Tag Archives: informationist

The Talented Mr. Ripley in the Library with the Candlestick

25 Sep

I’ve had a rotten week or at least the kind of week where too many things haven’t gone the way I’d like them to go; online conference applications, insurance company coverage changes, my puppy. I say this as a preface to today’s post, stating that while I’m still the biggest cheerleader for library innovation and new roles, right now I’m tired. And it might show in my thoughts below.

Patricia Highsmith was a terrific writer who could create a story of suspense to rival the best; her novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley, the perfect example. If you never read the book, you might recall the movie adaptation that came out in the late 1990s and starred several pretty people – Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cate Blanchett. It’s a story of a young man who so longs to live in a world of which he is not a part, that he befriends someone in the circle on false pretenses, and ultimately (SPOILER ALERT) murders him to assume his identity.

Lately I’ve been feeling a little Ripley-esque in my work.

Being a part of a research team is a great experience. As I’ve written numerous times over the past months, one of the things that defines the embedded informationist is having a place on the team. An equal place. Everyone brings his/her skill set and expertise to the team. As I’ve served on the mammography study team, the mHealth project, the Community Engagement Research Section, and a grant-writing team for a potential PCORI study, I’ve been more than welcomed as a true team player and one who brings needed knowledge and skills to the work. I love what I do.

But the truth of the matter is that not everyone on a team is equal. An embedded librarian, no matter how much s/he builds partnerships and collaborations over support roles, is still, by the nature of the work that we do, providing support to the work of the team. Information management, knowledge management, data management… it is all essential, but still something like the infrastructure of the team, i.e. a foundation for things to run more smoothly, efficiently, and effectively, but not in and of itself (necessarily), the driving force. That role(s) falls to the researchers. They are, ultimately, at the helm.

Every now and then I have the crazy notion to apply for our doctoral program in Clinical and Population Health Research. I’m too old and too in debt with student loans already to take on yet one more degree, but the thought intrigues me, particularly as I work so closely with the students and faculty in that program and teach them myself about how to search, access, and organize good information in their research. Once, when I was entertaining the thought more strongly than others, I asked a faculty member what she thought was the best part about having a PhD. “You get to decide the kind of work that you want to do,” she said, “Rather than always doing what others decide for you.”

It’s a significant point. Tom Ripley was never a true peer to Dickie Greenleaf, because he was not of the same pedigree. Doctors travel in the circles of doctors, researchers in the circles of researchers, and librarians in the circles of librarians. This isn’t to say that we don’t mix and mingle OR that we don’t need one another in our respective work OR that we don’t provide those necessary skills to make our respective work go better. But we do have different jobs and with them, different expectations, obligations, and/or constraints. We know our own worlds best and while we can do really, really well operating in another’s world, it still isn’t quite ours.

My Tom Ripley persona is no doubt brought on lately by my sense of being pulled in multiple directions. This is natural, I know, for anyone juggling multiple projects. It’s hard to stay on top of everything and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The same qualities of the work that make it so exciting and fun, e.g. variety in subjects and people and tasks, also make it feel, at times, like a tidal wave. After all, an embedded librarian is still only one person, and as is almost always the case, also a non-embedded librarian. In other words, you give a lot of yourself and your time and your focus to the teams of which you’re a part, but you’re also still a part of the library and with that comes a whole other plate of responsibilities and an environment that, even at its most flexible and/or autonomous, answers to a public and an administration that requires people to be at certain places at certain times.

It’s part and parcel of working with the public, something that is not necessarily an issue in research. Yes, some researchers work with the public. Clinicians certainly work with the public. But there is a schedule in those worlds often driven more by the former’s calendar than the latter.

Similarly, many of the researchers (particularly clinical researchers) that I know wear multiple hats. They see patients, they sit on teams, they teach, and they work for different departments. They also balance a lot of things. Yet, there is something different in their work, compared to mine. Or at least I feel that way today. (Maybe differently tomorrow.) One of the things that I think that’s different for these professionals, compared to librarians, is the understanding that continued education and professional growth is a given. It’s an expectation of your work. It’s part of your work. After all, if you don’t stay up-to-speed on your skills and your subject knowledge, you become somewhat dangerous, if you’re a doc, and/or irrelevant and unfunded, if you’re a researcher.

Librarianship, in many ways, was able to manage for a long time without being on the cutting edge, yet when information started flowing in the unfathomable volume and speed we see today, anyone working in the field of information who hasn’t kept up is pretty quickly getting swept aside by the torrential rush. We now HAVE to keep up. Heck, we have to keep ahead! And not only in our “dominant” field of librarianship, but also in whatever other areas we hold up as the “extra value” that we bring to our teams. Remember, the original idea of the informationist is a person with both library knowledge and skills, AND expertise in a clinical or research area.  (Davidoff and Florance, 2000)

The informationist who cannot afford to keep up his/her knowledge in both areas gradually becomes less and less effective in his/her work. And this, my friends, is where our professional circles lose their Venn Diagram overlap. Our emphasis is still very much weighted in favor of improving our librarian skills over the other knowledge/subject areas/expertise that we bring to the table. For those, we still need to do a lot of work outside of work, on our own time, on our own dime, and of our own initiative.

Now I don’t want to sound like I’m whining. I imagine that anyone who seeks to be really good at what s/he does, does this. I know that I’m never going to be a better mandolin player without practicing; without doing a lot of work at times that I could be doing something else, and for an amount of money that I could be spending on something else. But that’s me learning to play my mandolin, not me learning to do my job better. I know that researchers don’t have unlimited funds and/or time to go off willy nilly attending every conference or class that they wish, either, but I do think that in this age of multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary research, librarians who want to support such projects need to find a way within our working lives to follow the lead of researchers and keep current in multiple areas.

Ahhhh… but that’s way easier said than done when we’re still part of a department that is dependent upon a core group of people, resources, and services to remain viable. Embedded librarians and informationists, unless they are full-time employees of a clinical/research department (or dare we one day go the way of consultants), still answer first and foremost to their libraries. At least this is still our expectation. I don’t know if, when, or how it could change, but in my own personal quandary, trying to figure out where we belong most now, I’ve been asking if it needs to change. And while I don’t believe that any change will help us completely shed our separate circle from the docs and PIs, I do believe that any and everything we can do to gain credibility in their circle is warranted. And few things do that better than being able to speak their language, not just librarian talk.

 

Whad’ya Know? (Not Much)

26 Jul

mind the gapYou may or may not be a fan of Michael Feldman’s radio show, “Whad’ya Know?” Me, I make more time for “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” and “A Prairie Home Companion,” but despite the fact that I rarely listen to “Whad’ya Know?,” I can still hear the audience’s retort when the show begins with the announcer asking the eponymous question… NOT MUCH!

I thought of this line as I read a couple of pieces on data management this week, both written by colleagues; Dorothea Salo’s Library Journal article, Data Curation’s Dirty Little Secret, and Jen Ferguson’s response to it, Dirty Little Secrets, that was posted on the e-Science Community Blog. Salo’s original piece argues that the need for discipline knowledge is secondary, if anything, when it comes to the practice of managing research data. Ferguson, a molecular biologist turned librarian, agrees. I believe both authors make some excellent and valid points and don’t want to spend my post arguing against them. I think that their pieces are worth reading, considering, and adding to the arsenal of experience and opinion that continues to grow in regards to the discussion.

I do, however, want to have a think on the emphasis placed on both data management skills and subject knowledge that informationists need to have; at least so far as “informationist” is defined by the National Library of Medicine’s Administrative Supplement Grants for these services and/or this role. (As an aside, I was in a meeting at my church last night with a wonderful British woman who kept saying, “Let’s have a think on this.” I’ve decided that it’s my new favorite phrase.) In the latest announcement for the informationist grants, the funding purpose is again defined as:

These administrative supplements provide funds to supported research and center grants in order to enhance the storage, organization, management and use of electronic research data through the involvement of informationists, also known as in-context information specialists.

The purposes of this administrative supplement program are (1) to enhance collaborative, multi-disciplinary basic and clinical research by integrating an information specialist into the research team in order to improve the capture, storage, organization, management, integration, presentation and dissemination of biomedical research data; and (2) to assess and document the value and impact of the informationist’s participation.

It seems fairly clear to me that this role of managing data is what some feel is the most important new role for librarians to undertake. If librarians were the audience for “Whad’ya Know?”, I can hear our cry to the announcer being, “DATA!” Personally, I’m not exactly sure how true this rings, but it’s for sure the shout that we want to be making. The informationist grants aren’t aimed to support other, more traditional, librarian services, but instead, data services.

And interestingly, the National Library of Medicine does believe that disciplinary knowledge is a characteristic of an informationist (see background information here).

Here’s my take on all of this…

Does my background in exercise physiology help me in my work as an embedded librarian? You betcha! Why? Because most of the studies and teams that I’m supporting involve research around the areas of prevention, intervention, and changing health behaviors. It’s not my discipline background that necessarily helps me undertake the data management aspects of this role (that’s library and information science expertise), but it is extremely valuable in my being able to become fully integrated into the research team. Maybe this is due to nothing much more than what Jen describes in her post as “a little instant ‘cred'” upon entering the team. Credibility gets you a seat at the table and I also think that it gives you confidence that you belong there. It helps to see yourself less as supporting cast and more as a member of an ensemble.

I’m not arguing against what Dorothea and Jen state, for I don’t necessarily disagree. I do believe that you can provide a level of data management and support without needing to know much of anything related to the data itself. But still I’m left wondering, based upon the accepted definition of an informationist (by NLM and the literature), why the call for the discipline knowledge for this role OR why the emphasis upon data services above everything else we can provide? Why do we believe that data management is the most valuable thing that we can bring to a research team? Why do we see it as the role that we can fill above other roles? Is this really the way we’ll find success?

The jury is still out, of course. Part of my time as an informationist this go ’round involves evaluating the value of the role. Maybe in time we’ll have a better grasp on the skills that are most valuable to a team. I have a feeling that there will never be a truly clear answer, though. I think so much of the success of our individual roles, as well as the overall team, is dependent upon a lot of factors and skills that are not necessarily learned in school – at least not now. Fortunately, a movement is afoot to shed light on the importance of these soft skills, people skills, personal dynamics, and the like that are increasingly valued in a cross-disciplinary research world.

Time and experience will tell where we best fit and, hopefully, what we do best once we get there.

Someday is TODAY!

1 Jul
A Tiger by the Tail! (Photo: Kimberly Brown-Azzarello, http://www.flickr.com/photos/kb-a/)

Grab a Tiger by the Tail! (Photo: Kimberly Brown-Azzarello, http://www.flickr.com/photos/kb-a/)

Several years ago, I was invited to be a part of a journal club that discussed topics related to exercise physiology. It was here at the Med School where we have no such formal program and/or research taking place, but there was still a group of researchers and doctoral students with an interest in what happens to the body when it exercises. Not that surprising, they were mostly cyclists. I’ve often found cyclists to be among the most curious group when it comes to ex phys. They’re completely absorbed in the whole lactate threshold thing.

The first day that I attended the group, I was greeted with, “Oh good, Sally is here! Sally is the expert. She’s the one with the degree.” At the time, this said a lot to me in terms of how researchers view one another. You know what you’ve studied and you’re an expert in the discipline that you know best.

I’ve gotten a lot of traction out of this story since that day. I’ve often used it when asking my colleagues how often, if ever, they’ve been invited to a research meeting and called out as the information expert. Sadly, it doesn’t happen nearly enough. I’ve often wondered if that day would ever arrive when I was seen as the expert from the Library.

I wondered it until today. TODAY I was invited to a meeting by a group of folks considering a grant application and several times during the meeting, people said that I was there because I was the expert in the areas that they knew nothing about, e.g. information management, information architecture, website design, and all sorts of other things related to technology. They used the word over and over, “Sally is the expert.” The others were experts in nutrition and public health and mindfulness. I was the expert in information collection, presentation, dissemination, and the technology necessary for this to happen.

Walking back across campus afterward, I remembered the journal club story and couldn’t help but think how far I’ve been able to reach into the research community, in a relatively short period of time, simply by getting out and meeting people, working with them, building a small portfolio of projects and deliverables, and building a small list of names that I can drop for effect. To me, more than anything, this is the goal of the informationist program. The specific skills and their associated value that we can bring to research teams is recognized from the very beginning. In fact, this particular team was stuck with writing part of their grant ~ even deciding whether or not to pursue it ~ without consulting an informationist. Down the line, if necessary, we can talk about the nuts and bolts of how I could be included in the team, but really I already feel a part of it. They needed my expertise now and knew to include me.

Someday has arrived and I’m convinced that our professional future is wide open for these type of experiences to happen more and more often. Let’s grab them!

No Informationist is an Island

23 May

I recently had an article published in the Journal of eScience Librarianship, outlining my work as an informationist on the mammography intervention study – “A Librarian by Any Other Name” by Sally A. Gore. The issue also contains brief pieces by the other informationists who were funded through the NIH/NLM Supplemental Grant program, as well as an editorial by Valerie Florance, PhD, the Director of Extramural Programs at the National Library of Medicine, in which she gives a brief history of the informationist concept and why these awards were offered.

The Journal of eScience Librarianship in an open access publication of the Lamar Soutter Library, the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

So DO You Want to be a Data Scientist?

28 Mar

Last week, a colleague that I follow on Twitter retweeted a post from the blog, NatureJobs, titled , So you want to be a data scientist by Michael Koploy of SoftwareAdvice.com. The colleague who originally brought the piece to my attention, Kristi Holmes, PhD, is a bioinformaticist at Becker Medical Library at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. She’s also an all-around good egg and one of my absolute favorite colleagues in the field, but that’s beside the point. I would have read the piece regardless of who tweeted it to my attention. However, because it came from Kristi, we then engaged in a mini tweetchat that we’ve had before, i.e. Where and what is the intersection between data scientists and librarians, if there even is one?

One of the interesting things about this discussion, to me, is that Kristi is a scientist who happens to work in a library, while I am a librarian, trying to work in the arena of scientists. And from our different perspectives, she is the one who is routinely much more optimistic about librarians getting into the area of data than I. There’s probably a thing or two you can decipher from this, but that’s for another time.

Another thing that happened after I retweeted and commented on the post was that I got an email from Brittany Richards at Software Advice thanking me for the tweet and additionally, asking if I’d do a blog post of their article here on the Librarian Hats blog. Specifically, Brittany wrote, “You mentioned library science and I was interested to see your thoughts on how the two are related to each other.”

Now if you’ve read this blog for any time, you know my answer was an enthusiastic, “SURE!” So here goes – a recap of that article and some summarizing of conversations I’ve had with Kristi and other scientists on the topic:

scienceI once saw/heard a librarian give a presentation where he identified himself as a data scientist. I called him on it. I am a librarian with a graduate degree in library & information science. I also have a graduate degree in an applied biological science (exercise physiology). Given that background, I feel pretty comfortable stating that while the two share the word, there is a world of difference between the science that librarians do and that which takes place in laboratories, clinics, the field, etc. As I’ve stated in this blog before, my background in exercise physiology is what I feel gives me the extra tools that I need to be effective as an informationist. That’s the science background that is recognized in the sciences.

I hope you don’t hear me dissing my library degree, education, or career. I’m not at all. They are just different and when I read articles like Koploy’s, as well as many books on data, specifically library and librarians’ roles in working with data, I cannot help but keep this thought in mind. It’s what comes to my mind. Every time.

In his post, Koploy recalls the description of a data scientist that he got from Bruno Aziza, a big name in Big Data. Aziza called a data scientist a “business analyst-plus.” He highlights mathematics, statistics, and business strategy as their core skills. Koploy himself adds, “While programming and statistical expertise is the foundation for any data scientist, a strong background in business and strategy can help jettison a younger scientist’s career to the next level.” Further, he notes that successful data scientists are drawn from the fields of biostatistics, econometrics, engineering, computer science, and the like. I’ve read the article several times. Library or information science is not on the list.

Again, this isn’t a slight against my field, but rather an observation that there are different skill sets required for different jobs and the job of a data scientist is not the job of a librarian. And vice versa.

So the question then becomes, how much does a librarian – or an informationist – need to learn to become a data scientist? I say, “A lot.” However, that “a lot” comes with the assumption that one isn’t entering data science from one of those previously mentioned fields. If this is the case, then of course, that individual is well prepared. You’ll note though, that even with the background, Koploy points out that data science is (1) fast-growing, (2) extremely competitive, and (3) new. Even the most seasoned statistician needs to learn some new skills and/or subjects to keep up.

The optimistic among us – those who believe the cross-over between information and data science is broad – focus upon those characteristics that are, in fact, mentioned by experts in the data science field as ones that separate the exceptional data scientist from the average; inquisitiveness, the ability to spot trends, and the tendency (skill) to ask the right questions. It’s the latter where librarians, informationists, and information scientists both have experience and often excel. We know how to ask the right questions that get to the heart of information problems, e.g. How does the business work? How does it collect data? How will it use the data? (per Krishna Gopinathan, Global Analytics Holdings)

So, do you want to be a data scientist? If you’re a librarian or an informationist, depending upon your background, you may or may not have a little or a lot of work to do to get ready to take on the role. If you don’t have the background, I see two possibilities:

  • Get it (hit the books!)
  • Find the right partner(s) where your skills can be paired to produce a good data science team

We choose careers for a lot of different reasons, but I like to believe that in the best case scenario, we choose something that we’re both interested in and good at. Remember those aptitude tests you took in the guidance counselor’s office in high school? They were (and still are) meant to measure something. They measure what we like and what we have an aptitude for. They measure what career would fit us best. It means something to be a librarian. It also means something to be a scientist. I believe that it’a a sign of the times, and a bit of a challenging time at that, that careers and skills and tasks that once sat neatly within cubicles and labs and computer workstations are now all mixed up together. This melting pot of vocations is difficult to navigate. On the one hand, it opens a wealth of new opportunities. On the other, though, it means for everyone working with information and/or data, we will never enjoy sitting back and doing the same old same old for very long.

If you’re interested, I also encourage you to read the original piece that Michael Koploy wrote, along with some of the links he suggests for further reading. In particular, I really enjoyed Hilary Mason’s blog. Good stuff there. I also happened to notice, just this morning, that Coursera’s free Introduction to Data Science class that’s listed is starting up in the not too distant future. If it piques your interest, give it a go. You might well find that you have a hidden talent that will take you far in this new area.

Which brings me full-circle to the question I began with, i.e. Is this new area in the library? Well, quite obviously there are individuals like Kristi, bioinformaticists and data scientists who find their home in libraries*. There are also librarians or informationists with training in data science who find their homes outside of the library. And then there are librarians. And then there are data scientists. In other words, there’s a big mix of us. If you’re comfortable in the mix and you’re up to the task of getting and/or honing new skills, you’ll likely do really well wherever you are.

The times they are a changin’, sings Mr. Dylan, and we look to change with them. At the same time, though, we need to be realistic. We need to see clearly what we know, what we do well, what we like, and more. We need changes in graduate education across the board to address these issues, and likewise those of us working need to accept that we’ll be learning for a lifetime. These are the times we live in. You can’t just call yourself something different. You need to do something different. Or do things differently. Likely all of the above.

special agents rockin

Rockin’ out with my pals, The Special Agents, at Houghton Elementary School. Support art, music, and physical education in your public schools, people! You could get a band out of it.

Now I’m off to play drums with a friend’s band, dressed up like the Cat in the Hat. You’ve got to have a really big tool box o’ skills, friends. Really big!

* And then there’s the matter of money. If you have the chops to get a job as a data scientist, are you willing to work for about half of what you could make in business or industry than you will in a library? It’s a question that comes up in our professional discussions often. If you want to have at it in the comments section to this post, go for it!

What is it again that you do?

7 Mar

Question-MarkHave you ever noticed how if you’re thinking of something in particular, it begins appearing more often in your life? It happens all the time. If you’re thinking of some old song, it pops-up on the radio. If you’re thinking of a person you haven’t heard from in awhile, you get an email or a letter from them. And if you’ve been thinking about something related to your work – some general idea or a belief about how things go – all of the sudden, everyone is thinking of that idea; everyone believes this (or is actively arguing against it!).

One thing that I’ve noticed the profession of librarianship talk about and/or think about and/or explore over the past decade that I’ve been a librarian is our identity. My role now, as an informationist, is a direct example of this exploration. Informationists are another kind of librarian – another way that we’re doing our job. We try on different names a lot. It’s one strategy for trying to sell our skills and our value to others, oftentimes new groups and/or patrons. As such, we spend a lot of time explaining what we do.

I was in a meeting just this morning where I was asked directly, “So what is it that you’re doing, specifically, for the CER group?” I was asked a very similar question on Tuesday, while giving my lecture to the graduate class on Team Science. It also happened in a meeting last Thursday. It happened in a conversation I was having with a church member the other night. It happens at the supper table on a fairly regular basis. “What is it that you do again?”

I used to think that this was simply a side effect of being a librarian. It’s a profession with such a strong stereotype that whenever I’d share something about my day with someone, s/he would be taken a little aback. When I say, “I couldn’t check out a book to you if I had to,” people are aghast. I say that I do a lot of information and knowledge management, but that jargon (as I was reminded this morning) means little of nothing to most people. I’ve come to see, in my line of work, that what people really want to know is the answer to the question, “What do you do and how will it help me?”

But what I’ve also come to see in my new line of work that takes me out of the library and into the worlds of my patrons, is that my patrons also struggle a lot with answering that same question. Just the other day, I heard a researcher say, “Nobody knows what the hell I do!” And inside, I shouted to myself, “WE’RE NOT ALONE!!”

And it’s true. Do you really know – do your really understand – what your friends, family members, colleagues, or patrons do? As an aside, I always wondered what Ward Cleaver and Steven Douglas did when they went off to the office. My parents were teachers, so I knew what they did, but what the heck did people do in offices all day? I had no idea. Similarly, I can stand on the new sidewalk and look up at the new research building on my campus and wonder just what’s going on in those labs.

As an informationist and/or embedded librarian, one of the skills I’m learning to master is interviewing. Part of a good interview involves clearly explaining to the researchers what I do. This involves practice. I need to think about it (a lot), talk about it with others, make sure that I’m making sense to people both in and outside of my profession. A good interview also involves my being flexible. I need to turn the tables on the researchers and ask them, “What do YOU do?,” and then, as I listen to their answers, I need to be able to think critically and creatively about when and where and how I can insert my skills and expertise into their work. I need to really be able to answer the question, “Where do I fit here?” I’m getting better with this as I do it more, as I’m gaining practice on and off the field.

But the real nugget of new-found knowledge that I want to share here today is this… we’re not alone. The people that we’re trying to help, struggle as much as we do in explaining what they do to others. We can make that easier for them in the interview. I asked a cardiologist last week, “What is that?” while pointing to these two medical devices that he had framed on his wall, looking liked crossed sabers. And in explaining what they were, I learned a lot about what he does. Changing the tone of the conversation, making it more personable and comfortable and often times less formal, helps both parties involved understand one another better. I wrote a couple of  posts back about empathy. That’s what this is – putting one’s self maybe not so much in another’s shoes, but in the same room and on the same level. Being part of the team.

It’s been a big week out of the library. Teaching the Team Science class went really well. I found a couple of other good opportunities for collaboration. I’m exploring another possible grant-funded part on a research team that looks really promising. And by golly, yesterday I spent the last hour of my day figuring out the H-index for an author based upon a long list of his citations he sent me, i.e. some good old fashioned librarian work! It’s still winter and we’re wearing a bunch of hats!

 

Something to SHOUT About!

28 Feb

Team Science Syllabus 1-7-13_Page_1

 

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I’m giving a lecture in a course on team science next week. Check out one of the objectives from the syllabus for the class! Now THIS is progress. When we can get faculty to teach that the informationist has a role in research teams, we are on the right track! Thanks to Drs. Sherry Pagoto and Judy Ockene for their support of me, the Library, and our ventures into this arena.

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