I had the following exchange several times during the opening day of Science Online 2010:
Interlocutor: "So what do you do?"
Me: "I'm a librarian."
Interlocutor: *lengthy pause* So… what are you doing here exactly?
Er, what? A conference about science communication? How on earth can that not be imagined to intrigue a librarian?
This, ladies and gentlemen. THIS. Right here. This disconnect is the number-one threat to science librarianship today—perhaps to all academic librarianship. How can science libraries persist when scientists haven't the least notion that libraries or librarians are relevant to their work?
Stephanie Willen Brown and I did our level best to bust some stereotypes and suggest some points of contact during our (lightly-attended) session. I think we did a reasonably good job of it; I only wish we could have reached more people. I came away, though, utterly dismayed at the chasm librarians must bridge, and seriously worried about our ability and even willingness to bridge it.
I can tell you this: we will not bridge this chasm from behind our desks in our libraries. We will not bridge it at library or publishing conferences. We might be able to throw some ropes across the chasm online, but we won't do it if all we do is hang out in our own little corners of the Web.
We will not bridge this chasm if we are afraid of controversy or pushback. We will not bridge this chasm if we shrink from promoting ourselves and our services. We will not bridge this chasm if we do not listen to scientists interacting with each other. We will not bridge this chasm if we do not become a welcome, valued part of that conversation—and yes, that will mean overcoming a great deal of skepticism and even mistrust at first.
And I sense strongly that if we do not bridge this chasm, we will not survive.