Saturday, September 23, 2023

STEM Librarian: broader shift in librarianship

Since the very early ages, libraries have been the places of books and reading to support education and literacy. The professional training that librarians have in their career of library and information science is competent enough for working in any type of library. With the changing landscape of teaching in various STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related areas involving innovative projects, interactive exhibitions, and hands-on workshops, more and more libraries are responding to the needs of learners in their STEM-related activities. "Library professionals are now expected to work as STEM educators to facilitate user participation in STEM learning activities. STEM educators in both formal and informal learning environments are the ones who traditionally facilitate the development of STEM thinking.1(Baek, 2013). As we know, in libraries everywhere, not all library professionals have a background in STEM. They come from different streams of education, which may be science, the arts, or commerce. So, to work in a STEM library, library professionals need to have knowledge of STEM areas or STEM backgrounds so that they may be able to grasp the professional development training programs that will help them develop their skills in STEM-related activities.

Shift from the role Librarianship to STEM Librarianship

"Librarianship is defined here as performing the following five primary functions of library services based on the needs of the population served: collect information, acquire information, organize information, retrieve information, and disseminate information"(MacKellar, 2008). The secondary duties include assisting and instructing, providing services and programs, utilizing technology, and preserving and conserving library materials. Now the librarian's role is shifting from their normal role as defined above to the role of educator to instruct users, utilize technology, and provide programs related to STEM. Their job functions involve helping scholars access and interpret data, applying discovery tools, managing collections, and reviewing the STEM literature.

What is STEM Librarianship?

"STEM" is an abbreviation of (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). The specialist position in STEM often emphasizes knowledge of these fields along with librarianship expertise. The librarians without backgrounds in these subjects find it difficult to gain the skills and experience required for STEM librarianship.
"The term STEM librarian is used to define a librarian who contributes to the design, development, or delivery of STEM learning activities and programs, even if it is not part of their primary duties."3 (John Y. Baek, October 2013)

Eligibility criteria of STEM Librarian:

  • A formal degree in the STEM field or STEM activities experience.
  • Hands-on experience or research experience will add more value.
  • Desire and eagerness to learn more about STEM resources and activities.

Various investigatory analyses and surveys have been done on the workings of STEM specialists, their skill requirements, and job announcements. They reveal that a formal education in STEM subjects is an asset for STEM librarians, as they understand the students needs more easily and communicate more effectively with them. "Librarians with STEM backgrounds expressed advantages in teaching information literacy to a STEM audience as they have a deeper, user-centered knowledge of journals and databases and knowledge of concepts like authority and methodology within the context of their discipline."4 (Lisa Dunn et al., 2021)

It is found that "most of the positions are for research librarians with liaison duties in medicine/health science, mathematics, engineering, chemistry, and physics. The majority of the positions require a Master’s degree in library and information science, and about half of the positions require or prefer a background in a related science or STEM field."5 (Elizabeth Sterner, 2020)

On the other side, it can be challenging for non-background MLIS students and new library professionals to be competitive candidates for STEM librarian positions. However, introducing certificate courses to develop STEM activity-related skills is helpful for non-STEM background professionals.

A certification course and hands-on program are required to be designed to supplement the formal MLS curriculum. The goal of the program may be to better equip MLS students and new professionals with the skills and practical experience in applying discovery tools, managing collections, and reviewing STEM literature to be good STEM librarians. This will help students gain skills and knowledge of STEM disciplines to better provide their services as STEM librarians.

Skill to be adopted by those who don't come from STEM backgrounds:
  • Participate in professional development events such as STEM librarian boot camps.
  • Develop teaching and assessment skills through conferences, workshops, team-teaching, and observing peer teaching to master the academic skills required.
  • Explore databases and practice answering questions from different disciplines.
  • Learn about the different departments, research centers, emerging trends in research, publishing, disciplines, and the types of resources required, such as standards, protocols, etc.
  • Be active on campus and ask questions; attend events; audit courses; and attend lectures.
  • For scientific communication, academic librarians need to develop an attitude to maintain accuracy and up-to-date knowledge of general trends in STEM fields.

No doubt that librarians have adapted to keep up with the broader shift in technology, learning ways, societies and user demands. In various Academic libraries and STEM Libraries across the world STEM Librarians are standing by to answer users' research questions, help the in STEM related activities. Debate of STEM Librarian having formal STEM background or not is still on. Through trainings, hands-on workshops, gaining knowledge of current trends and skill of using STEM e-resources and extracting data are some of the aspects on which the non-STEM background librarians can work upon to stay in competition.


  1. Baek, John Y. 2013.The Accidental STEM Librarian:   An Exploratory Interview Study with Eight Librarians. National Center for Interactive Learning Education/Research Report. Microsoft Word - Baek_The Accidental STEM Librarian ( (Retrieved on 16.09.2023)
  2. MacKellar, P.H. 2008. The accidental librarian. Medford, N.J.: Information Today, Inc. Accidental Librarian - PDF Free Download ( (Retrieved on 16.09.2023) 
  3. Baek, John Y. 2013.The Accidental STEM Librarian:   An Exploratory Interview Study with Eight Librarians. National Center for Interactive Learning Education/Research Report. Microsoft Word - Baek_The Accidental STEM Librarian ( (Retrieved on 16.09.2023)
  4. Dunn, Lisa [et al.] 2021. BUILDING THE STEM LIBRARIAN SKILL SET: An Exploratory Study to Identify Skills Needed by STEM Librarians. ACRL 2021 Virtual. Ascending into an Open Future: Proceedings from ACRL 2021 Virtual Conference ( Retrieved on 19.09.2023
  5. Elizabeth Sterner (2020) Science/STEM Librarianship in 2020: Opportunities and Insight, Science & Technology Libraries, 39:4, 432-449, DOI: 10.1080/0194262X.2020.1781023Science/STEM Librarianship in 2020: Opportunities and Insight: Science & Technology Libraries: Vol 39, No 4 ( Retrieved on 23.09.2023
  6. Want to pursue STEM librarianship? Here’s what you should know! (
  7. View of Virtual Learning and the Role of Liaison Librarians in STEM Academic Programs | Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship (

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