An interview with Meghan Lafferty, the new CINF program chair
Biography: Meghan Lafferty is a librarian for chemistry, chemical engineering, and materials science at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. As liaison, she is the go-to person for questions about access to online resources, chemical and physical property data, chemical pricing, articles from obscure chemistry journals, chemistry careers outside the lab or classroom, and any other type of chemical information. She teaches students in courses and research consultations, makes purchasing decisions for information resources, and is also the collections coordinator for physical sciences, engineering, and mathematics. Meghan earned her A.B. in Chemistry from Smith College and M.S. in Library Science from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Svetlana Korolev: Greetings, Meghan! We first met at an ACS national meeting more than twenty years ago. You were the CINF treasurer from 2009 to 2012 and a member of the CINF education committee prior to that. Could you tell us about your first encounter with CINF? How has our professional society evolved over the past two decades?
Meghan Lafferty: I went to an ACS national meeting in 2005 and attended the CINF education committee meeting because I was teaching a for-credit course. The committee was very welcoming to new people. My job at the time included a lot more teaching than it does now! I wanted to learn from other chemistry librarians and was looking for a group that was focused on the chemistry liaison part of my job. It was a great opportunity to learn from peers with similar experiences.
Thinking back to 2005, many new faces certainly, many people who I first met in 2005 have since retired. The last few years have really been noticeably different because we have met on Zoom! My position has certainly changed a great deal in the past twenty years. I have noticed much more involvement with people from the information science space, rather than the library-specific space.
SK: The program chair has always been the most critical (prestigious and challenging) position in CINF. Extra tasks have been required lately for the coordination of hybrid conferences. What were your motivations to volunteer for the CINF program chair in 2023? What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure in this role?
ML: The program chair was a good opportunity for me to get more involved with CINF, which I was ready to do at this point in my career. I knew CINF was looking for volunteers. I hope to continue the long history of successful CINF programming, and I know I will meet a lot of new people. My focus is mostly practical: running the program and pulling in new volunteers for the program committee.
SK: Were you involved in the organization of the spring 2023 technical program?
ML: Not really. Michelle Nolan did most of the work for spring 2023. I had not yet started to get really involved in the planning until early 2023, when we had our call for symposia for the fall meeting. I attended the CINF program only virtually in Indianapolis. The fall 2023 meeting is the first one I will attend in person since before the start of the pandemic.
SK: The theme for the ACS national meeting in San Francisco is “Harnessing the power of data.” That is the perfect reflection of CINF’s new motto: It is all about the (chemical) data! Also, that must be the best theme for a smooth transition by a skillful division treasurer. Please give us a sneak preview of the CINF program for this fall.
ML: Well, thank you! We have a data symposium that is part of the CINF program. Our division reception will also be the “welcome” to the data symposium on Sunday. We have a super full program: in fact, we are triple tracked. Normally, we have two simultaneous sessions. This fall, we will have three scheduled in every time block! The fall meeting is also the time of the Herman Skolnik Award symposium, which will be concluded by a reception on Tuesday. A super full program!
SK: How does the committee plan for themes and their symposia at national meetings? Is it based on the ACS meeting theme, location, or potential local sponsors?
ML: A lot of the themes and decisions are based on the ACS meeting themes. I also inherited a lot of previous decisions made by past program chairs. We are always looking for more people interested in the program committee! This fall meeting’s theme “Harnessing the Power of Data” really speaks to the enormous relevance of data to all aspects of our work.
SK: Are the future thematic programming themes proposed by the Multidisciplinary Program Planning Group (MPPG) harder for the division to tackle?
ML: The next two themes, “Many Flavors of Chemistry” and “Elevating Chemistry,” will both take some creativity, but seem to provide some flexibility. We can always find the relevance of chemical information and data.
SK: It is great to see CINF taking part in new opportunities for collaborative programming, for example, in the Convergent Chemistry Communities. Please share some insights about various collaborations.
ML: We have always done a lot of programming with other divisions, perhaps more than a lot of other divisions, because of the nature of chemical information, which is relevant to all other divisions. Just today I agreed to a request from the Division of Polymer Chemistry to co-sponsor one of their symposia.
SK: You have been working at the University of Minnesota for quite a long-time span (since 2004). Please tell us about your career path and observations of the science librarianship progression during your length of service to the profession.
ML: For the first seven years of my job at the University of Minnesota, my work was very instruction heavy, including the for-credit course I taught. The course usually had no more than 15 students, a small number at a large research university. Teaching the course was a great opportunity, but it wasn’t sustainable given the other demands of my time, particularly after we had a lot of post-2008 retirements.
I added “collections coordinator” to my job in 2011, which means that I manage the funds, train selectors, and track major subscriptions and renewals for the departments within our physical science and engineering subject areas. I now have a much bigger picture and understanding of a greater number of subjects, beyond chemistry, because of this work. I have also covered a lot of subject areas as a liaison over the past decade on an interim basis.
I have seen a lot of new areas be born and grow during my time. One is “E-science,” which evolved into our current work with data management and curation. My libraries’ approach to reference work shifted to a triage model a decade ago, which meant that liaisons were no longer staffing the desk or chat reference.
Two research centers that are based in the departments I work with have had ongoing data curation projects that I have been involved with since 2017. I have worked with our Research Data Team and data curators to develop workflows for preparing and uploading data, ensure that data sets were accessible to peer reviewers, and provide training to researchers. The 2013 and 2022 memos from the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) have really helped move this work forward.
SK: Let me finish our interview by asking you a couple of personal questions. What do you do to recharge each day? What do you enjoy doing when you are not working?
ML: Walking my dog after work is my needed break to get my eyes off the screen. It is a nice transition from the workday. Also knitting, gardening in the summer, and sewing!
SK: Meghan, thank you for sharing your perspectives in this interview. Best wishes for your stewardship of the CINF technical program in 2023-24.