Previous   Contents   Next
Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Spring 2002

URLs in this document have been updated. Links enclosed in {curly brackets} have been changed. If a replacement link was located, the new URL was added and the link is active; if a new site could not be identified, the broken link was removed.

[Board accepted]

Continuing Education Needs of Science and Technology Librarians: Results of the 2001 STS Continuing Education Committee Survey

Christina M. Desai
Science Librarian
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale IL 62901-6632


A survey of the continuing education needs of science and technology (S/T) librarians is conducted every two years as part of the charge of the Continuing Education committee of the Science and Technology Section of ACRL. This year's survey found that S/T librarians are most interested in instructional techniques and technologies and in the teaching of information literacy in the sciences. They are also interested in learning more about electronic resources, including selection, management, and impact. Among subject sources they would like to learn more about, chemistry was most often mentioned. Career advancement and management topics were among the least popular topics for training. The history of the survey and ways of addressing these professional development needs are also discussed.


STS, the Science and Technology section of ACRL, has long been concerned with continuing education for science and technology librarians. Various committees and task forces within STS have addressed professional development needs of STS members. The very first issue of STS Signal included a checklist of possible topics for programs at the next ALA conference (Kesselman 1986). This was a list of ten topics for possible discussion groups or workshops; respondents checked up to three of them and returned the list by mail to the STS Discussion Group chair. This practice continued for several years. In the mid 1980s, there were several separate discussion groups, including one for databases in the sciences, and another for college science librarians, as well as a task force on subject access to science materials (STS Signal 1986-1996). Through the activities of these groups, the section addressed the continuing education needs of its members.

The Continuing Education committee was formed in the early 1990s. It is first mentioned on the ALA Midwinter conference schedule in 1992. This committee is charged with assessing and promoting continuing education activities in the section. As part of its mission, this committee conducts a survey every two years to determine the continuing education needs of science and technology librarians. The results are shared with members of the STS Discussion Group and Planning committees for their consideration as they plan programs for the annual conference.

The literature on continuing education or in-service training offers accounts of many tried-and-true methods as well as new and experimental programs. These are aimed at addressing the needs of local staff. Often it is the science questions that librarians feel least comfortable answering because many librarians working in science libraries lack a scientific background (Peterson & Kajiwara 1999). A national survey conducted by Mark Winston (2001) found that less than half of the S/T librarians surveyed had majored in a science or engineering field as undergraduates. Staff turnover and budget constraints can also result in new or additional desk assignments for librarians often not trained in science reference. So the need for ongoing training is always felt. Yet, though this is more a matter of opinion and personal experience than empirical data, many feel that subject specialization in the sciences is not necessary to do good science reference work (Cromer & Testi 1994; Gibbs 1993). Others can learn to perform nearly as well, but training is the key.

Though libraries must, of course, continue to assess local needs and provide educational opportunities for staff, the national level committee can provide direction and knowledge of emerging trends by providing information on needs at the aggregate level. The Continuing Education committee through its survey regularly takes the pulse of the many science and technology (S/T) librarians who make up the section. The conference programs and discussion groups arranged for members at annual conferences have a role to play in educating S/T librarians in addition to programs available locally, and these programs are perennially popular.

Changes in technology naturally affect the needs of reference librarians. The proliferation of electronic indexes and other resources challenges them to learn new skills and keep up to date with a resource base that is expanding faster and faster. By the same token the technology also creates avenues for providing the needed training and disseminating that training far and wide at the click of a button. The Continuing Education committee has made use of this power of the Internet to provide on its web site a collection of links to training opportunities, tutorials, and other resources for sci/tech librarians. These resources are gathered under "{Professional Continuing Education on the Web}," a guide to internet training resources and web tutorials for science and technology librarians.

Mentoring and expert help are other methods of proven value in the professional development of new librarians. The committee maintains a database of willing mentors available to help any STS member. Through its {Collegial Counsel service} "experienced science librarians mentor new or less experienced librarians in specified subject areas." The database is searchable by region or by subject.

Thus far, these three aspects of the committee's work (Collegial Counsel, Professional Continuing Education on the Web, and the survey) have been conducted independently. This year the committee decided to use the survey results to enhance the offerings on the Continuing Education web site. The committee also decided that others, especially those who filled out the survey, deserve to be informed of the results. A short summary of the results was published in STS Signal, the section's newsletter (Desai 2002), but committee members felt a more thorough discussion of the results would be of interest to science and technology librarians in general. This article discusses in more detail what S/T librarians see as their unfilled continuing education needs, as revealed by the 2001 survey.

The committee has been conducting this survey since the mid 1990s. The first survey was distributed in paper format as a page in STS Signal. Respondents were asked to mail or fax their responses. This method of reaching respondents proved unsuccessful as only a handful of responses were received. The newsletter is published twice a year, in spring and fall. If responses are to be useful to ALA planning committee members, who meet at the ALA Midwinter conference, results from the fall survey must be available to them in time for the next Midwinter meeting. This timeline left no opportunity to re-advertise or redistribute the survey in STS Signal. The last two surveys have been conducted on the web with a message sent to the STS mailing list, STS-L, containing a link to the survey URL. This strategy has considerably improved the response rate, raising the number of responses to 50 the first time (Hayes, N.L, personal communication, February 14, 2002) and up to 144 for the current survey.

The questionnaire was originally created by the committee and has been revised each year to reflect current concerns. This year's survey was distributed via e-mail on Oct. 8, 2001 to STS-L, whose 1,050+ subscribers consist mainly, but not exclusively, of members of STS. A reminder was sent on Oct. 22, 2001. A survey announcement also appeared in the Fall 2001 issue of STS Signal, the newsletter of the Science and Technology section, now available both electronically and in paper. These methods were chosen because they target science and technology librarians and are widely accessible and easy to complete.

This year's survey received the largest number of responses to date, 144. Membership in STS currently stands at over 1,260. This would put the response rate at about 11%, but since some non-STS members also subscribe to the mailing list it is not possible to calculate an exact response rate for STS members. We can only say that many more interested S/T librarians responded than in past years.

Survey questions covered a wide range of topics of current interest to science and technology librarians, ranging from teaching tips to designing web tutorials to climbing the career ladder. Other topics included the management of electronic resources, coping with the serials crisis, and services to distance learners, to mention a few. Respondents were asked to indicate their level of interest in each item on a scale of one to four, from no interest to high interest. In addition the survey asked open-ended questions to determine respondents' top priorities and to give them a chance to mention topics of interest not covered by the survey. A few demographic questions provide information about the respondents. Finally the survey asked for respondents who are willing to provide workshops on topics of interest, either from the survey or otherwise, to identify themselves and the topics they would be willing to present. Text of the questionnaire is given in the appendix.

Results and Discussion

Objective data (Questions 1-22)

The first section of the questionnaire listed 22 topics of possible interest and asked respondents to indicate a level of interest in each topic on a scale from one to four, with one representing no interest and four representing high interest. Questions were then ranked according to interest levels. The rankings below show which questions elicited the highest number of high interest responses, which had the highest combined interest levels, which had the lowest numbers of high interest responses, and which questions showed the highest levels of no interest.

Of all high interest responses, respondents showed highest interest in Questions 4, 14, 19 and 7. Question 4, "Information literacy in the sciences" received by far the most high interest responses. Also high on the list were questions 1, 2, and 9. In rank order, respondents indicated high interest in the following topics. The number in parenthesis is number of respondents indicating high interest.

Questions with most indications of high interest were:

  1. Q4: Information literacy in the sciences (76)
  2. Q14: Managing electronic resources and
    Q19: Designing web tutorials (63 each)
  3. Q7: Selection of electronic resources (62)
  4. Q2: Presentation and teaching skills (57)
  5. Q1: Electronic reference and
    Q9: Effective liaison meetings (54 each)

Questions with most overall interest (total of interest levels between two and four):

  1. Q3: Designing instructional websites and
    Q15: Web page design (128 each)
  2. Q2: Presentation and teaching skills (127)
  3. Q14: Managing electronic resources (126)
  4. Q4: Information literacy in the sciences and
    Q19: Designing web tutorials (125 each)
  5. Q6: Coping with the serials crisis (120)

Figure 1

This second ranking includes all levels of interest (excluding only no interest). Thus it represents a truer picture of overall interest in these topics. There is considerable similarity between the two lists. Both rankings include Presentation and teaching skills; Information literacy in the sciences; Managing electronic resources; and Designing web tutorials, though not in the same order. From both lists, two themes emerge. Respondents are interested in information literacy/instruction issues, especially web-based instruction, and in electronic resources, including their selection and management. As the graph shows (See Figure 1), the general level of interest in almost all topics was high.

Questions with fewest indications of high interest were:

  1. Q10: Document delivery (21)
  2. Q12: Career ladder to administration (22)
  3. Q13: Budgeting basics and
    Q16: Services for distance learners (29 each)
  4. Q11: Managing staff (31)
  5. Q17: Citation software (32)
  6. Q18: Web tools (35)

Questions with the highest number of no interest levels were:

  1. Q12: Career ladder to administration (35)
  2. Q11: Managing staff,
    Q13: Budgeting basics, and
    Q17: Citation software (20 each)
  3. Q10: Document delivery and
    Q18: Web tools (18 each)
  4. Q16: Services for distance learners (17)
  5. Q22: Consortial agreements (16)

Figure 2

It is interesting to note that these last two rankings, showing which topics respondents are not interested in pursuing, are very consistent. The subjects chosen as high interest by very few people are the very same as those chosen by many others as being of no interest (see Figure 2). Management topics, including Managing staff, Budgeting basics, and the Career ladder generated little interest. In particular, the topic "Career ladder to administration" led the list of no-interest topics by a wide margin. It seems that either respondents are not interested in advancing to administrative positions or else they need no help in achieving their advancement! Also low on the list of respondents' priorities is learning more about specific tools such as citation software and web tools. Services that involve dealing with those beyond the walls of the library, such as services to distance learners, document delivery, and consortial agreements were also low on many respondents' lists.

On the whole, however, the survey reveals that S/T librarians are curious about many topics. Far fewer topics generated low interest than those generating high interest. Most respondents showed moderate to high interest in most questions. The survey items in general, then, do seem to address the continuing education needs of respondents. There is moderate variation in interest levels and there are some topics that generated little interest, but in general, most respondents expressed interest in most of the items.

Demographic data (Questions 33-37)

Since the primary purpose of the survey was program planning rather than research, the committee purposely limited this section to the few questions below. The intent was to determine whether the survey was reaching the intended audience, to determine whether programs at ALA conferences would be accessible to them, and whether they were aware of Collegial Counsel as a way of meeting continuing education needs.

Of all respondents, 83% reported being members of STS and 92% subscribe to STS-L. Only 60% attend ALA conventions regularly. Only 31% are aware of Collegial Counsel and only 5% have ever used Collegial Counsel. Thus, a high proportion of respondents are STS members. An even higher proportion of them are STS-L subscribers, 92%. STS-L is not a restricted list, so it is possible for non-STS members to subscribe, but unlikely that non-sci/tech librarians would be interested in its content. Therefore the continuing education needs of non-members who responded are likely to be similar to the needs of members; their responses are not likely to differ significantly from member responses. It is not known how non-members or non-subscribers would have heard about the survey, but possibly mailing list subscribers or STS members, who receive STS Signal with membership, may have distributed it to their colleagues. The high proportion of respondents who are STS members shows that responses for the most part did come from the committee's target group.

The high number of respondents who do not attend ALA conventions regularly has implications for uses of the data. Since they do not attend the conventions, 40% of our respondents cannot benefit from programs designed around these responses. The committee must therefore use other avenues, for example, its web site, to address their needs. One of these avenues is the committee's Collegial Counsel. Results of this survey indicate, however, that few are aware of this service (only 31%) and even fewer, (5%), have made use of it. It is clear that the committee will have to do a better job of advertising this resource. Plans for making it more widely available and for ways of collecting information on its use are underway. It would also be advisable to compare the topic expertise of Collegial Counsel volunteers with the topic needs as expressed in the survey to see if respondents' needs can be adequately served by present Counsel volunteers.

Open-ended Questions

Reference Sources and Subjects (Question 5A)

We asked respondents in Question 5 to indicate their level of interest in learning about reference sources and subjects, and to indicate which subjects or sources would be of most interest (Question 5A). There were 73 responses to this question. Many responded with multiple subjects and subject resources. By far the subject that generated the most interest was chemistry, with 28 mentions. One respondent filled the available space with "chemistry, chemistry, chemistry, chemistry." This is in keeping with findings by Christopher Hooper-Lane, who in a recent article on subject knowledge among science librarians, noted that a program on chemistry sources at the 1999 Special Libraries Association conference drew a "standing-room-only crowd" (Hooper-Lane 1999). Other reference subjects that respondents want to learn more about are engineering (16 mentions), life sciences (14 mentions), physics (8 mentions) and geology (7 mentions). Ten respondents indicated interest in all sciences and 9 mentioned specific databases, especially SciFinder Scholar and Web of Science.

Other Topics of Interest (Questions 23-27)

In addition to the given topics, we asked respondents to list up to five other topics of interest. This question drew a wide variety of responses, from 38 respondents. The most common areas of interest concerned electronic resources, including electronic journals, databases, dealings with vendors, archiving issues, etc. This topic was mentioned by 11 respondents. Three topics were mentioned by five respondents; those were grant writing; SPARC and scholarly communication in general; and recruiting science librarians to the field.

The fairly low response rate to this set of questions further strengthens the conclusion that the topics chosen for inclusion in the survey represent the most critical continuing education needs of S/T librarians today, since only 38 respondents had additional topics to suggest. And of these, 11 topics were variations on electronic resources, a topic covered in the survey in slightly different language.

Five topics of most interest (Questions 28-32):

To gain a sense of respondents' most pressing needs, since there was no limit on the number of topics that could be selected as high interest, we also asked respondents to list the top five topics they are most interested in learning more about. These could be among those listed in the survey or any other topics of interest. We had 62 responses to this set of questions. The questions most often mentioned as being of most interest were:

  1. Q4: Information literacy in the sciences (23)
  2. Q2: Presentation and teaching skills (22)
  3. Q9: Effective liaison meetings (21)
  4. Q7: Selection of electronic resources (19)
  5. Q14: Managing web resources (13)
  6. Q6: Coping with the serials crisis and
    Q19: Designing web tutorials (12 each)
  7. Q1: Electronic reference (10)

Clearly these respondents were interested in bibliographic instruction above all. The first two items above both relate to teaching, as do "designing web tutorials" and "designing instructional web sites" which received nine mentions. The total for these four topics is 66 mentions. The serials crisis and electronic resources also generated quite a bit of interest. Grouping "coping with the serials crisis" together with "electronic resource selection" and "managing electronic resources," yields a total of 44 mentions. If we add to that "linking issues" (two mentions), "licensing issues" (eight mentions) and "e-journal impact" (four mentions), the total comes to 58 respondents interested in electronic resource issues. It should be noted that the phrase "coping with the serials crisis" was not defined and is not necessarily related only to electronic serials. It could conceivably refer to the rising subscription rates, or to the print/e-journal dilemma, or perhaps to issues concerning access to e-content.

Faculty-related topics were also popular, with 21 showing interest in liaison issues and several mentioning such topics as "outreach to faculty," "getting S/T faculty to encourage the use of the library's resources," and "getting involved in S/T faculty activities." Reference issues were the next most popular area; electronic reference was mentioned by ten respondents and subject reference sources by seven, together totaling 17.

Again there was little interest in management issues. Career ladder to administration, Managing staff, and Budgeting basics, were mentioned among the top five interests by only one, seven, and eight respondents respectively. A few respondents mentioned web design (seven), web tools (three), and citation software (five). Other topics of fairly low interest were services to distance learners (seven) and use of statistics, such as vendor logs (five).

Overall, these responses are in keeping with the interest levels shown in the objective questions. Except for the question "Coping with the serials crisis," all eight topics most often mentioned in this open-ended section also appear among the high-interest questions in the objective question section. Clearly, S/T librarians would like some help with designing effective bibliographic instruction and with the selection, management, and impact of electronic resources, particularly serials. This consistent result from both the objective and the open-ended questions suggests that some of the categories into which the questions are grouped may be irrelevant. In particular, the category "Computing" seems inappropriate. Respondents by and large did not choose specific computing topics such as XML or ProCite, but did choose "Designing web tutorials" and "Managing electronic resources," both of which were grouped under the Computing category. Yet both of these relate directly to the two major themes to emerge from this survey. "Designing web tutorials" relates to the concern with teaching skills while and "Managing electronic resources" is concerned with electronic resource issues.

Names of people willing to present (Questions 38-43):

Twenty people responded to this section with their names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and topics they would be willing to present. These names will be included as possible presenters in the information provided to ALA conference planning and discussion group committees, but will not be made public.

Future surveys

Several changes could strengthen the survey instrument. Though this year's survey drew the largest number of responses so far, the current method of making the questionnaire available both on the mailing list and in STS Signal has meant that we do not know exactly how many people actually receive the survey URL. STS members receive a subscription to STS Signal with membership, but membership is not necessary to subscribe to STS-L. Consequently, we don't have an accurate idea of our response rate. There is a slight chance of duplicate responses from using two distribution methods. The committee feels that the increased response rate since it began offering the electronic submission method outweighs the disadvantages of not knowing exactly how many receive the survey and how many are STS members.

Some basic demographic data could be added to provide a breakdown on which kinds of librarians need which kinds of continuing education opportunities. These questions could include gender, age, educational levels and majors, and number of years since MLS graduation. This might tell us, for example, if those who graduated more than ten years ago need more technical training than more recent graduates, or whether those who have a science background need less help with subject sources. Some information on library type might also be useful. Do the needs of S/T librarians at four-year liberal arts colleges differ significantly from those at comprehensive universities, for example? We might also ask what is the preferred venue for the training needed, with choices such as ALA conference programs, mentorships, and online tutorials. These are questions the committee may consider for the next survey.

In the meantime the Continuing Education committee will attempt to provide several avenues for the professional development of STS members. The committee will use the survey results as originally intended to provide other committees with data on member needs and preferences for conference programs and discussion groups. It will also review the offerings on the STS Continuing Education web site to include links to relevant online guides and tutorials. And it will contact respondents who have offered to share their expertise about becoming members of Collegial Counsel.


The two themes of instruction and electronic resources that emerged from this survey should not come as a surprise. The link between the two concerns is strong. Emphasis has shifted from referring patrons to physical resources to a combination of physical and electronic resources. Instruction has always been among the roles of academic librarians, but by all accounts the advent of electronic resources has meant an increased need for instruction. The variety of electronic resources has increased along with remote access and a reduction in traditional reference transactions within the physical library. Developing procedures for selecting and making accessible the growing collection of electronic resources is an ongoing challenge. Since many patrons now choose to access these resources from outside the library, librarians must manage the electronic resources in such a way as to make them easy to find through the library's web site rather than through traditional reference. This in turn leads to expansion of the instructional role of librarians: they must provide instruction in traditional as well as new media, such as web tutorials, if they are to reach all patrons whether they are located in the library building or beyond its walls. Survey respondents are highly interested in acquiring the skills needed for these expanded roles.


Cromer, D. E., and Testi, A. R. 1994. Integrated continuing education for reference librarians. Reference Services Review 22(4): 51-8.

Desai, C.M. 2002. STS Continuing Education Committee: results of 2001 survey. STS Signal: The Newsletter of the ACRL Science and Technology Section 17(1): 5.

Gibbs, B. L. 1993. Subject specialization in the scientific special library. Special Libraries 84(1): 1-8.

Hooper-Lane, C. 2002. Spotlight on the subject knowledge of chemistry librarians: Results of a survey. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship 23. [Online]. Available: [April 15, 2002].

Kesselman, M. 1986. Discussion group. STS Signal 1(1): 6.

Peterson, C. & Kajiwara, S. 1999. Scientific literacy skills for non-science librarians: Bootstrap training. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship. 24. [Online]. Available: [April 15, 2002].

STS Signal: The Newsletter of the ACRL Science and Technology Section. 1986-1996. Chicago: Science and Technology Division of the Association of College and Research Libraries.

Winston, M. D. 2001. Academic science and engineering librarians: A research study of demographics, educational backgrounds, and professional activities. Science and Technology Libraries 19(2): 3-24.


2001 STS Continuing Education Survey Questions

Science reference and instruction

1. Electronic reference (email, chat, etc.)
2. Presentation and teaching skills
3. Designing instructional web sites
4. Information literacy in the sciences
5. Subject reference sources
5A. Which sources or subjects?

Collection Development

6. Coping with the serials crisis
7. Selection of electronic resources
8. Impact of electronic sources
9. Effective liaison meetings
10. Document delivery


11. Managing staff
12. The career ladder to administration
13. Budgeting basics


14. Managing electronic resources
15. Web page design
16. Services for distance learners
17. Citation software (ProCite, etc.)
18. Web tools (Java, CGI scripting, etc.)
19. Designing web tutorials


20. Licensing issues and strategies
21. Copyright and the WWW
22. Consortial agreements

Other topics of interest to you:


Please list the five topics you are most interested in learning about:


Information about you:

33. Are you a member of STS?
34. Do you subscribe to STS-L?
35. Do you attend ALA conventions regularly?
36. Are you aware of the Collegial Counsel service?
37. Have you ever used Collegial Counsel?

Attention possible presenters:

38. Name
39. Email address
40. Phone number

Topics you would be willing to share:


Online version available at:


Previous   Contents   Next

W3C 4.0