Tag Archives: creativity

Summertime, and the Readin’ is Easy

30 Jun

I have a half-dozen more substantive and/or reflective, work-related blog posts partially written in my drafts box, but it’s summertime and the warm weather, the slower pace, the better parking at work… well it just seems I can’t finish any one of those. So, as I looked at the pile of books on my coffee table this morning, I sent myself a note to make this week’s post another reading list – my summer reading. Here are some things I’m enjoying. Feel free to add yours in the comments section.

How Music Work_Byrne

I was in high school in the 1970s and college in the 1980s, the perfect timing to become a HUGE fan of The Talking Heads. While they stopped making music together many years ago now <sniff>, I’ve remained a fan of each of the members as they’ve struck out on all sorts of other artistic endeavors. Former lead singer, David Byrne, has kept me well-entertained with music and writing since those band days. I picked up a copy of his book, How Music Works, back in the spring and absorbed myself in the first third of it, but then put it down for awhile – not because it isn’t a good book at all, but because it’s so interesting, well-written, and thought-provoking that I needed some time to mull over all that I’d read. Then, as things go in my reading life, I found something else and then something else and then… well, it’s on the top of the pile for completion this summer.

Creativity_Pettite

A few weeks ago, my family took a day trip to explore Concord, MA. We hiked the trails of Minuteman Park and enjoyed the quaint shops of the small, New England downtown. One of these shops happened to be The Concord Bookshop, a terrific independent bookstore. As we browsed the shelves, we noticed that the staff were setting up for an evening event. When we inquired who was speaking, we couldn’t believe the answer! Philippe Petit – THE Philippe Petit of “Man on Wire” fame – was in town. What luck! Both Lynn and I are fans of the documentary about his 1974 high-wire walk between the twin towers of  New York World Trade Center. Circus act, daredevil, pickpocket, magician, artist… we were thrilled to get the chance to see and hear him talk about his new book, Creativity, the Perfect Crime. Of course, I picked up an autographed copy. Part instruction book, part autobiography; this is a great book to help get your creative juices flowing. What could be a better summer activity?

W is for Wasted_Grafton     Ghosts of Belfest_Neville

No summer reading list of mine is complete without a mystery! This summer, I have a couple in my pile. I have no idea what I’m going to do when Sue Grafton reaches “Z” and Kinsey Milhone rides off into the sunset of literary characters, but for now, I’ve still got 4 titles to look forward to, including W is for Wasted that came out this past winter. I’ve been waiting for the lazy months of summer to catch up on my favorite detective. Now’s the time.

Going from a very familiar author to the debut work of Stuart Neville, the very well-received, The Ghosts of Belfast. Guilt, redemption, political drama… I’m ready for it.

Kate_Becker

 

My friend, Suzy Becker, has a new book out for younger readers, Kate the Great. I am young at heart and Suzy is my hero, so I’ll be reading Kate. Best part… it’s the first in a series! I won’t have to say goodbye to Kate as soon as I meet her. Hey! Maybe I can convince Suzy to turn Kate into a detective so that she can fill the Kinsey Milhone hole when it inevitably appears.

HSL_Wood

And okay, okay… I do have a couple of work-related titles on my list.

Hot off the presses, this updated, revamped, wholly new edition of Health Sciences Librarianship will become required reading for those studying to become medical librarians and/or work in the information world of the health sciences. I have several friends and/or colleagues who authored chapters in this book, so that’s reason alone to read it. If you’re looking for the staff copy, I have it.

Rosalind_Franklin

 

Finally, the Friends of the Worcester Public Library always have a cart of freebies at the entrance to the WPL. I’m forever finding real gems there, the latest being, Rosalind Frankin & DNA by Anne Sayre. Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

Rosalind Franklin’s research was central to the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. She never received the credit she was due during her lifetime. In this classic work Anne Sayre, a journalist and close friend of Franklin, puts the record straight. 

I look forward to learning the whole story.

Enjoy your summer, everyone.

I sure hope you’ve got a good book!

 

Everything I Know About eScience, I Learned from My Mother*

25 Apr

Title Slide

Regular readers of my blog know that I recently attended the Texas Library Association’s annual conference in San Antonio. I was invited to talk about both emerging roles in eScience and embedded librarianship.

Going to San Antonio also means, for me, visiting my father who moved there from Virginia about 20 years ago. Details of family drama are beyond the scope of this blog (if you’re interested in my take on that, you can read my other blog), but as I told the audience for the first talk (the one on librarians’ roles in eScience), before I prepared my talk on the subject, I had to work through the existential crisis that always arises at the thought of family visitations. In a nutshell, visiting my dad means thinking about my mom and oddly enough, from those thoughts emerged a theme for the talk. The live audience appreciated it. I hope you do, too. What follows is an abridged version:

Before we begin...

It’s always good to start your talks on the same page, particularly when you don’t know your audience very well and the subject you’re talking about is bantered around in different ways in different circles. For clarity’s sake, I start with a definition of eScience, a guide to where I’m going and where I’ve been in terms of the roles I play in this arena, and a disclaimer. There’s always a disclaimer. 

eScience defined

My colleague, Donna Kafel, is the project coordinator for the eScience initiatives that emerge from my library and the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, New England Region. One of her jobs is to develop and maintain the eScience Portal for New England Librarians. Don’t know much about librarians and eScience? Give it a look-see. It’s packed with great resources and information.

It’s from the Portal that I take the definition of eScience that I use. Bunch of words, but the highlights to remember are that eScience is big, computational, and done in teams that are connected via sophisticated networks. It involves collaboration across disciplines and across geographies, something that is possible today, given where we are with technology.

Informationist Map

One of the reasons that I’m invited to speak on this subject is because I do it. Since we received a grant from the National Library of Medicine to embed informationist services into an existing research study/team, I’ve been charged with developing and expanding these same services across our campus. I’m happy to report that it’s been a successful couple of years, as you can see from my campus map that shows all of the projects, connections, routes, and services that have come to be. I’m also happy to report that the “under construction” line is now complete. We received word recently that our latest proposal for grant funding to bring informationist services to a large neuroimaging project on campus has come through. I’ll be starting work on that very soon.

DisclaimerAnd a disclaimer; when it comes to eScience and libraries (or eScience in general), two fairly distinct camps arise. For many, the focus is on the data. It’s all about the data – creating it, managing it, saving it, making it accessible, sharing it, etc. There is MUCH talk of the role of librarians here. It’s important work and an extension of many of the services we’ve always provided (think cataloging, archiving, and digital repository work). eScience institutes tend to give a lot of attention to our emerging roles with data management. These are good roles, but my disclaimer is this… it’s not my personal favorite part about eScience. I’m also sometimes concerned that we pass on the second camp, i.e. we don’t think enough about what our roles can be when it comes to developing and supporting the network aspect of eScience. I believe that there’s much that we can do here and this is pretty much what I focus on in this talk; what’s our role in the network? Where do we fit with the people and what skills do we have or can we work on to make us effective?

Linda Jean Brittain Gore

It’s here that my mom, not a librarian but a teacher, can maybe teach us something. She taught me, that’s for sure.

Make your bed

Lesson #1 – “Make your bed.” When you get up in the morning and you put your feet on the floor, the first thing to do is turn around and make up your bed. In doing so, you’ve started off your day by cleaning up one clutter. When it comes to working with researchers and research teams involved in eScience, keeping things in order and cleaning up the clutter is a key role that librarians can take on. Juggling multiple tasks, projects, times, and people isn’t easy – not for anyone involved in this work. Keeping things neat and organized from the get-go (e.g. make those data dictionaries before you start collecting data) will help everyone find success.

Do your own laundry

Next, do your own laundry. And do your own laundry as soon as you’re able. When my brother and I were growing up, the rule was that as soon as you could reach the controls on the washing machine, doing your own laundry was your own job. My mom worked full time and had a number of things that she enjoyed doing outside of our home and family. She felt it was only fair (and a good lesson in responsibility) if we took care of our own clothes. One of the really exciting things about working as an embedded librarian and/or informationist in research is that I get to take some control over my job. In fact, it’s my responsibility to take that control. Being fully embedded into a team means that you have certain responsibilities, certain tasks and roles that you and you alone have to do or they don’t get done. It’s the difference between supporting work and partnering on projects. Take control and do what you’re able to do – as soon as you’re able. That’s the lesson.

Do what you're good at

Along the same lines, my mom often told us (and showed us) to do those things that you’re good at doing. KNOW the things that you do well and become really good at articulating them. Interestingly, when we recently interviewed a number of people on our campus regarding how they work with their data and what they see as the role of the library in that work, more than a few admitted that they’d never thought of any role the library can play here. They never connected data with the library. That’s a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity. However, it only becomes an opportunity when you know what you’re capable of doing and you know how to express it clearly. One of the best ways to convince people that we’re up for the task of providing new services in eScience is to “start with why.” Per Simon Sinek, we often tell people what we do and how we do it, but it’s the why we do it that gains their trust. Check out his TED Talk on “The Golden Circle,” if you’re interested in his theory.

Make FriendsMy mom was an elementary school teacher. She started out as a kindergarten music teacher. Of course she taught us to make friends. She taught us songs about it. One of the really cool skills that I’ve been working on acquiring during the past year is social network analysis. In a world where demonstrating the success of networks and the spread of your science is essential for both the evaluation of funding and securing the same for future projects, social network analysis is a powerful tool. I’ve also noticed that it’s not a skill that too many people around my university have. This makes it pretty valuable. Being able to do something that’s both needed and wanted puts you in a winning position. 

Lead

My mom was the president of her garden club, the vice president of her needlework guild, a mentor to younger teachers, a leader in our church, and a coordinator of outings or parties for friends. She taught me the importance of service and the importance of leadership. She taught me that you have an obligation to lead people in those things that you know, you do well, and you enjoy. For librarians seeking to work in team science, the desire to lead is an imperative. We might not be the principal investigators on these studies (the leaders on paper), but we have to take the lead when it comes to managing and organizing the information flow that makes teams effective and efficient. That’s our job. Take the lead in doing it.

Show Your Work

“Show your work! No one else is going to.” This is but one of the great lessons you can find in Austin Kleon’s latest book. He’s writing to artists, but it’s really a good lesson for librarians, too. Show and share what you know, what you do, and what you’ve done. We can no longer rely upon people simply finding all of the resources that the library has to offer. Our electronic resources are vast and often buried. Our professional services are stereotyped. It’s nobody else’s responsibility to get the message that we want people to know out. It’s our responsibility. Tell people what you have to offer, what the library has to offer. My mom entered her original pieces of needlework in competitions. She shared her skills with others by teaching and mentoring. Years before I came across this nice little book, I learned the same lesson from my mother’s example.

Answer the phoneWhen I was off at college and called home (we’re talking once a week, maybe – such a different world than today), I’d talk to my dad about the latest sports scores or about camping trips he was taking with the Boy Scout troop. Fun stuff. Then I’d always say, “Can you put Mom on the phone? I have something important to say.” If I needed a check for tuition or if I needed to say that I was coming home next weekend, I had to tell these things to my mom. I could tell my dad the same, but if I want it remembered or needed some action taken, I told Mom. She got it done. The lesson? Be the person that people know to seek out when they need something done!

Take time for yourself

Just as my dad was the one to talk fun stuff with, he was also often the one to do fun stuff with. One of these things was backpacking. Alternating between my brother and me, he’d take us on week-long backpacking trips along the Appalachian Trail throughout Virginia. I was probably around 12 years old when he took me for the first time. I remember my mom drove us up to the trail head, several hours from home, and as she was about to leave I asked her, “Are you going to be okay without us? Are you going to miss us?” She smiled, gave me a hug, and said, “Oh, I’ll miss you, but I’ll be just fine,” code for “I can’t wait for a week by myself!” It was a great life lesson, not just an eScience lesson. To be good at what we do, we need time to ourselves. We need the time to figure things out, gain new skills, and keep up-to-date on current trends. We also need the time for things we enjoy, things outside of work, and things that keep us happy and healthy. We’re better at pretty much everything when we have that. Do yourself a favor. Leave the email alone until tomorrow morning; until Monday. Really. It will be just fine.

Be Creative

Over dinner during my first night in San Antonio, I was asked where my creativity comes from. I answer with no hesitation, “My mother.” Art, sewing, music, cooking, gardening, and flower arranging were all things that my mother loved to do and she did them all very well. And like any good, creative person, she never stopped trying new things and learning new things. There is so much in both scientific and popular work today regarding creativity and how important it is to success in almost any vocation. Creativity as an informationist is seen when we come up with new ideas, new solutions; when we see new connections and patterns that make the science happen. That’s a role we play in the network, i.e. the role of seeing the possibilities of where and how connections can be made. That’s creativity. I got many a thing from my mother, but this is likely the thing that I’m most grateful for.

Perspective

The last lesson that my mom taught me was one that she didn’t plan on teaching, at least not the way that she taught it. My mom’s life ended suddenly on a snowy day in January of 1985 when the car she was driving was hit by another whose driver lost control of it on an icy road. Life – including everything of life that’s related to work – needs to be kept in perspective. A bit of stress over meeting deadlines, meeting budgets, dealing with people, dealing with changing times and the uncertainty of the future… these are all to be expected in our work lives, but the bigger picture is always bigger. Helping people is our job. We help who we can, when we can, and how we can. The “data deluge” and the “information explosion” and the “crisis of librarianship” are each due their share of our attention and concern, but the lesson that I learned from my mom is that things can change in an instant. Life can change in an instant. It’s in the showing up and building relationships and doing what we’re both good at and what we enjoy that we find real success – the kind that lasts through every economic cycle, every new technology developed, every new service rolled out. eScience with its big data, networks, and embedded services are one playground for today. Who knows where we’ll be next, but it’ll surely be somewhere else. Keep perspective that today is today. And do your best now. I can hear my mom saying it.

Cashing In: Social Capital and the Informationist

3 Mar
Social Networks = Social Capital

Social Networks = Social Capital

I heard a great presentation last week by a recent library school graduate on the topic of social capital and its role in relationship-building between academic libraries and faculty. The idea of building trust in groups, what it takes to do that, and how it affects knowledge sharing piqued my interest. Knowledge sharing is collaborative, we were told, and thus I began to think about how the concept of social capital plays out in the role of an informationist and/or embedded librarian. If we want to be successful in building these collaborative relationships, what might we learn from the study of social capital?

The intangible and vague nature of social capital compared to other forms of capital has naturally been contested. Whereas economic capital can be estimated on the basis of supply and demand in the market, and human capital is an asset people have ‘inside their heads’, social capital is a product of their social relations. To possess social capital an individual must be in contact with other individuals who, in fact, form the source of potential benefits. Social capital can thus best be viewed as a structural asset based on relations between people.

Widen-Wulff et al, 2008.

Libraries have identified research teams as sources of potential benefit, thus what are the steps that librarians need to take in order to build some social capital with them? Being in contact with the researchers directly seems a good start, but casual acquaintance likely isn’t enough. What else builds capital? What else builds trust? I suspect there are a few things. Common ground, that place where researchers and librarians can come together is important. Such ground can be based on common experiences, shared interests, and shared knowledge. Is this, perhaps, the biggest advantage of and/or argument for librarians having subject knowledge in the areas they seek to work? I jotted this question down in my notes during the talk, thinking that it could lead to an interesting research project.

During lunch today, I read an article on espnW entitled “Tracking NFL Opportunities for Women.” While professional football remains an almost-exclusive men’s club, some women have found careers in representing players as agents, in marketing departments, and in other legal aspects of team management. A very few have carved out careers as scouts. Looking past the gender issue, though, one point made by Mark Bartelstein, an agent for both NFL and NBA players, resonated with me in terms of social capital:

From our standpoint, there is some innate advantage to having played the game. People in our office played or coached at a high level, which is an advantage from a player’s standpoint, that the person representing them really gets it, has been there and understands the little nuances.

If you haven’t played, it’s hard to overcome that hurdle. But it doesn’t mean you can’t. With intelligence and creativity, you can overcome it. But it is a hurdle.

I can easily hear a scientist say the same thing about librarians becoming embedded in his/her research team. “Have you played the game?”

Experience playing the game gives you some social capital to cash in. It’s not the only means of gaining acceptance and trust, but it certainly counts for something. But so do intelligence, creativity, interest in the subject area, and a record of success. The hardest part about building and promoting new library services around data is that we don’t yet have a track record. We can see (and often say) that we have the expertise to do x, y, or z, but we don’t yet have much of a body of evidence to prove that we can provide what we’re claiming we can provide. The body is growing slowly but surely, like women in NFL positions, but until it reaches a certain degree, we lack that piece of social capital.

Similarly, until it reaches that point, we need to utilize our creativity and intelligence, leverage the social capital that we have through established relationships, become aware of and interested in the research going on around us, and take advantage of opportunities to do new things that bring us into contact with those whom we wish to collaborate. Maybe you don’t have enough established trust with a research team to provide data services, but you can probably find some information need that they have that matches your skills and knowledge to meet it.

This happened to me last week as I went with my colleague, Donna, to interview a couple of our researchers who work in the area of gene therapy. This is an area way beyond my scope of knowledge, but as we talked about what the Library might do for them related to their research data, they began to describe certain scenarios where their work gets bogged down because they don’t know how to do something and the time needed to learn the new skill just isn’t worth it. For example, one of the researchers told us how he had tried in vain to figure out how to draw figures in Adobe Illustrator. He had studied tutorials and read some online manuals and worked through the “Help” provided with the product, but it was too much. All he really wants is to know the very select few features/tools within Illustrator that will allow him to do this pretty simple task. (For those unaware, Illustrator is a powerful, professional graphics tool that, like our brains, has way more capability than we ever tap into.)

The next morning, I sent Dr. Esteves an email telling him that I do know how to use Illustrator and if he wanted to share a couple of examples of the kinds of figures he typically draws, I could work up a simple “Here’s how you do it” lesson for him. He replied later that day, filled with gratitude, and copying a bunch of other people in his lab on the reply. Now I have a task to undertake and if I can give him something helpful … KA-CHING! … I’ll have some social capital for potential future projects with him.

Bottom line, I believe that if we put forth efforts now to creatively grow our banks of social capital in different ways, in different areas, and at different levels, over time we will be able to cash some of it in on some new services. 

Next week… “Time Management is a Team Sport”

March Madness!

March Madness!

The Future is Now

30 Aug

(This is the second part to last week’s post. If you missed that one, you can read it here.)

We said our goodbyes yesterday. We shared donuts, coffee, memories, and hugs, and then our colleagues of the past many years moved on. The next chapters in their post-LSL lives have begun. And for those of us still here, we’ve a bit of a blank page staring us in the face, as well. But like my former colleagues, our new journey isn’t completely without structure. There is a plan. There are ideas. There are theories that we will now attempt to put into action. As I’ve repeated often, no one knows all of the answers nor how it will all turn out, but in this post, I’ll shed some light on the big-picture plan, and where and how we hope it will lead us.

Manage Your Day-to-DayI’ve been reading a book this week entitled, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (ed. by Jocelyn K. Glie). It’s the perfect Kindle book for those times when you’re forced to spend hours in the dentist’s chair and on the couch, battling a nasty infection. It’s a great collection of tips from a lot of recognizable voices in the creative world. A product of 99U, the brainchild of Scott Belsky and his company, Behance, it’s a web-based clearinghouse of all things for creatives. Personally, I’m hanging my hat on the idea that creativity will be the thing that fixes and/or saves a lot of things in our society and workplaces, and if not, learning about it and adopting many practices of creatives makes me feel a lot better about myself and my work, so if for no other fact than that, I keep up.

But back to the book. The title “99U” comes from the quote by Thomas Edison, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” In the intro to the book, Belsky writes, 

For too long, the creative world has focused on idea generation at the expense of idea execution. … To make great ideas a reality, we must act, experiment, fail, adapt, and learn on a daily basis.

While he limits this thought to the creative world, I expand it to the world of libraries, education, and health care; three large and powerful institutions that merge in my academic health sciences library workplace. Implementation is always the sticking point. Putting theory into practice is hard work. It’s messy. It’s risky. And it’s bogged down at every step, it seems, by the roadblocks of resistance to change, fear of the unknown, or perhaps the most sinister bedeviller of all, apathy. So often, in an unceasing world of work stress, after awhile people simply no longer care. We just want to hold on until we can find the exit door to retirement or the winning lottery ticket. And that’s pretty sad, because for many of us, those options are no longer. Personally, I never imagine being retired. I don’t see it as a possibility in my future. But rather than let this be some kind of depressing bell toll on my work life, I’ve chosen instead to see it as a call that I’d better find and/or make my work life something that I darned well enjoy because I’m going to be doing it for the rest of my life. Whatever it may be.

So how does this fit with the changes in my library now? Well, for one, it’s a message that I’ve been reminding myself of daily. It’s not the easiest time to believe it, but I’m saying it anyway. I’m believing it anyway. I’m writing it here to those who read this blog, colleagues and friends, who are facing the same. As the current president of my regional chapter of the Medical Library Association, I’m preaching it to folks in the pews. They may be sick of hearing it now, but I’m going to keep on saying it… the future is now! If you honestly believe that health sciences libraries and librarians are of value in health care, then the time is now (actually, it was about a decade or two ago, but… better late than never) to put some of our big ideas, our new ideas, our challenging ideas, into practice. We must redefine who we are and what we do, in the mindsets of both ourselves and our patrons. This is not because there isn’t value in our past, but rather that our past is not going to make it in the now or the future.

Am I completely comfortable with this idea? Heck no! In fact, when I sit and think about how different my job is today, I can really struggle with the ideas that I both like the new work and that it feels like it’s taking me further and further away from what I once thought I’d do as a librarian. But that struggle is my struggle to redefine. And if it this is hard for me, I can only imagine how difficult the challenge is for someone without a 24-7 dedication to the institution of libraries and the profession of librarianship. Challenge. Capital “C”. 

At the Lamar Soutter Library, we’re bringing “4 Rs” to meet this “C”. This is a pretty different approach, i.e. a big change for a big challenge. It involves the nurturing of new librarians, those recently out of their graduate programs, by giving them hands-on, professional work in an area that interests them, i.e. health sciences librarianship. It brings together those of us with long term experience and expertise, with those who are fresh out of school, filled with energy and ideas and a desire to implement some of the things that they’ve learned. On paper, it’s a win-win. Those of us who need help in our new endeavors will get it through our library fellowship program. Library fellows will get a full-time, professional job where they can both learn and contribute from the get-go. And our profession, overall, will gain in the recruitment of new blood, new energy, new people to work and serve and hopefully, one day, lead. 

As like last week, my Library Director, Elaine Martin, prepared a presentation that describes the fellows program in detail. She’s graciously posted it on her slideshare account, making it available for others to view, utilitze and comment (Implementing the 4 Rs: Moving Forward and Defining a New Model of Librarianship). You’ll note that first and foremost, this change is about providing opportunities for new health sciences librarians. “Why?” you might ask. Why opportunities for them when we’re struggling to keep our own jobs? Well, maybe because if we don’t invest in our future now, there will be no profession tomorrow. People have been bemoaning the fact that we’re dinosaurs for too long. One way to silence those critics is to invest in the future. Was seeing people lose their jobs in order to make room for the future difficult. 110%. It was hard and it was sad and I didn’t cry crocodile tears yesterday when I said goodbye to one of my closest colleagues during my tenure here at LSL. The feelings of hurt are very real, but the hope for a different, more effective, more relevant future is what I’m holding on to now. And I believe that this program has a chance to get us there.

We’re placing an emphasis on research and professional development in these fellowships. We will address “mission critical areas” in their day-to-day training and work, but will also provide an environment where they will be expected to grow as professionals and this includes gaining experience in doing research. (I have tooted this horn forever, so you can guess that it’s a BIG happy spot in the program for me.) It is at last seen as a priority that, as a profession, librarians must be competent at doing the kind of research that will, over time, build the body of evidence necessary to prove our worth and value to evidence-based administrators. Enough with the “we search better.” Prove it. Enough saying that we have a place in getting health information into electronic medical records, that we have a role in data management. Get out there and do it and then do the research necessary to evaluate these programs so that we have something concrete to stand on when we sing our praises.

When are we going to manage doing this in already overloaded schedules? I don’t know! But I know that I like the idea of operating much more like the patrons that I serve (granted, they are researchers); constantly questioning, constantly researching, constantly watching and constantly stressing about where the next dollars will come from, the next grant opportunity will raise its head, the next opportunity, in general, will arise. As an exercise physiologist, I learned a lot about eustress; good stress. Eustress is the kind of stress that we need to help us grow. Muscles need to be stressed in order to get stronger. So do our minds. There may well be something to be said for embracing this kind of stress in our work today. Stability is grand while it lasts, but over time, it leads to a sense of complacency and entitlement that may well prove our downfall. Maybe it’s good to have a little stress, not so much in the area of work overload, but in that of pushing ourselves into new areas, knowing that if we don’t, we’re done. 

To close, I want to return all the way back to the beginning, where I mentioned that book. I’m reading that book because I absolutely know that one of the skills I have got to master in my role as an informationist, as an embedded librarian, is efficiency. I have to learn to set boundaries, plan a schedule and stick to it, take care of the big things first, and know how to say “yes” and “no” appropriately. I need to be a whole lot better at managing multiple, complicated projects at the same time. I need to articulate reasonable goals (in time and in skill) for myself and those I seek to work with. I need to take the time to know (even catalog) the things that I do really well, utilize them the most, and improve on the areas where there are gaps that can prevent success. 

I once heard a doc say that the hardest thing about developing and implementing an EHR system is that it’s like trying to change the engine of a 747 while it’s in mid-flight. You can’t stop what you’re doing long enough to make the changes because you risk crashing the plane. But you have to figure out how. So do we. 

And now I’m off to a meeting of one of our Transition Teams, the one charged with coming up with how we will provide needed reference services without staffing a service desk, a pager system, or an “on call” librarian system of any kind. Our recommendation to the Management Team is due October 1. Out of the box thinking, folks. Let’s go!

NOTE: If you or someone you know is interested in applying for our new fellowship program, the announcement is now available on the Human Resources site of the University of Massachusetts Med School. If you have any questions, you can feel free to contact Elaine Martin and she’ll be more than happy to answer your questions. 

Fitting the Bill

2 Aug
Sweet, old Zeb loved to listen to the band.

Sweet, old Zeb loved to listen to the band.

This was a pretty rotten week. It started off fantastically as I met a bunch of my favorite colleagues for fun and games (aka brunch) in Boston, saw Alison Krauss give a freebie concert at Copley Square, and dusted off my old seminary skills to deliver a summer sermon at my church. And that was all on Sunday. But driving home from the big city, I began to have the worst toothache. I stopped at the rest area on the Mass Pike to take some extra-strength something or other, and by Monday, the throbbing reached that horrible place that it seems only toothaches and earaches can ever reach. Tuesday morning found me in my dentist’s chair for 3 hours undergoing an emergency root canal. The rest of the day and the better part of Wednesday was spent lying on the couch, praying that the penicillin would start working soon.

It did. Thankfully. Just in time to receive a phone call from my dad’s wife telling me that my dad was back in the hospital. He lives in San Antonio, Texas. I live in Massachusetts. As you might imagine, this doesn’t make for smooth and/or easy communication about all that’s going on for him.

And then my mother-in-law decided that it’s time for her to move to another state. This month. That took my spouse away for a couple of days this week and likely more in the weeks ahead.

By the time I went to the hospital cafeteria yesterday morning, simply looking for some nice, soft, scrambled eggs to eat, only to find that they’d pulled all of the breakfast foods and were setting up lunch (and it wasn’t even 10:30 in the morning)… well, I admit that I almost cried right there in the hallway. It seemed like just one too many things for the week’s pile-on.

And today marks the one-year anniversary of saying goodbye to our sweet, old dog, Zebediah. He was special in so many ways. We miss him a lot, still.

HOWEVER, not to be lost in this story of the sad and pitiful week is the fact that on Monday, after months of waiting and searching and hoping and juggling, we FINALLY filled my former position of Head of Research and Scholarly Communication Services at my library. Rebecca Reznik-Zellen joins us, bringing our staff up to the full-staff number of 3! It might not sound like much, but as the Schoolhouse Rock classic reminds us, “Three is a Magic Number.”

Rebecca comes to us from the University of Massachusetts Amherst where she was the Digital Strategies Coordinator for the W.E.B. DuBois Library. I’ve been lucky to call Rebecca a colleague for the past few years and feel even luckier now to have her as a co-worker. I once wrote a letter of recommendation for her and in it I summed up my feelings for her work abilities by saying, “If I was ever in a position to build a library staff, Rebecca would be the very first person that I would hire.” As you might imagine, I was pretty happy when she first talked to me about the possibility of applying for the position, and even more delighted when she applied and the search committee decided to hire her (let it be known that I was not part of that committee).

Of course, when someone is hired to take your former position – the one that you’ve been managing, along with your new role, for months on end – you naturally assume that it means at least part of your current workload will finally ease. Something in the back of my mind knew that this wasn’t likely the case with Rebecca’s hire, though. I’ve worked for my library director too long to know that while the job title remains the same, the person filling that role brings with him/her a set of skills that may well be utilized in a completely different way. Rebecca has a skill set much different from mine (hence the reason I’d hire her to be on my Fantasy Library Team) and thus the things that I did well when I was the Head of Research and Scholarly Communications aren’t necessarily the things she’ll do well.

Similarly, the department is at a very different place today than it was when I assumed that role. At that time, it was a brand new role and the kind of services that we needed to develop were based a lot upon establishing relationships, making contacts, and raising awareness of the things that the Library could provide while utilizing our current resources (like our institutional repository, my expertise in the issues surrounding the NIH Public Access Mandate, our push towards open access, etc.). Today, the Library has very solid relationships with many research departments on campus, the kind of relationships that have allowed me to move into the informationist and embedded librarian role that I’m so enjoying. We still have work to do in the promotion of our now-traditional services to this population, but it’s also time to begin boosting up the new areas and roles that we’ve hoped to do for awhile, namely, data services.

Enter Rebecca and her strengths in strategic planning, the issues around data, and the library/librarian roles here, and we have a terrific opportunity for expansion. But yes… expansion means just that, i.e. more work to do, not less. I pretty much have to accept that I’m not passing off my old job to someone else. That’s not how things work today in anyone’s work world. And complaining about it is nothing much more than a big waste of time and energy. Instead, what we need to do is find the ways to share roles, morph needs, kill two birds with one stone, so to speak (I love birds and would never do such a thing). That’s the challenge ahead.

In his book, Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, Keith Sawyer calls this part of “‘problem finding’, creative style.” (p. 25) He says that too often we get stuck asking the wrong questions and that the very first skill to master in developing greater, everyday creativity is to practice finding the right questions. In terms of juggling and managing my workload, both old and new things, the question of “How can I do all of this?” is likely not the right question. Maybe there’s a better solution in asking, “Do I have skills that I’m not taking advantage of?” or “Can I combine x with y when I’m teaching different topics?” or “Can I reach a larger group of people at one time?” or “Can these tasks be broken up into more manageable (i.e. share-able) pieces?” or likely dozens more. I don’t know, but I do know that there is plenty of work to be done and a seemingly limitless list of opportunities that we could take on.* And personally, I find this a much more advantageous position to be in than the one where you have not enough to do and can easily be dismissed.

I also read an interesting editorial last night written by Janice LaChance, the CEO of the Special Libraries Association, in the latest issue of their magazine, Information Outlook. Entitled, “The Promise of Skills and Expertise,” LaChance notes that when it comes to the roles that librarians and information professionals assume, there is much to be said for distinguishing between one’s education and one’s expertise, as well as one’s job title and job role.

Even though the market for jobs is sluggish, the market for expertise is thriving, and there will always be positions for people who know how to identify, use, disseminate, and analyze good information. By learning to highlight and use your expertise rather than depend solely on a job title, you can open doors to roles you may never have considered. (Information Outlook, Vol. 17, No. 4, July/August 2013, p. 2)

I’m seeing this first-hand in my current work. Rebecca was hired to fill the same job title that I held, but the role is quite different. Similarly, my title of informationist or an embedded librarian or a research librarian really is not much more than something to put on my business card or a way to introduce myself to a group. What matters more is what I bring to the role and how well that I can explain this to the people that I wish to form partnerships with.

Case in point, last week I went to a department to teach about issues related to the NIH’s Public Access Mandate. One of the PIs of the group walked in with a printout of the latest RFP from the National Library of Medicine for the next round of informationist grants. “I’ve seen this word, informationist, twice in one week now,” he said to me, indicating that he’d come across both that RFP and my signature line in an email within a few days. “What exactly do you do as an informationist?” he asked, and following the class, we had an introductory discussion about what I’ve been doing the past months in my new role, as well as some ideas he has about how he could use a similar person. Is it a collaboration in the making? I sure hope so, because it’s an awfully interesting project. But more importantly for this post, it’s a great example of how the opportunities to do new things and take on new tasks come to us all of the time. They are rarely limited to any particular job title or job description. And the expansion isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

I’m really happy to have a new co-worker on this adventure and look forward to the questions we’ll come up with together. The everyday work-a-day will continue to be full and yes, sometimes a little frustrating in that I can’t get everything done that I’d like to do, but in all honesty, the diversity of the role is why I became a librarian in the first place. Who wants to do the same old thing over and over and over again?

I’m on vacation next week. I may post a muse that emerges from my relaxation time, or I may just relax. We’ll see! :)

*In that same issue of Information Outlook, there is a thought-provoking (and inspiring, to me) article by Colleen Shannon, manager of technical intelligence at the Hershey Company in Hershey, PA, called “Stop Trying to Serve Everyone.” The story she tells of how she led her group to match its goals with specific corporate initiatives, thus becoming its own functional group as opposed to a support unit is pretty interesting stuff, and a pretty big shift in some of the basic principles of how libraries operate. It also happens to be a thinking that I fully support when it comes to providing embedded librarian and/or informationist services. In other words, I’m perfectly content providing in-depth expertise to a few, rather than a minimal level of service to many. But yes, such work has limitations, I agree.

What’s In Your Toolbox?

4 Feb

Last fall, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences here at the University of Massachusetts Medical School hired, for the first time, an Assistant Dean for Career and Professional Development. Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD, has been on the job since September, working hard towards her charge of establishing an overall program for career planning for the doctoral students at our university. Dr. Fuhrmann comes to us from the University of California, San Francisco, a school that has proved to be a leader in the area of academic career development.

Why, you might ask, do students in such a specialized field need help deciding on a career? Haven’t they already done that? Isn’t that why they’re here pursuing graduate studies? The answer seems to be both yes and no. Many students do enter graduate school with some idea of the direction that their career will take. Most probably believe that they’re on the well-trod path of those who’ve gone before them, because for a long time, careers in science followed a pretty specific pipeline:

Undergraduate degree in a science  ->  Graduate degree in a science  ->  Postdoctoral training  -> Tenure-track faculty in academia

Like many other professions today, however, the path that we used to follow is nowhere near as clear-cut or as straight. Today’s doctoral students are just as likely to end up working for biotech companies, for the government, or for universities, or even some combination of these. They may end up doing research, creating new products or drugs, teaching, writing, policy-making, or any number of other things. In fact, as more and more students earn PhDs, the number of tenure track positions available to them lags significantly behind. Even if they enter their graduate studies wanting to stay in academia, the odds of doing such are against them.

The National Institutes of Health and other funding agencies have noticed this trend and are beginning to call on graduate schools and programs to better prepare their students for a broader career path. Students need to have ways to explore their different career options, develop the skills they need in these different areas, and gain relevant experience that will serve them well as they move into the biomedical workforce. Thus, schools like UCSF and now my own institution, UMMS, are designing programs, services, and educational opportunities to meet this growing need.

I had the chance to hear Dr. Fuhrmann speak last week. In her presentation, she outlined this need and her vision, goals and anticipated outcomes for her new position. I’d had some brief communication with her earlier and we have plans to work on a project together in the future, but this was my first opportunity to hear first-hand why the University created this new position and what will come out of it. A little more than half-way through her talk, she put up the following slide:

Fuhrmann_Skills Slide

Credit: Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD
Used with permission.

As I read the different pieces, particularly the spokes off of the “Professional Development Skills” balloon, I couldn’t help but notice the striking resemblance between these skills and those that we’ve been talking about in our own profession. Strong writing and editing, including the ability to write proposals for projects or grants, are needed by young scientists. They’re needed by librarians and/or informationists, too. When graduates become researchers, they likely need to know how to present their work, their proposals, their findings. They likely need to know how to teach the subject(s) that they’ve learned. It’s expected of them. The same can be said for the librarian. It’s expected of us. We all need to know how to manage projects. We all need to know how to manage (or at least work successfully with) other people. We all need to become more creative and more innovative. In other words, we’re all in the same boat.

Will library and information science schools get on board with biomedical science programs and begin to develop the necessary programs to best prepare their graduates in these areas? And for those of us already working, can we or do we easily find the opportunities that we need to continue our professional development around these things? It’s true that you can learn a lot on the job, but it’s also true that simply standing in front of a classroom of students is not teaching. Juggling projects is not the same as managing them. Working with people via forced teams or committees doesn’t guarantee the best outcomes. Networking is more than talking to people at a party. We need to learn and hone the skills necessary in these areas that will bring us success. It needs to become a priority.

It’s my hope that as we continue to branch out in our own field, we will begin to see more clearly the skills we need for success and then, once we identify them, have the support of our institutions, our administrations, and our professional organizations towards meeting them. I hope we can expand our offerings of CE classes at professional meetings, bringing in courses that touch on some of these other skills. I hope we can be supported to go to different kinds of meetings and events outside of the usual suspects. And more than anything, I hope that we individually have the spark and initiative and excitement to do so. With these all coming together, we will surely strengthen both ourselves and our profession.

Special thanks to Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD, for her insights related to this post and for sharing her presentation slides with me.

Top 10 Informationist Moments of 2012

27 Dec
Closing the Whiteboard on 2012

Closing the Whiteboard on 2012

I’ve only been at this informationist work for a few months, thus a true “Top 10″ list is a bit of a stretch for my New Year’s post, but a few really terrific things HAVE happened, thus I figured coming up with some list warranted at least a college try. Here goes:

#10. An Invitation to the Party

I was invited to attend a retirement party for the project administrator of the research study I’m working on. What makes this special is that the invitation came before I officially became a part of the research team and while I wasn’t able to make it, it let me know that I was included in the group, by the group, before I ever even became part of the group. Inclusion, both physically and cognitively, is an important part of success in this arena.

#9. A Weekly Schedule

It took a little while, but eventually I was able to carve out some semblance of a regular weekly schedule that included the hours I’m committed to working as an informationist on the study. It’s not perfect yet, but we’re headed in the right direction. I imagine that balancing time and tasks between being in and out of the Library will remain a key focus in 2013.

#8. Office Space

Going along with a weekly schedule, securing a physical place outside of the Library to work on the project was also a coup. I was lucky in that the research team has other consultant-type people as members, thus having a research staff office was both known to be important and already existent. I’ve found that if/when I go into the Library on the days that I’ve scheduled myself to work on things related to the project, I too easily get pulled into other things. Staying away is important!

#7. Impromptu Conversations on Sidewalks

Being able to bring up my role as an informationist to researchers that I already know on campus is both easy and productive. I’ve had several conversations with individuals in the process of writing grants and as they tell me about their ideas, because I know them personally, it’s easy to say, “Have you thought about including an informationist on your team and/or in the proposal?” What I’ve also discovered is a lot of overlap between the researchers that I know. Part of this is expected (you do a lot of work in one department or division, and you tend to know many people who naturally work together), but it’s the unexpected connections that have been the biggest thrill. They’re also the ones with the greatest potential to build further collaborations. Cross-discipline research is really important in translational science and an informationist is very well suited to help build the bridges between the people and research currently happening in different areas.

#6. The Bucket List

During about the third or fourth weekly team meeting that I attended, I confessed that I was completely confused by the word “eligible”. It seemed to me that women were eligible for the study several different times. In other words, there were different levels of eligibility. I said, “I’m lost. Who is eligible for what, when?” In voicing what might appear like a weakness (after all, I was brought on board as the “expert” in communication), I hit on something that everyone was struggling with! Too many times, people were using the same word to describe different things. It was confusing not just me, but others as well. The result was my first tangible item to the team – a very simple list of what we would all agree to call each “bucket” of subjects. Producing something (an actual THING, in this case a list of words) was the first step to make me feel like I was a contributing member of the team.

#5. Presentation Proposal with a PI

It was a 2012 highlight that one of the principal investigators on the study agreed to submit a presentation proposal with me to the New England Chapter of ACRL’s next annual meeting. I hope it will be a 2013 highlight that we are chosen to present on our work together as informationist and researcher. The more that we can get researchers themselves to talk about the importance of embedded librarians and/or informationists in their work, the further we will advance in this area of our profession. I’m convinced of this.

#4. Informationist Invasion 2012

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, you know that in early November, informationists representing each of the NIH-funded awards gathered in Worcester, MA to share with science and medical librarians from New England about their new roles. “Embedded with the Scientists: Librarians’ Roles in the Research Process” was a big success! Personally, I was really happy to have the chance to meet my colleagues from around the country; to share ideas, talk about issues and roadblocks and how we might overcome them, to plan ways to support one another in our work, and to make new professional friends. Pursuing new directions is a lot easier with the support of colleagues.

#3. I Lost My Old Job

It’s nice to know that people care about you. When the announcement that my Library was (still is!) accepting applications for my current position as the Head of Research and Scholarly Communication Services, I got more than a few phone calls and emails from friends and colleagues. “Is everything okay?!” “Where are you going?” “What happened?” For once, I was happy to say that I’d lost my job. Even before we received the supplemental grant award, the management team of my Library saw that charging a librarian with the task(s) of becoming embedded in research teams was a direction we both wanted and needed to go. Receiving the grant only further solidified this commitment and my Director began to work the budget as she was able to move me into this new position, thus freeing me from the responsibilities of the former. To be successful in this area, we need such commitment. In today’s environment, creating new positions requires structuring budgets and workloads in ways we might not have thought before, but unless a Library is willing to do this, the work of the informationist, if it proves valuable, will ultimately be consumed by research departments or Information Technology, and the library profession will find itself missing out on a very relevant path.

#2. Supplemental Grant Award

It kind of goes without saying that there likely is no “Top 10 Informationist Moments of 2012″ without the awarding of the NIH Supplemental Grant for the R01 study that I’m now a part of. It was not the beginning of the embedded librarian/informationist idea and/or role by any means, but as noted above, it solidified our movement forward into this new direction. My Director and the PIs stated, while we prepared the grant application, that we would pursue the project regardless of whether or not we got funded. This showed the level of commitment to it. But the fact that we DID get funding, opened doors that otherwise might have taken a bit longer to unlock. By offering these awards, the National Library of Medicine, through NIH, demonstrated that the role of the informationist in biomedical research is one worth supporting and examining to determine its longterm value. Sometimes professions need this kind of support to make big changes.

#1. Guest Lecture Invitation

You might think that #2 would be #1, and I admit that I went back-and-forth on deciding what moment I’m giving top billing to. What I ultimately decided is that moment #1 happened only yesterday, squeaking in just under the wire! I got an email yesterday morning from a researcher I’ve worked with in the past in a different capacity. She told me that she’s teaching a class this coming semester on Team Science. To avoid misquoting, I’ll share the text of the email:

“I’m teaching a class called Team Science in the Spring, the focus of which is to help students (in the MSCI program) to understand the importance of teams in science, how to build their research teams, and how to effectively function in teams.  You have talked a lot about how many researchers and docs don’t understand the role of the informationist in their work, so I wondered if you might be interested in coming as a guest some time and talking about the role of the informationist on an academic team?”

Perhaps you can see why this invitation wins out in the “Big Moments of 2012″ contest. Here is a pretty prominent researcher on my campus who gets it – or at least is willing to give me a shot to convince her, as well as a classroom of future researchers, of the important role librarians and/or informationists can play on research teams. Here is an opportunity to make my case that we are, in fact, part of the team. We’re not just a supporting cast on the sidelines.

Of course, I took her up on the offer right away. Stay tuned for a post in early March telling how it all goes.

So, while it’s only been a short few months in Informationist-landia, I feel confident saying that it’s been filled with more than a few memorable moments. In short, I’ve learned a great deal about the importance of building relationships, of harnessing the possibilities of existing relationships, of finding and exuding confidence, of setting boundaries and limits, of setting priorities, of finding balance, of speaking up, and of accepting change. And perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned the importance of articulating what I can do, what I can’t (or won’t) do, and what I’m capable of learning to do. Above all else, I believe being able to state these things clearly to a researcher is the way to open the door to their world, but it takes some work to be able to do that. Do the work.

In his book, Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon writes, “Ironically, really good work often appears to be effortless. People will say, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ They won’t see the years of toil and sweat that went into it.” To step into a new area professionally requires work. You need to take the time to read and explore and emulate and try and eventually find your own way; a way that is ultimately a blending of who you are and what you can do. This is the “you” that succeeds. This is what I learned, maybe more clearly than anything else, in 2012. I learned it in this new role as an informationist and I learned it in life. As I close the calendar on this year, I can’t complain much about that.

[Looking for a New Year’s book for yourself? Pick up a copy of Kleon’s book. You can read it over a cup of coffee on a Saturday (or a snowy) morning and you’ll come away with 10 pretty good tips (or more) for being creative in your work and in your life.]

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