California State University, Long Beach
Inside CSULB Logo

Engineering’s Librarian of the Year

Published: July 18, 2016

CSULB’s Hema Ramachandran has been named Engineering Librarian of the Year by the Special Libraries Association’s (SLA) Engineering Division. A faculty member and engineering librarian at CSULB since 2007, she received the award in June at the SLA’s annual conference in Philadelphia.

The award is recognition of her distinguished achievements in the engineering library profession through exceptional contribution and/or accomplishment on the job.

“I’m very grateful for this the award,” said Ramachandran, an SLA member for more than two decades and recipient of its 1996 Leadership Diversity Award. “A great many individuals have helped me along the way and it’s nice to see the many years of dedicated work be recognized by members of the SLA.”

Though she does not have an engineering degree, Ramachandran has been associated with engineers for a long time and, in the process, garnered a tremendous amount of knowledge.

“All librarians are curious, but I ask a lot of questions,” she said. “From the beginning, I have asked a lot of questions so that I can put into context the information needs of the engineer/faculty and how I can deliver the appropriate information to satisfy their needs. I think when the inquirer has to restate the question and explain to me, it becomes clearer to both of us what information is required.”

Ramachandran credits her father, Dr. G. Ramachandran, an internationally well-known statistician in the field of fire insurance, for planting the seed for her library career. When she was 14 years old, he said she should become a librarian, but was even more specific. “You should become a librarian—but you should become an engineering or science librarian,” he said.

Her friends tried to dissuade her, telling her it sounded boring, but as fate would have it, John Laing, an international construction company, was located right across the street. After completing her high school exams, she walked in, asked for a summer job, and went right to work in their technical library.

Ramachandran made enough of an impression that she was offered a permanent professional job at the London-based company after graduating years later with her B.A. in Library Science (with Commendation) from the University of North London.

“I loved it,” she said. “We didn’t have computers then—we had printed indexes.”

And while her degree gave her knowledge of library science, she was the first to recognize she didn’t know all that much about engineering. But she had assistance.

“All of the engineers in the company, including many senior ones, would teach me the basics of civil engineering,” said Ramachandran, who eventually went on to earn a master’s degree in library sciences from the School of Library and Information Studies at Florida State University. “They were incredibly helpful.”

Her first boss, Charles Mathew, taught her a lot in terms of being a proactive librarian and she credits him with imparting some basic principles which she follows to this day. She migrated to the U.S. after her marriage so her husband could pursue a Ph.D at the University of Florida.

Hema Ramachandran
Hema Ramachandran

As can be imagined, much has changed since she entered the field of library science more than three decades ago. Thanks to computers and online databases, research that once could take an entire day, can now be done in five minutes.

The biggest issue now, she noted, is finding and providing credible data in the glut of information. Since the stakes can be high for engineering projects, Ramachandran tries to help students find quality information. “I tell them, ‘When I get on a plane, I want it to fly safely,’” she said.

During her career, Ramachandran has worked at NASA/STAC on the University of Florida campus, University of New Hampshire, Northwestern University, San Jose State University, Caltech and Pasadena City College. She was part of a ground-breaking team that digitized Caltech’s computer science technical reports.

Now, based at CSULB’s University Library, she recently established part-time office hours in the College of Engineering’s Dudley Library (EN-209), with tremendous support from its dean Forouzan Golshani and University Library dean Roman Kochan, so she can work more closely on-site with students and faculty. It has been a great success and many faculty and students have already become accustomed to visiting Ramachandran there on a regular basis.

A frequent presenter at industry conferences, including the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), she has written numerous journal articles and given a variety of poster presentations. She is co-author of Lifelong Learning for Engineers and Scientists in the Information Age (Elsevier, December 2011), which won the ASEE’s 2013 Best Publication Award. She also has a chapter on “Computer Engineering” in Using the Engineering Literature which has become a standard handbook for engineering librarians (CRC Press, 2011, 2nd edition); the first edition of the book won the “Best Reference Work” from ASEE in 2007. She is also editor of Morgan and Claypool’s “Emerging Trends in Librarianship” series and the editor for engineering titles in RCL: Career Resources–a collection development tool aimed at community college libraries.

–Margo McCall