Science and Technology: Starting Points

Librarians in many different information settings are faced with science-related information questions. While some are full-time medical or science librarians, most answer these questions as part of their role as an academic, school, public, or special librarian.


Science Defined

The goal of science is to understand the world. Science includes both pure and applied areas. Much of science involves interdisciplinary areas. According to Modschiedler (2014, xvii),

“Consumer health is the fastest-growing section within medicine and health categories, and it offers a wide range of options for public and academic librarians to assist patrons with varying levels of health care literacy skills”.

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Read the following article. Think about the interdisciplinary nature of the topics described.

Hovde, Karen (2011). Freshman health topics. Community & Junior College Libraries, 17, 147-154.

Read Tchangalova, Nedelina & Stilwell, Francy (Spring 2012). Search engines and beyond: a toolkit of finding free online resources for science, technology and engineering. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship. Available: http://www.istl.org/12-spring/internet1.html

The Google and Wikipedia Debate

When exploring the science and technology, it's easy to begin with Google and Wikipedia. Sometimes this approach is very effective, so don't feel like you're not doing your "librarian duties" by using these common tools. However, keep in mind that this approach is likely to only provide background information. If your client is looking for depth or an answer to a specific question, you'll need to go beyond these popular online tools.

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Conduct a general Google search for a specific topic of interest related to this course such as air pollution, nanotechnology, gestational diabetes, or Hubble space telescope. Examine the first ten links. What kinds of websites appear? What is their authority related to this topic? Are they likely to be accurate and timely? Why or why not? What seems to be missing? What are the pros and cons to using search engines for specialized information in this area?

Many Wikipedia articles are maintained by groups of scholars in particular areas while others are developed by hobbyists. Unfortunately, there's no way to distinguish one from another so careful article evaluation is essential.

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Do a Wikipedia search for one of the major disciplines such as entomology, bioengineering, glaciology, aerospace engineering, immunology, or astrophysics. Do some fact checking. Check a few of references (notes) and the external/further reading sources. Are these authoritative? Are they reliable sources?

Within Wikipedia, you'll find some useful discipline-specific starting points. These portals provide an excellent introduction to the disciplines. While they may not provide the depth necessary to answer a library user's question, these pages can be very useful in providing background information and a place to start an exploration. Some examples include:

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Explore one of Wikipedia's portals above.

Sources of Science Information

A wide range of sources exist for science information. According to Huber and Swogger (2014, xv),

“assisting a medical student in determining best evidence related to a particular diagnosis, helping a nursing student identify a drug interaction, locating the correct bibliographic citation for a secretary in order to finalize a manuscript submission, demonstrating the differences between point-of-care resources to a group of residents, and showing a graduate student which databases to search for information on a research topic are just a few of the functions that fall within the broad purview of health sciences reference work.”

Leading providers of information and resources related to medical and health topics include the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many of their resources are available online. Internationally, look for information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) (Modschiedler, 2014, xviii).

Read Yatcilla, Jane Kinkus & Fosmire, Michael (2014). Research in the Sciences. In P. Keeran & M. Levine-Clark, Research within the Disciplines: Foundations for Reference and Library Instruction. Rowman & Littlefield. (a few pages may be missing). This chapter provides an excellent introduction to science research.

Read Fosmire, Michael (2014). Engineering Resources. In P. Keeran & M. Levine-Clark, Research within the Disciplines: Foundations for Reference and Library Instruction. Rowman & Littlefield. (a few pages may be missing. If so, try a different browser). This chapter provides an excellent introduction to engineering research.


The Disciplines of Science and Technology

In order to understand information seekers and their needs, it's essential to have a sense for the body of knowledge involved. Although you can't possibly be an expert in every discipline, you at least need to be aware of the areas of study and their applications.

Science is the study of the universe. Technology is the application of science to solve problems. Applied sciences focus use of science in professions are other applications.

Most science and technology scholars use the American Chemical Society Style (ACS) for citations. However, some use the American Medical Association Manual of Style (AMA), Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), or the Scientific Style and Format from the Council of Biology Editors (CBE).


Agriculture is the cultivation of life forms such as fungi, plants, and animals for food, fiber, fuel, medicine, or other human purposes. This interdisciplinary field relies on work in biology, chemistry, physics, and other sciences.

Sub-disciplines include agroecology, agronomy, animal science, agrology, entomology, agricultural economics, agricultural economics, agricultural engineering, aquaculture, enology, food science, horticulture, hydrology, soil science, plant science, and viticulture.

For professional associations, do a search for your area of interest.


Biology is the study of life and living organisms.

Sub-disciplines include aerobiology, anatomy, astrobiology, biochemistry, bioengineering, biogeography, bioinformatics, biomathematics, biomechanics, biomedical research, biomusicology, biophysics, biosemiotics, biotechnology, botany, cell biology, cognitive biology, conservation biology, cryobiology, developmental biology, ecology, environmental biology, epidemiology, evolutional biology, genetics, hematology, integrative biology, limnology, marine biology, microbiology, molecular biology, mycology, neurobiology, population biology, paleontology, pathology, physiology, phytopathology, sociobiology, structural biology, and zoology.

Professional associations include American Institute of Biological Sciences, Paleontological Society, American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.


Chemistry is studies the composition, structure, properties, and change of matter.

Sub-disciplines include analytical chemistry, biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, materials chemistry, neurochemistry, nuclear chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry, and theroretical chemistry.

Interdisciplinary fields include agrochemistry, astrochemistry, atmospheric chemistry, chemical engineering, chemical biology, chemoinfomatics, electrochemistry, environmental chemistry, femtochemistry, marine chemistry, materials sciene, mathematical chemistry, molecular biology, nanotechnology, oenology, petrochemistry, pharamcology, photochemistry, polymer chemister, and synthetic chemistry.

Professional associations include American Chemical Society.

Style guides include American Chemical Society style guide. Go to Davidson College for a nice overview of the style guide.

Computer Science

Computer science is the study of computation and its applications. It involves procedures that underlie acquisition, representation, storage, communication, and access to information.

Sub-disciplines include web design and programming, artificial intelligence, networking, computer security, data structures, cryptography, computer architecture, computer graphics, databases, programming languages, scientific computer, software engineering, computational theory.

Professional associations include Association for Computing Machinery, Association for Information Systems.

Earth Sciences

Earth science or geoscience studies the science of the planet Earth. This area is closely connected with physics, chemistry, biology, chronology, and mathematics.

Sub-disciplines include physical geography, geology, geophysics, soil science, ecology, hydrology, glaciology, atmospheric sciences, meteorology, and climatology.

Professional associations include American Meterological Society, Geological Society of America, American Geophysical Union, Seismological Society of America, Mineralogical Society of America

hard hatsEngineering

Engineering is the study of ways to apply science and technology to the invent, design, and build materials and processes.

Sub-disciplines include chemical, civil, electrical, mechanical, and systems engineering.

Interdisciplinary area include aerospace engineering, agricultural engineering, applied engineering, biological engineering, building services engineering, energy engineering, railway engineering, industrial engineering, mechatronics, miltary engineering, nanoengineering, nuclear engineering, and petroleum engineering.

Professional associations include


Mathematics is the study of topics associated with quantity, structure, space, and change. It's divided into pure and applied mathematics.

Applied mathematics includes statistics, approximation theory, numerical analysis, operations research, dynamic systems, mathematical physics, theory of computation, information theory, cryptography, combinatorics, graph theory, and game theory.

Professional associations associated with applied mathematics include International Association for Mathematical Geosciences.

Pure mathematics includes algebra, analysis, geometry, number theory, probability theory, and logic.

Professional associations include American Mathematical Society and Mathematical Association of America.

doctorMedical and Healthcare Sciences

Medicine is the study, science, and practice of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. Healthcare science is an applied science focusing on the delivery of healthcare.

Sub-disciplines of medicine include anatomy, biochemistry, biomechanics, biostatistics, biophysics, cytology, embryology, endocrinology, epidemiology, genetics, histology, immunology, medical physics, microbiology, molecular biology, neuoscience, nutrition science, pathology, pharmacology, photobiology, physiology, radiobiology, and toxicology.

Professional associations include American Medical Association,

Sub-disciplines of healthcare science include athletic training, dentistry, dietetics, exercise physiology, genetic counseling, midwifery, obstetrics, medical technology, neuroscience, nursing, nutrition, occupational therapy, optometry, pharmacology, physical therapy, psychotherapy, public health, physical education, speech-language pathology, surgery, surgeon's assistant, and veterinary medicine.

Professional associations include American Dental Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Osteopathic Association.

Interdisciplinary fields include aerospace medicine, addiction medicine, medical ethics, biomedical engineering, clinical pharmacology, conservation medicine, disaster medicine, diving medicine, evolutionary medicine, forensic medicine, gender-based medicine, hospice and palliative medicine, hospital medicine, laser medicine, medical humanities, medical infomatics, nosology, nosokinetics, occupational medicine, pain management, pharmacogenomics, podiatric medicine, sexual medicine, sports medicine, therapeutics, travel medicine, tropical medicine, urgent care, veterinary medicine, and wilderness medicine.

Professional associations include American Medical Informatics Association,


Physics is the study of matter and the universe. It is particularly concerned with space, time, energy, and force.

Subdisciplines include acoustics, agrophysics, astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, atomic physics,biophysics, chemical physics, cryogenics, electromagnetism, geophysics, mechanics, nuclear physics, molecular physics, optical physics, particle physics, planetary science, condensed matter physics, and applied physics.

Professional associations include American Physical Society, American Institute of Physics.

Other Professional Areas

Other related areas include

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Spend some time reviewing the Library of Congress Classification Outline looking for the major science and technology classes. Think about the disciplines and sub-disciplines located within each major class.

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Professional associations are a great place to locate information related to the professionalism of a discipline. What types of information can you gather from a professional association website? How might it be helpful for a student considering a career in this field? How can a professional association website be used to identify issues in the field? What types of publications are produced by professional organizations? What grey literature such as programs, pamphlets, and other resources are available?

Librarians and Professional Sources

Those librarians working with the area of science and technology must be ready to adapt to rapidly changing technology and information resources. According to Sandra (2013, xv),

"health sciences libraries continue to be at the forefront of the procession, adapting to changes not only in the technology arena, but also to rapid advancements in the health care field... Virtual health sciences libraries are now the accepted 'norm' - users expect to be able to access needed resources anytime, from any place, worldwide, for research, patient care, and educational needs."

Specialized library organizations are useful in providing discipline-specific support. Examples include:


Many web-based tools and technology are available to assist science librarians in serving the information needs of their clients. According to Youngkin (2014, 283), these tools can “enhance demonstration, facilitate collaborative activities, encourage communication, and evaluate learning/understanding.”

Mailing Lists

Mailing lists and online discussion groups are an excellent way to make professional contacts.

Web-based Library Resources

Be on the lookout for web-based resources designed for librarians such as the E-Science Portal for New England Librarians.


Seek out librarians who keep blogs. They often post great ideas and resources.


Below are a few examples of science libraries in public library systems.


Modschiedler, Christa & Bennett, Denise Beaubien (2014). Guide to Reference in Medicine and Health. ALA Editions. Google Preview Available: https://books.google.com/books?id=NwWlAwAAQBAJ

Descriptions of disciplines adapted from Wikipedia articles.

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