An Interview with Wooster’s New Science Librarian, Ian McCullough

Zoë Jurkowski, S&E Editor
Ian McCullough, Image Courtesy of The College of Wooster

Ten days ago, Ian McCullough was officially named the College of Wooster’s new science librarian. McCullough’s time at Wooster started in August of 2021, but his expertise spans well beyond his current occupation. Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to interview him about his goals for his new position, advice for students and his journey leading up to becoming Wooster’s science librarian. 

McCullough started his academic career at Reed College, obtaining his first bachelor’s degree in history in 1994. His second B.A. came from Portland State University in 1999, where he specialized in biochemistry. 

Describing his transition between fields, McCullough stated, “I took a skills test that suggested I had high-level spatial reasoning skills. I was a bit driftless working in a bookstore and not wanting to do graduate work in history, so I tried a chemistry class and found I was kind of a natural at it, specifically organic chemistry.” 

After obtaining his second bachelor’s, McCullough then moved on to complete a master’s degree in forensic science at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIUC) in 2002. This was followed by his fourth and final degree, a master’s in information science from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, in 2011. 

McCullough’s interdisciplinary expertise has allowed him to pursue a wide array of positions and when asked what job he enjoyed most before becoming Wooster’s science librarian, he chose “being a used book buyer at Powell’s Books in Portland Oregon. I had a very cool job in Portland in the 90s and got to hang out with cool people in the art and music scene during my 20s. I was also on the bargaining team for the union we created at Powell’s. We won an authorization vote, got a first contract and they are still unionized today. It was a fun job, with great friends, and I got to win a victory that has helped my friends as they age into retirement.” 

McCullough’s experience also allows him to offer great advice and guidance for both students and those looking to pursue a similar field as his. To those following a similar path, McCullough says “librarianship is a tough field to advocate for. The required degree is a terminal master’s with almost no graduate assistants, so you will probably pay out of pocket. For me, I left my low-pay, low-respect job as a STEM lab manager for the higher-paid career of being a science librarian…if you enjoy the process of doing research/lab work, regardless of results, then STEM is for you… I can’t really speak to the many non- “S” STEM fields but liking the process in and of itself is incredibly useful if you want to have a career in the sciences.” 

As for McCullough’s current position as science librarian, he describes it as “a lot of answering questions, prepping projects both long and short term, sometimes selecting materials for purchase, sometimes doing instruction. I also do research, which gets fit in around the edges. It’s rare I do all my job description in one day and the eclectic duties are something I like most about librarianship. There’s always enough novelty mixed with the routine that the job stays fresh.” 

McCullough is a wonderful resource to have on campus, especially for those working on I.S. He reminds students: “librarians are here to help. You are always an email away from getting help with your research. Answering questions and helping students is core to what we do – please use our expertise! Helping students is the best part of my job so I love it when I get questions.” However, it is important to “[understand] the impracticality of being fully open 24 hours a day. This is an evergreen request that is not merited by the usage stats that we record and would involve creating an overnight supervisor role or hiring students from midnight to 8 am… Just about every academic librarian I know has dealt with this request in some form.”

As for his goals as science librarian, McCullough hopes to “reinvent myself as a SLAC librarian after working at a research university. At my last position I was responsible for over 900 graduate students and over 100 faculty. I need to figure out how to be more hands on and available now that I have fewer people relying on me. Long term, I’m not sure if I’ll be a dinosaur or not with AI tools getting better and better.” 

Throughout his impressive and respectfully interdisciplinary career, Ian McCullough has built a skill set leaving him more than well-suited to be Wooster’s new science librarian. Remember to reach out to him or stop by Timken with any research-related needs!

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