Category Archives: Kuehne Physics Mathematics Astronomy Library

Lydia Fletcher. Liaison Librarian for Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Meet the Talents: Lydia Fletcher

Liaison Librarian for Physical and Mathematical Sciences Lydia Fletcher is currently co-chairing the STEM Librarians South conference, which brings together information professionals and academics from across the Southern U.S. and beyond to share their ideas, current research, best practices, and unique insights that help librarians advance the cause of STEM education and research. 

When not organizing conferences, Lydia provides research, teaching and publishing support for all students, faculty and staff in the departments of Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy, Statistics & Data Science, Computer Science and Electrical & Computer Engineering.

She graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her work and experience for us. 


 

Tex Libris: First love — librarianship or science?

Librarian at NASA.
Lydia Fletcher.

Lydia Fletcher: Definitely science! Especially space science – I wanted to be an astronaut for a really long time, and I went to Space Camp when I was 10. Some of my favorite memories as a kid involved going to Johnson Space Center in Houston. I couldn’t get enough of the place! But at some point I got more interested in history and literature, and even though I was always excited by whatever NASA was doing, for a while I focused on other things.

 

Lego minifigs on a bookshelf.
Science Legos on a shelf in Lydia’s office.

 

Where did you study?

LF: I did my BA at the University of Texas at San Antonio and did a Master of Studies degree at the University of Oxford in the UK. Both of those were in English, and it wasn’t until I started working in libraries and got my MSIS here at UT that I realized that I could work with scientists as a librarian. And that I love it!

 

When did you join the UT Libraries, and what drew you to Texas?

LF: My three year anniversary with the UT Libraries will be on August 15! Some days it feels like I just got here, and other days it feels like I’ve been here forever. Texas is home for me – I’m from San Antonio – and UT is an exciting place to work. I love getting to interact with the researchers here, especially the folks at McDonald Observatory.

Library at the McDonald Observatory.
Library at the McDonald Observatory.

 

Speaking of, you undertook a reorganization project for observatory a few years back. What did that entail, and what was the experience like?

LF: The folks out at McDonald Observatory wanted to make some improvements in the Otto Struve 82” Telescope (the original 1939 telescope) building ahead of their 80th anniversary this summer. The library collection had spilled out of the library into the hallways and they wanted me to help them clear those hallways. I got to spend a week at McDonald Observatory – which was amazing! – and at the end we identified materials to be brought back to Austin. I also helped them get former director Harlan Smith’s collection displayed more prominently and created a display collection of works by and about McDonald Observatory. It was a great collaboration and I’m very proud of how the library looks now.

Library at the McDonald Observatory.
Library at the McDonald Observatory.

 

What are your responsibilities?

LF: As a liaison librarian, I support students, faculty, and staff with their research needs in the departments I liaise with: Astronomy, Computer Science, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, and Statistics & Data Science. At the moment that looks like working with faculty to make sure they understand some new National Science Foundation Open Access mandates, but it also includes a range of reference and scholarly communications support.

 

What aspect of your job is the most fulfilling?

LF: Solving puzzles for people. Sometimes I get reference questions where someone has an incomplete or incorrect citation, and I really love figuring those out. Or looking for a translation – recently someone wanted a translation of an article written in the Soviet Union in the 40s. I tracked a translation of it down to a microfilm held by the British Library and was able to scan a copy for the researcher. That was fun!

 

Your studies were in the humanities, but you’re immersed in science now. What are the differences you see in the discipline-specific approaches to research and general library use by STEM and humanities folks, and do you recognize any differences in styles within the departments you liaise with?

LF: Scientists are so different from people who do research in the humanities. Scientists use different materials from those in the humanities – most scientists rely on journals instead of books, but they also need things like datasets and specialty software. So, most of the students from those areas look to the libraries for computers where they can access all those things. I love that the Libraries IT staff do such a great job making sure we provide software like Mathematica and LaTeX. Of course, there are outliers even among scientists – Math researchers tend to be different from other scientists, and actually more like humanities researchers in that they love books!

  

What do you think the prospects are for wider adoption of open access practices by STEM faculty and researchers?

LF: It’s a little funny for me to talk about Open Access adoption because the departments I work most closely with – Physics, Math and Astronomy – are already committed to not just Open Access publishing but Open Science principles like data sharing. It’s almost universal to see Physicists and Astronomers making versions of their articles available as preprints, and most Astronomical data is publicly available. But they’ve been doing it for a long time already – the Arxiv preprint server was developed by Physicists in the early 1990s. I definitely think other disciplines will adopt open practices, but it will take some time. It doesn’t happen overnight. We just have to keep working on sustainable models and promoting them.

 

What are you reading this summer?

LF: I just finished “American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race,” since I’m so excited about the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Lydia Fletcher sitting at her desk.
Lydia Fletcher.

 

Still want to travel to space? Mars mission perhaps? Or the Space Force?

LF: If anyone at NASA or SpaceX is reading this and looking for a librarian to go to Mars, they can definitely call me.

 

Collections Highlight: Gravitation

"Gravitation" by Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne, and John Archibald Wheeler. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1973.

Gravitation is a seminal work familiar to all advanced physics students, but the Kuehne Physics Mathematics Astronomy Library (PMA) has an uncommon copy of the book.

Co-author John Wheeler presented this copy with his inscription to a former engineering professor at UT, who donated the book to the PMA Library.

A time later, co-author Kip Thorne  gave a lecture at UT and a Physics undergrad asked if he would add his inscription. Finally, co-author Charles Misner visited campus for a lecture and he, too, added his inscription to the volume, completing the trio.

Inscriptions by the authors on the frontispiece of "Gravitation."

Nobel Laureate in the Stacks

Steven WeinbergProfessor Steven Weinberg is the university’s Nobel Laureate in Physics (1979) whose work in elementary particle physics and cosmology has garnered important scientific awards and honorary acclaim. He has published more than 300 scientific articles and scholarly monographs, and he is a leader in his area of theoretical physics. Dr. Weinberg coined the term Standard Model to describe the theory of fundamental particles and their interactions.

Weinberg’s research articles deal with highly abstract and mathematical topics such as “Goldstone Bosons as Fractional Cosmic Neutrinos” or “Quantum mechanics without state vectors.” But Weinberg also writes for non-specialists, including frequent contributions to the New York Review of Books and numerous books on the history and culture of science. He is widely interviewed and his opinions are sought on topics such as religion and world issues as those relate to science.

As a librarian I’m interested to know more about his research process for his historical and cultural materials, which are not the usual realm of a Nobel physicist. His most recent book, To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science (Harper Collins 2015), discusses the development of physical science beginning with the ancient Greeks at Melitus sweeping through medieval science and the scientific revolution until the modern discipline of science emerged.

As a self-described perpetual amateur Dr. Weinberg is intellectually restless. When he wants to explore a topic, he teaches a course on it over several semesters, does extensive research to develop lectures and teaching materials, and eventually writes a book on the topic. In approaching an unfamiliar area he starts with older books, not necessarily the latest information. As the research develops he moves forward to the current professional literature. If the existing writings on a topic do not appeal to his sensibilities he writes material that presents content in a way that makes sense and ‘explains the world’ for him and his students.

For example, a new physics course for the Spring, 2016 is his current project. It will be a graduate course in astrophysics — a more “down-to-earth” variety of astrophysics. He is learning about stellar structure and galactic structures by reading older books — going back to the 1930’s and catching up eventually to current research articles.  Perhaps another book will result from his investigations.
Dr. Weinberg uses libraries well and often — what we term an excellent library user. The ability to browse is of paramount importance to him. In speaking to the local public library foundation, he stated that there is no substitute for being able to browse, and was surprised by the standing ovation that followed. Like most particle physicists, he gets a daily feed from the arXiv e-print server, and uses the research literature online, but prints what he needs to read.

We’re curious about what’s on his current reading list. Weinberg is re-reading Anthony Trollope’s The Warden, and reading Jonathan Schneer’s book about Churchill’s war cabinet, Ministers at War.  Preparing for a spring course on astrophysics, he is also looking into Cox and Giuli’s Principles of Stellar Structure, borrowed from the library.

Why does Dr. Weinberg write for non-physicists? He answers in Steven Weinberg: the 13 best science books for the general reader:

“…I think it was EM Forster who said that he wrote to earn the respect of those he respects, and to earn his bread. As to bread, I used to do a good deal of consulting on defence problems, until I learned that writing books was in every way more rewarding, and since it did not involve handling classified materials, I could do it at home. More important has been the opportunity of leaving for a while the ivory tower of theoretical physics research, and making contact with the world outside.”

Steven Weinberg is the featured speaker at this year’s Distinguished Author Dinner hosted by the Libraries for its generous supporters. To contribute to the Libraries and received access to future events such as this, visit our online giving page