Tag Archives: data services

Come Together

18 Jul
Photo by Antonio. Used with permission. https://www.flickr.com/photos/antpaniagua/with/8110355091

Photo by Antonio. Used with permission. https://www.flickr.com/photos/antpaniagua/with/8110355091

What an exciting week it’s been! You know those days or moments when you see a lot of groundwork (hard work) start to pay off; like when you see the first tomato appear on the vine or the first sprig of a pepper plant pop up through the dirt? Well, we had one of those this week. For the past several years, we’ve been talking about and planning and laying the foundation to provide library services around the needs that our patrons have when it comes to working with data. Years, I tell you.

When my colleague, Rebecca, arrived last August to take the reins in this effort, I’d been out pounding the pavement for a good while, building relationships and doing individual data-related projects, and perhaps most importantly, getting a sense of who did what and when and where and how. Rebecca got to work strategizing, writing plans, working with our library’s administration and other higher-ups in the university, while Lisa and I provided experience and the connections needed to pull it all together. We developed a Library Data Services Advisory Group, bringing a few vested parties to the table. We did an extensive environmental scan to find out what the different stakeholders on campus thought the Library’s role might be in this area. We talked to lots of people. We surveyed students. We gained a lot of insight.

Meanwhile, I continued to do my work with the mammography study team, part of which involved helping put together a mini-symposium around data issues in clinical research. We brought together clinicians, members of our Quantitative Health Sciences (QHS) Department, and members of University’s Information Technology Department. We also surveyed colleagues to gauge their interest and needs in this area. 

Sitting in these different groups, working on these different teams, I started to see pretty clearly that multiple things were happening on campus; that there was at last some real thought and energy being put towards addressing some of the needs we have around data. I also started to see that a lot of right hands weren’t aware of what their left hands were doing. And the most exciting part of that (when I got past being frustrated) was this… I knew what both hands were doing! 

A few weeks back, I wrote about that frustrating part, as well as how I see how exciting it can be when we (librarians and thus, the library) are positioned in a way to make things happen. And this past Monday, was one of those exciting moments. We ALL came together; representatives of each of these groups that I’ve been witnessing talk about what to do to address the data needs at UMMS. The librarians, the clinical researchers, the computing services folks, the QHS people… we were all at the same table where we could share with one another what we do, what we know, and how we can help. And we came away with some very real, tangible projects that we can tackle together. It really was one of those times when I felt a sense of accomplishment in this task that’s been nebulous, to say the least.

And… I was also hired by the University of Rhode Island’s Library & Information Studies program to teach the course on Health Sciences Librarianship this fall. (I’m really excited about it!!) Totally unrelated to the previous tale, but the two events made for a pretty great week. I hope you’ve had the same!

Let’s Decide!

6 Jun

The title of this post can be found written in large, bold letters in the notes I took during a meeting on Tuesday. “LET’S DECIDE!” It followed the side comment (my notes from any meeting are filled with side comments and/or digressions), “Basically, we can facilitate this work and see that as our role or keep doing our own thing.” I realize that it’s not truly an “either/or” situation, but…

Maybe I should offer a little background, first.

Initially, Aim 2 in the proposal for my work as an informationist on the mammography study was this:

Aim 2: Assist investigators in identifying and reporting information technology issues that have arisen in the implementation of the study that may be of use to others.

After spending a great deal of time searching the literature in fields from information technology to medical informatics to team science (or simply teamwork), I realized that not much existed that fit the issues that they’d encountered. Further, I wasn’t convinced that writing an article and/or white paper on the topic was the place to start in terms of reporting their experience. I thought that perhaps bringing people together, i.e. the different stakeholders, to talk about the issues, problems, lessons learned, etc. that occur when IT folks and a research team come together to work on a project. I felt that such a discussion would yield a lot of valuable information that could then, somehow, be collected, organized, and disseminated in a useful manner. After a lot of talk and brainstorming within the team, we all agreed that this seemed a good path to take.

Making a long story short, this idea took hold, evolved, grew, and a couple of weeks ago, took the form of a mini-symposium that was part of the annual research retreat for our Center for Clinical and Translational Science. The program, entitled, “Data Acquisition, Data Management, and Subject Tracking in Clinical and Translational Research: Seeking Solutions to Persistent Challenges,” brought together the researchers from the mammography study, two faculty members from our Department of Quantitative Health Sciences, a biostatistician from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and a representative from our Information Services department. My role now is to pull all of the content from the symposium, along with other useful resources, and make it available online for the benefit of our research community.

This is all a really happy story for me in that I’ve been able to help facilitate and see something come together that we have been talking about in my library for a number of years now. Finally… FINALLY … people are starting to talk about issues around data. For too long, the only folks that I’ve heard talking about managing data are librarians. And frustratingly, we’ve mostly been talking among ourselves. But over the past months, I’ve been able to watch people that we’ve been wanting to reach addressing the issue. And best of all, the different players are talking to one another and not just among themselves.

So why the frustrating digression in my notes from Tuesday? Well, it’s because in my position, I can see several things happening. First, I can see several different camps, including the library, trying to stake their claim on one or another aspect in the data management services suite. And there’s a lot of overlap.

Secondly, there’s a lot of the feeling of “we’re the experts, so we should be the ones to do this.” Going along with this is also a lack of awareness and/or understanding of what each stakeholder really is expert in. For example, I might think that the people in Information Services ought to address issues around data storage and security. This is true, of course, but it leaves out the expertise that some in that department have around the proper ways to build databases and thus best practices in file structures and naming conventions and other things that might make me want to say, “Hey! That’s my area of expertise, not yours.” Similarly, many libraries developing data management services are focusing a great deal on providing data management planning in grant applications, but if you asked my colleagues in Quantitative Health Sciences, they’d say, “That’s what we do. Why are you saying it’s your role?”

talk talk talkLastly, despite the success of the mini-symposium, there’s still an awful lot of “talking amongst ourselves” going on. I see this more easily, and thus get a little frustrated at times, because I have my foot in several different areas where I’m hearing the same message. In other words, despite the success of bringing people together for the mini-symposium, there’s still a lot of room for improving how well we communicate and coordinate our efforts, not only campus-wide, but even within my library. So when I wrote “LET’S DECIDE!” it was my reaction to what I see as a really big need that we can fill. There is a huge need for someone to fix the broken communication system, help eliminate some of the duplication of efforts, and facilitate the development of services around data within my institution. And I believe that someone is me and my colleagues in the library. 

One of the characteristics of the library that was lost when we brought our resources to the researchers was our place as the hub of a lot of academic activity. People used to come to our physical library and here the different worlds of campus would collide. Researchers and faculty members and clinicians were forcibly less isolated in labs or offices. They literally ran into one another and likely had a bigger picture of things that were going on, simply through the interactions. At the same time, librarians were more easily able to know a lot of what was going on, too. We had a front row seat for all of the collisions. What I’ve found, as I got out of the library and started working on research teams, is that by going to the people that used to come to us, I’m bringing that lost quality back to life. While it can be incredibly frustrating to observe different groups addressing the same issues, each unaware of what the other is up to, the fact is that I can make them aware.

The mammography study team didn’t know that a team in the library has been working and working and working towards a goal of teaching good data management practices to the students, but as I’m a member of both teams, I did. So, when the study team made a suggestion that we recreate the symposium via a webinar series, archive it, and make it available to the students as part of their curriculum, I immediately chimed in, “Wait! Let me tell you what we’ve been working on.” A similar thing happened with the data management group in Quantitative Health Sciences. And now, we have a meeting scheduled for next month where we will bring these groups together – the research team, the QHS group, IS, and the library’s data services group.

To me, being able to facilitate these gatherings is one of the most rewarding parts of this informationist work. It’s a great role for librarians to take in the area of data management. As I wrote a few posts back, it’s the networking aspect of eScience and a place where we can put our skills to good use. The library itself used to bring people together. Today, librarians do.

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!

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.

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