concerns about whether or not he was becoming a pest or if things he was asking went beyond our look-up policy.  He was well-acquainted with his local library staff and the Interlibrary Loan process.  I continually found myself hoping that he would publish his bibliography – not to stop the requests – but so that we might be able to get a copy of it to put in our library collection.  Clearly he had become the collector of all information collectors and sharing his knowledge would really save future researchers a lot of headaches by providing the information in published form.  I don’t think he ever published it; however, it gave me a thrill to know that our efforts were worthwhile simply because we made an impact on his life.  Our assistance allowed him to continue pursuing his research passions even though he had retired to a small town and was unable to travel to our library. (1/19/06)



Brown recluse spider bite photos needed

    About 10 years ago, I was startled to receive a phone call from a lawyer in a nearby metropolitan area.  He was looking for photographs, preferably in color, which showed the effects of brown recluse spider bites on humans.  The nastier, the better.  He could wait for Interlibrary Loan, but he needed citations in order to place a request and any photocopies needed to be in color.  Knowing our Library Catalog search was unable to search for illustrated materials, I started with a couple of medical textbooks on venom.  Then, once I had some good terms to use, I headed for Medline.  It took a couple of tries to find ones with color pictures – but when I was done, I ended up sending him information on 2 books and 2 journal articles, and told him how to locate additional ones via PubMed (since it’s freely-accessible to the public).  In recent years, there have been a whole host of articles written on brown recluse spider bites and the Internet (and medical libraries) can now provide this sort of picture much easier.  The reason this particular reference request has stayed solidly in my memory is that AFTER I sent the information to the lawyer, I discovered that there had been a number of legal cases brought against slumlords in the area.  The only way they appeared to have any success in proving dereliction and forcing these landlords to fix up their properties was to bring in cases involving children who had been affected by medical issues such as lead poisoning from paint or brown recluse spider bites.  It just goes to show a picture can not only be worth a thousand words, but can also help change quality of life.  (1/26/06)



Who was species named after?anonymous submission from the University of Kansas, Anschutz Library staff

    We recently received a request by email from a Mr. Schmidt who was “compiling an autobiography of Janine P. Halley” and wanted to know if we could verify whether or not Diagenatalis halley, a species of butterfly, was named after Ms. Halley.  He knew the first reported instance of the name was in an article by Arthur Q. Goldmann, and he had the correct journal name, volume, issue, and page number of the article but he could not seem to get a copy of it from Interlibrary Loan.  After I got done chuckling to myself about the misuse of the term autobiography, I headed to the journal collection to look at the article he mentioned.  It was a 500+ page article that was basically a review of all previously-published articles related to the nomenclature of the genus Diagenatalis.  I could verify for him that Ms. Halley had conducted research on many species in that genus and, in fact, 5 of her publications were cited in the article bibliography – including her master’s thesis (which Mr. Schmidt did not know about).  Mr. Goldmann mentioned in his introductory remarks that he had personal contact with Ms. Janine P. Halley who “graciously agreed to have the writer include certain of her manuscript species in this paper and use specimens which she had deposited in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.”  Several weeks later, we received a thank you from Mr. Schmidt who had contacted the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and received confirmation that the species had indeed been named after Ms. Halley.  Oh, and a thank you for providing him with definitions of autobiography, biography, and bibliography.  It turned out he was writing a biobibliography and would have been embarrassed to submit it for publication as an autobiography.  (1/26/06)



Capital improvement in building and collections – submitted by Heather Groves Hannan, Head, Mercer Library

In this day and age of budget restrictions, it can be almost miraculous to find ways to expand facilities or collections.  The Mercer Library, on George Mason University’s Prince William Campus, has undergone massive renovations in order to serve patrons of the University Libraries, especially those whose interests lie in the bioscience and technology fields.  The library has expanded their physical facilities as well as their monograph and journal collections to keep pace with new campus programs in biodefense, bioinformatics, and biomedical sciences.   While they do not mention how they managed to come up with funding for their improvements, they do provide details (along with some pictures) that illustrate their success and support of the science programs on the Prince William campus. (2/1/06)





Submit a story:  submissions are welcome from either librarians or library users.  I reserve the right to exercise a bit of editorial control over story submissions.  Please be sure to indicate whether you wish to remain anonymous or have your name and library attached to the story.


Careers in Academic & Science Libraries



Image credits:


Bird image (Columbidae) from

Cow milking machine patent (by Elias Douglass in 1887) image from:


Page created:  January 12, 2006

Links last checked:  June 17, 2007

Text last updated:  February 1, 2006

©2008, Lorraine J. Pellack - Send questions or comments about this page

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