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Five Questions: Dr. Tomoko Steen, Research Specialist

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 Imitation is the best form of flattery. With that said, Inside Adams will be imitating the Five Questions feature from the Performing Art’s blog In the Muse. We aspire to share with our readers the diversity of knowledge and valuable skills that make up the Library’s ST&B organization. We also should point out that our Law Library’s In Custodia Legis blog also has a feature of Interviews  of its staff.


Dr. Tomoko Steen, ST&B Research Specialist, Library of Congress.

1. What is your background? 

     I was born in Nagasaki, Japan. I always liked science, so when I entered elementary school, the first thing I did was join the science club. In middle and high school I joined an astronomy club and a geology club.  These clubs were not popular among girls, so I was one of the few girls who regularly attended these clubs.  

            After high school, I enrolled at the Kyushu University to study clinical pharmacology.  I wanted to be a pharmacologist because I had asthma as a child and often stayed at my uncle’s clinic where I would observe pharmacists mixing medicine.  I thought it was cool!  After college, I worked as a clinical pharmacologist at hospitals, but it became apparent that this profession was not suitable for me.  I tended to involve patients emotionally and I would get sad when one passed away.  That is one of the reasons why I decided to go back to graduate school.

            I enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Cornell University for theoretical genetics and science & technology studies. In addition, I had an appointment in the Asian Studies Department. To supplement my studies at Cornell, I spent a year as a visiting researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Genetics, which gave me the opportunity to study with internationally renowned theoretical geneticists. My Ph.D. thesis focused on the pioneering work of geneticist Tomoko Ohta and her “nearly neutral theory of molecular evolution.”   

            After my Ph.D., I did my postdoctoral research at Emory University and worked on various projects with the Centers for Disease Control. The focus of my studies was the evolutionary mechanisms of antibiotic resistant strains (using E. coli and Salmonella as model organisms) and testing the molecular evolutionary clock using chemo-stats.  After my postdoctoral research, I taught evolution and comparative eugenics courses at Harvard and then moved on to the Library of Congress.   

 2. Why did you want to work at the Library of Congress?

 As an academic, I am very familiar with LC’s vast collections and I am especially drawn to its historical documents on WWII science, technology and medicine from Japan, the United States, and Germany.  I also like the idea of having interactions with Congress and science policy makers from abroad. I have studied science policy and thought this would be a great place to have direct exposure to the field.    

3. How would you describe your job at the Library?

 I am involved in many of the Library’s services and programs- too many to list all of them here! However, I will describe a selection of some of the ‘bigger’ responsibilities.

Our primary client is Congress. I answer reference questions related to my areas of expertise. I also help develop and manage the Library’s collections on genetics, epidemiology, brain sciences, pharmacology, women in science, science policy (especially Asian), and Japanese STM (science, technology and medicine).  I am also a selection officer for Japanese STM monographs, journals, and every other month I select monographs, technical reports, and journals sent from Japan’s National Diet Library (NDL) through the Gift and Exchange program.   I am often asked to help with the selection of Korean STM, since I am familiar with the subjects. 

 In addition, I lead the “Asian S&T forum” for Asian science attaches from Washington embassies and arrange meetings with US policy makers and advisors from the State Department, AAAS, NSF, and OSTP (White House). The ST&B chief, Asian Division chief and Law Librarian of Congress also participate in this forum. These meetings are central in learning each others’ activities and current topics of interest. 

 I frequently give briefings and tours about the Library to foreign diplomatic visitors (especially from Japan) and assist with meetings between those foreign officials with Congressional Research Service (CRS) analysts or other congressional staff. 

 In the past 10 years I have been teaching a Japanese language class for Library staff and CRS.  During my off duty hours, I teach a course on Japanese science policy and diplomacy at Johns Hopkins University.   Each year, I bring my students (about 150) to the Library and introduce them to its collections. I like to encourage them to do research at the Library during the semester, as well as in their future studies.

 I am also an associate editor for the “Journal of Heredity” (Oxford University Press), which allows me to get to know current scientists and their work. This has proven helpful with answering reference questions at the Library.    

 4. Do you have a favorite Library collection?

Yes.  My favorite collections are the WWII “captured” scientific, technological and medical documents from Japan and Germany and the United States WWII scientific and technological research documents, which include the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD) collections

5. If you weren’t a librarian/academic what would you want to be?

 Hard question!  I have been a book worm since I was very little. If someone was looking for me, they would find me between the bookshelves. It is hard now to imagine not being an academic or librarian.  However, I enjoy being creative with flower arranging, pottery and abstract design. 

Comments (10)

  1. Great interview with Tomoko. She is certainly one of the Library’s many treasures!

  2. Wonderful to learn of what it is that drives suceessful women such as Dr. Tomoko Steen.

  3. Ms Steen is an asset to the library, and a ource of knowledge that can shed light on the complex relationship between the US and Japan from WWII onward. I would love to hear her lecture, please let me know when that occurs. Thank you for the profile.

  4. It is a relief to read about your research and teaching. It would be a waste of your gifts to be spent on politicans. Students flower. Research builds toward the potential of further research.

  5. Tomoko has an unique background showing us her tremendous interest and extraordinary contributions to the wide fields of science; pharmacology, theoretical genetics, science policy and science history. In addition, she has contributed enormously to science archives including study of historical documents on science, technology and medicine during the WWII. She also looks at the dark side of the history in the war. We have been impressed that she wants to be a bridge between American people and Asian people on the basses of the real history. We have been inspired by Tomoko, even though our area (particle and nuclear physics) is different from hers. We have seen the light in our study with her perspective on wide field of science. She is an irreplaceable person who not only straddles interdisciplinary fields including science, science history and science policy, but also solves many complex issues in wide-ranging fields. We believe she is an excellent leader to point the way of future science.

  6. Hi Dr. Tomoko,
    I bow to what you are currently doing as a librarian and academic. You have the passion and, clearly the drive. You personally inspire me to follow the same path.
    Arigato Gozaimasse for sharing with us!

  7. Professor Tomoko is not only an asset to the Library of Congress, she is also a great professor in the school of medicine, Georgetown University. We love her lectures, they are very interesting and I learned a lot in the field of science and policy. Professor Tomoko is very nice and keen to help students. I love and admire her and I am eager to be such successful women like her in the future.

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