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.

The $64,000 Question (Odds and Ends)

27 Feb

My week of birthday celebration is behind me now and what a week it was, filled with a party and a holiday and a lecture to a data management class and a professional group board meeting. One is hard-pressed to complain about a full, fulfilling life. Thanks to all of my friends and colleagues near and far who helped me celebrate well.

The full schedule left me with a bunch of notes in my notebooks, things that I don’t have the time to expound upon right now, but I want to offer as “odds and ends,” in case you might find something useful in any/all of them.

First, the word of the week appears to be EMPATHY. It’s come up in two different books that I’m reading; Dan Pink’s, To Sell is Human, and Lee Lefever’s, The Art of Explanation. I recommend both, by the way. Pink’s book offers advice on moving people, getting them to buy what you’re selling – a service, an idea, or an area of expertise. Lefever’s is about… well, it’s pretty self-explanatory … the art of explaining things to people. It’s an art, he argues, and thus something that we can learn to do. For both of the author’s, a significant key to success in these areas is empathy. Being able to put one’s self in the mind and shoes of another helps to get our point across.

It seems a pretty good message for me as I seek to find my place on research teams. The better I understand the people that I’m trying to sell on the idea that they could use an informationist on their team, the better my argument will be. Likewise, the better I can explain what the heck an informationist is in the first place, the better I’ll not appear to them as an alien from the planet Librarius.

I have the opportunity to give a lecture next week to students in our graduate program in Clinical Investigation. It’s a course on Team Science and the faculty member teaching it said to me, “You’re always going on about how it’s important to have an informationist on the team. Come teach my class one day.” It goes without saying that I’m working up my empathetic nature so that I can both explain and sell this group of clinicians and researchers on the idea. Stay tuned for a report of how well I do.

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I really enjoyed giving a lecture last week to the students taking the Data Management Planning class in Simmons College’s GSLIS program. It’s a small class and the majority of students are auditing it, as they are already professionals working in the field. We had a great discussion about the skills one needs to find success as an embedded librarian. I’ve posted my slides from the lecture to my Slideshare account. As you might imagine, they are more visual in nature than textual, but you may be able to get something from them.


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On my embedded days, when I’m not in meetings, I often search out a quiet spot somewhere on campus (not in the Library) where I can work uninterrupted. We have a new research building on campus and during this transition time when people are slowly moving in to the new lab spaces and the cafeteria has yet to open, there are many good places that fit the bill. Yesterday morning I was sitting in what will eventually be a bustling lunch area, preparing for the weekly team meeting, when a few students came and sat at a nearby table. Recalling an assignment that I once had for a writing class, I eavesdropped on their conversation and took a few notes. They looked like this:

Conversation

Ignore the “Also overheard…” bit in red. I just found that really funny and worth a doodle. No matter how new an HVAC system, it seems we just can’t help but complain about the temperature in a room. Must be encoded in our DNA.

No, the part I want you to notice is what I heard the students saying AND the question it prompted me to write. I don’t have an answer for them. Do you? Is a plan the same thing as a solution? If I went up to them and talked to them about creating a plan for managing their data, would this be helpful? I’m not sure and my lack of sureness left me with the question, “Have we got a solution we can offer?” As you note, it could be “masterful,” if we can create it. (By the way, that was a quote from one of the students. Not my word.)

EDITORIAL: A Colleague emailed me after I first posted this, telling me that my notes didn’t make sense. He was right. Here’s a bit of clarification – They said, “I could have saved a whole day of work if there were standards and consistency in file formats.” Then one said, “That’s a masterful idea if there is a master table.” But such a table doesn’t exist and they don’t have time to go back and make one now. Do we have a solution for them that helps them now or can we just make suggestions for the future?

**********

Finally, I’ve been looking for a tool that will help me keep my projects and tasks and ideas and such in order. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to trade in my notebooks. (As a matter of fact, I got a fresh supply of Field Notes journals on Sunday, courtesy of my wonderful spouse.) No, pen and paper and doodling will remain a staple for me, but I need an online tool to help me organize a working schedule and working demands that aren’t quite as routine as they once were. Yesterday, I stumbled across Curio 8 and downloaded the free 25-day trial to my Mac laptop. In a word, “Whoa!!”  It’s pretty rare nowadays to find something that you can figure out how to use in about 10 minutes. It’s not a high-powered project management tool, but that’s probably to its advantage for me right now. I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles, but rather something that I can put into use quickly and easily. I have a feeling this is it. Is anyone out there using it? If so, I’d love to hear your feedback before I decide on purchasing. It’s not overly expensive ($100), but I like hearing from others before putting my money down.

That’s it for this week’s check-in. Oh! Except to say that I realized this morning that you can enlarge the font size on an iPad to make reading an ebook on it easier. Is this a new feature? Nah… but my 50 year old eyes are!

Hop on the bus, Gus!

6 Feb
Really, she was both. Be both.

Really, she was both. Be both.

Quick update (as promised) on my post from last week. As you might recall, I had a meeting scheduled with the folks from the Community Engagement Research (CER) Section of our Center for Clinical and Translational Science. I’m delighted to report that it went really well! Members of the team came with both with ideas in mind and a willingness to listen to my own thoughts. I came away from the hour with several concrete projects; suggestions that I now take to my library director for her approval and input on next steps. Together, we need to figure out some of the nitty-gritty before I jump right in. We need to think about things like how much time I can realistically give to this work, how I should track my time, how I should track the tasks, and other things that will help us down the line when we hopefully move from my being supported financially by the library, to being supported financially by researchers and their grant funding. Planning this out now will definitely help in the future.

As this was my first real shot at this new aspect to my embedded role, I want to capture a few things I’ve learned so far and share them here, in hopes that they might help others traveling the same road:

  • Go with What (and Who) You Know: When charged with the task of drumming up business for you and/or your library, start off by going to people you know. Go to people you have some kind of relationship with already. This is probably Sales 101 (a class that I never took in college), but it certainly makes for an easier – and affirming – event when you walk into a meeting where people are happy to welcome you straight away. I also found it helpful to me that I chose an area of research that I’m both familiar and comfortable with.
  • Plan Ahead: This applies to both sides of the table. I found that it was immensely helpful to me to write out a brief description of my new role, why I asked for the meeting, and some questions that I wanted the CER folks to think about before we met. I did this, you might recall, at the request of the person coordinating the meeting, but it turned out to be as useful, if not more useful, to me than to those that I wrote it for.
  • Hang Around: While my proposal was only one item on the meeting’s agenda, when asked if I wanted to stay after I finished my part, I said yes. Good thing I did, because it resulted in 3 more project ideas being hatched! While I listened to the discussions and planning of other items, I easily saw places where I could help – things that neither I nor the others in the meeting had thought of before. I would ask, “Have you thought about …?” and “Are you going to do …?” and in the asking, we discovered new ideas.
  • Follow Up: Even though I’m waiting for the meeting with my library director, I’m keeping the communication with the Team going. Yesterday afternoon, I wrote up my notes of our meeting and drafted a proposal to work on the things we discussed. I sent it to the Team members for comments and suggestions, and heard back last evening from one of the researchers who offered a couple of lines that helped clarify an item. Today, I followed-up with links to a report, a journal, and an article I found that were all relevant to one of the topics we discussed. (I also invited one of the researchers to my upcoming birthday party, but that might stretch the bounds of comfort for some of my readers here! For me, it’s part of the fun.)

All-in-all it was a terrific meeting, filled with possibilities, and it left me feeling pretty successful in my first sales pitch. Stay tuned as we move ahead!

Where the Rubber Hits the Road (Part II)

30 Jan
A fantastic recording, btw!

A fantastic recording, btw!

When we first saw the request for proposals that ultimately secured the supplemental grant for an informationist and brought me into this work, we began to think about the roles I would take, the tasks I would assume, and the skills I would bring to a research team. In short, we put together an argument for the value of having an informationist on a research team. It’s no secret that this is an argument in the making. One of the main reasons that the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health funded the program was to study the role and to evaluate its worthiness. Making our case was somewhat easier in that we had a template, i.e. the requirements of the RFP. Still, it was a new concept to our researchers and thus we had to invest some time and effort towards explaining what we hoped to achieve in this new partnership.

Since I began working on the mammography study in September, I’ve also been talking to other researchers on campus about the possibility of working with them. For the most part, I’ve leveraged relationships already formed between myself and certain researchers and/or departments. When trying to make my way in this new arena, I’m looking for all of the help I can get. At least with established relationships I have a head-start on arguing for the importance and relevance of the library. I’ve also taken advantage of attending meetings, symposia, and other forums where researchers present their work. One of these was the Community Engagement Symposium last November, hosted by our CCTS Section of the same name. I attended this event intending to try and talk to a couple of people in particular. When that didn’t happen, I used the meeting’s evaluation form to both thank the organizers of the event (who, by the way, I knew thanks to past collaborations) and to state my desire to meet with the leadership of the Section to talk about possibilities of being an informationist for them. Some time passed, but then a couple of weeks ago I got the following email from one of the organizers:

Sally,

Thanks for coming to the Symposium!

You had requested a meeting to discuss forming partnerships for the library work of informationist. We are wondering if we could set up a time for you to talk with us as a group. We have a meeting on Feb 5 from 1-2. Would you like to join us? Or, is there a better time?

Thanks!

Amy

WOW!! GREAT!! I was delighted with the invite. I shared it with both my library director and my immediate supervisor, and they were really pleased, too. Then, a week later I got another email:

Sally,

So that we could make the best use of our time, could you please share with us:

  • 3-5 questions that you would like to discuss
  • Background information on this new work

Thanks!

Amy

My immediate response was, “Uh oh.” I’m not sure why, but it was. Despite the fact that I’ve been doing this work for a few months now AND that I’d asked for the meeting, the thought of having to articulate the who, what, and why of it all gave me pause. Instinct, perhaps. This is all still new, not only the work itself but the selling of it to others. I’ve been reading and writing about being entrepreneurial, but now is the time to put all of that learning to work. How will I do?

I thought about my response for over a week. I traveled to the Miner Library at the University of Rochester Medical School last week to lead a workshop on these very things. As I spent almost a dozen hours driving solo to and from Rochester, I had a lot of time to talk to myself and formulate some ideas on how to proceed. This morning, I sat down and wrote my response. What do you think? If you were (or are) a researcher, is it enough to set the stage for a meeting? If you’re a librarian, would you present other skills or ask other questions? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. In the meantime, I’ll prepare myself for this opportunity – one that I really am excited about. And next week, I’ll report back on how it went.

Date: 01/30/2013

Proposal: To provide informationist/embedded librarian services to the Department of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine, specifically, though not limited to, projects related to the UMass CCTS Community Engagement and Research Section.

Background: Informationists are librarians with a disciplinary background in biomedical, behavioral or biological sciences, as well as library and information science. Medical librarians began serving as informationists in the clinical setting approximately 10 years ago, but more recently have begun to find a relevant place embedded in research teams and/or projects.

In the summer of 2012, the Library successfully collaborated with two principal investigators at UMMS, as well as their research team, to receive a supplemental grant from the National Library of Medicine. The award, an “NLM Administrative Supplements for Informationist Services in NIH-funded Research Projects”, was one of eight awarded nationally. It provides funding to support an informationist, or in-context information specialist, who serves the research team by offering expertise in the areas of data and information management.

For 18 months (Sept 2012 – Jan 2014), I’m serving as a member of the research team on the grant, “Promoting Breast Cancer Screening in Non-Adherent Women” (R01 CA-132935, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health). I’m devoting a quarter of my scheduled work time to the project, undertaking projects such as developing data management tools (a data dictionary and data request form), providing an in-depth literature review and report on the issues facing researchers and internet technology professionals when building and implementing research tools, assisting with a systematic review on the effectiveness of telephone intervention protocols for preventive screenings, and instructing the members of the team in advanced searching techniques and bibliographic management.

As we prepared this proposal with Drs. Luckmann and Costanza, Elaine Martin, Library Director, became convinced that this was both a relevant and exciting new opportunity for the Library and decided to commit to the service. I’ve been given a new role in the Library, informationist or embedded librarian, and charged with seeking out other opportunities where I can be integrated into research teams to provide library, information, and data management expertise as needed.

With an educational background in both exercise physiology and library science, years of providing support to the UMMS research community, and additional work as an exercise physiologist for a couple of Sherry Pagoto’s studies, I feel there’s likely not a better fit for me on this campus than the Department of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine and/or the UMass CCTS Community Engagement and Research Section. When we meet on 2/5, I’d like to talk about this further and answer any questions you might have regarding the work I’m doing now for the Luckmann/Costanza study. Additionally, I’d like to hear your thoughts and experiences regarding how (or if) you think an informationist could be of benefit to your team(s). Specifically:

  • What is your current process for obtaining relevant literature and other supporting information for preparing grant proposals, thinking of new research projects, staying current in your research areas, etc.?
  • Could members of the Department benefit from regular training in areas such as searching the literature, managing and organizing information, and/or improving communication between team members?
  • Do you have an established protocol for training new members to the Department or projects in the above-referenced areas? If not, would you be interested in having such?
  • How do you currently communicate and share information between team members?
  • When beginning research projects, do you establish standards for data collection, management, and sharing? Are these methods sufficient for your work?
  • Has anyone considered writing a formal systematic review on the topics studied by your group? If so, have you considered the benefits of having a dedicated librarian involved in such an endeavor?
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