Meet John Meier, Science Librarian

John Meier is a math, patent, and trademark librarian at the Penn State University Libraries. He frequently finds himself helping Penn State World Campus students locate the materials they need for online courses in math and engineering topics. Here’s more about John’s role:

Please give our readers a sense of your background and educational interests.

I have always loved math and puzzles, so I went into engineering in college. I began my professional life as a computer engineer after graduating with a master’s degree in computer and electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University. After working in a cubicle for a few months doing programming, I really wanted to return to the university environment of teaching and research. Since I always had a fascination with organizing things, I considered becoming a librarian.

What first interested you in the field of library science? And, also what interested you in the fields of math/engineering?

Little did I realize how much technology there was in libraries, so when I entered my master’s program in library science I found myself programming databases and working with Internet systems. I have always been focused on academic library work, but I learned a great deal about storytelling and archives in the Master of Library and Information Science program at the University of Pittsburgh. After graduation, I have always worked as a science and engineering librarian, since it allows me to stay involved with technology and science.

What topics do you find that students research the most in the fields of math/engineering?

Most students whom I help are trying to do something innovative. Some are developing cutting- edge technology and are in need of help with prototyping, 3D printing, or patents. Others are looking for a mathematical formula or statistical software to solve a problem in class or lab work. In the Libraries, we can either find the information they are looking for or we can find the best person across the thousands of Penn Staters who can help them. Since I am the patent and trademark librarian, I also help those students and Pennsylvania residents — who are inventors — with protection of their intellectual property.

What would you like our Penn State World Campus students to know about library resources that are available to them?

I want Penn State World Campus students to know that they have all of the information resources available at the push of a button. In fact, our library website is really our “front door” with Ask a Librarian on every page. Find “your” librarian or librarians and reach out to them. We have dozens of subject specialists, and the best way to find them are our library guides at libraries.psu.edu/guides/subject. Some of mine are 3D printing, Graphic Novels, Math, Patents, Statistics, and Trademarks.

Can you tell me about a time when you’ve helped a Penn State World Campus student access library information?

As part of our Ask a Librarian service, I worked with a student in IST who was seeking the most influential researchers and most highly cited papers in testing for security. I helped this person get started with our Web of Science citation database, (libraries.psu.edu/eresources/PSU01188), which measures how important papers are, based on the number of times they are cited by later research. I also connected them with our subject specialist Carmen Cole, who was able to give them more details on static and dynamic analysis of security. We work really well as a team in the library.

Do you remember your first library book or library visit?

My hometown public library was a refuge where I could go for hours. I remember the smells and the quiet, just sitting and reading without interruption.

What is at the top of your reading list right now?

I am reading March: Book Three by John Lewis about the Civil Rights Movement.

What’s your favorite thing about being a Penn Stater?

The amazing people I get to work with at Penn State; I am always impressed by our students, staff, and faculty.

What is the best way for our students to reach out to you if they need help with a library topic?

They can email me at meier@psu.edu, and if they want to set up an appointment for a one-on-one meeting (via phone, Skype, or Zoom), I have an online calendar at johnmeier1.youcanbook.me. I am also always willing to serve as a connection to jobs and industry in LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/johnmeier1.

One thought on “Meet John Meier, Science Librarian

  1. John, thank you for being an interviewee on an important topic, and being on the leading edge of the curve with Master’s degrees in both library science and an engineering field. To open the box a bit, though, such well-trained librarians like yourself who help students wishing to innovate to access information online or even in the stacks like a math formula or software package can also think about how to serve the needs of college faculty who, responsible for teaching students, in their own student-like learning modes are doing library research from offices or homes to inform their own proposals for research grants or even earlier in the funding cycle. Such faculty (and staff) may just wish to parse an original scientific idea in the peer-reviewed research-journal, arXiv-paper or world-patents literature to see if anyone else has ever worked on it. If the result of that search is a “yes,’ then the next steps might be to find out who the world experts in that new area are and what are the best textbooks, handbooks, and other resources for self-learning on that topic. If the answer is a “no,” then the librarian can still help. Beyond that, there are retired scientists, engineers and so on — STEM’ers — who do research on a pro bono basis. Many of them have Ph.D. degrees. Thus the scientific demands can get greater on librarians who might be asked by faculty (incl. emeritus or retired) to help in this more specialized way. If one then cedes the point that there is a market for this service, then some librarians might benefit from further training in the physical sciences, such as by completing on-site workshops and online webinars and attending scientific conferences with satellite exhibitions, for example. In my case as a retired research physicist on the Acoustics faculty at Penn State over 1977-1981 but now again also a student on a steep self-learning curve, I am doing without any institutional affiliation (and thus without any client software) an online search akin to what Albert Einstein did without computers and the Internet in the transition years between the 19th and 20th centuries on special and then general relativity, that is, to find an analogous mathematical framework to help generate some of the next advances in quantitative nondestructive evaluation (QNDE) on which in the U.S. an annual conference is held and in which the U.S. National Academies have an interest through its projects on material state awareness. So this is definitely a cross-disciplinary challenge for me to do entirely on my own, especially as I am now seeing that some of the mathematical apparatus for the theory of general relativity that Einstein developed in that time frame could now be transferred usefully over into mechanical and related engineering fields for more realistically and thus better describing and modeling the presence and action of stress and strain fields in advanced, complex solid materials and parts in service whose condition including damage can be tested and evaluated by QNDE at various size and time scales. So, imagining and keeping one’s own professional development efforts going, whether as scientist or librarian, with willingness to move out of a pattern of set thinking to see what other opportunities might exist to be taken advantage of, may be important in the long run for all concerned, even the students you mention who thus years down the road from this putative scenario would be learning and applying what the faculty had recently discovered — partly through the help of someone like yourself with a second M.S. degree — and perhaps had even converted into something useful for society in general to benefit from. Thank you for listening.

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