Tag Archives: embedded librarianship

Add it Up

10 Oct

The theme for this month’s international Open Access Week celebration is entitled, “Redefining Impact” and will focus on alternative metrics (altmetrics) and the emerging realization that there are better ways to measure the reach of one’s research than simply how many times a published article about it is cited. Publication certainly has value, but in today’s world with so many faster, far-reaching, and varied means of communication, scientists and others in academia need to recognize – and track – how well their work is or isn’t getting to its intended audience (and, perhaps, beyond).

Similarly, with funding harder to come by and the cost of everything rising exponentially, e.g. healthcare, education, food, clothing and shelter, the pressure is on from administrators, funding bodies, and the general public for these expensive endeavors to demonstrate their value. If the NIH gives a scientist several million dollars to carry out research, the expectation is that the outcomes will be worthy of that grant funding. If you pay $100,000+ for a four-year education, you expect to walk across the stage four years later with more than a piece of paper claiming you have a degree. More and more, we want demonstrable value for our investments.

countable quoteIn such an environment, we have to begin to investigate these altmetrics. For libraries, the traditional practice of tracking gate counts, circulation statistics, reference transactions, collection size, and other straightforward numbers that measured … well … numbers, it is past time for looking at alternative means to really answer the question(s) of our worth. As Steve Hiller, director of assessment for the University of Washington Libraries noted in an article for Information Outlook last year, we need to ask, “What makes a library good?” We need to look at these traditional metrics and ask if they’re truly yielding measures that matter. (Information Outlook, 16(5), Sept/Oct, 2012) 

Yet, value is a difficult thing to measure in numbers, of course, and this is what makes the task so difficult and, often, elusive. There are many articles and blog posts and online discussions on the topic of assessing the value of libraries, written by people with much more expertise in the area than I have. If you’re interested, I’d recommend Megan Oakleaf’s white paper, The Value of Academic Libraries, that grew from the ACRL-commissioned study of the same name, as a starting point.

In this post, I want to ask instead how we measure not the value of libraries, but librarians. What are the altmetrics that we need to collect on ourselves to demonstrate that the work we do matters to our patrons? As an academic librarian, I’ve built my portfolio of those tools that we tell researchers to build themselves. I have my ORCID profile, my ResearcherID, and my ImpactStory. I’ve registered this blog with ScienceSeeker. I have a LinkedIn account. I put my presentations on SlideShare. I tweet prodigiously (@mandosally).

These things have been successful in raising my profile within my profession. They’ve garnered me a small band of loyal followers, invitations to speak at conferences and to be part of webcasts, the opportunity to teach classes to a number of library staffs, and the odd-but-thrilling connection with a few real celebrities. It’s all wonderful stuff and I wouldn’t trade a bit of it. But… what does any of it say regarding my value as a librarian to the research community that I serve here at the University of Massachusetts Medical School? How do I measure that? What altmetrics are there that I can track and collect and show to my administrators to prove to them that I am, in fact, adding value to the work of the people that I serve and thus, ultimately, to the library?

I thought of this question earlier in the week when I was putting together a traditional altmetric profile (how’s that for an oxymoron?) for a faculty member here. As part of OA Week, we want to give a presentation on altmetrics and my library profile just isn’t going to cut it for an audience of researchers, so I asked Dr. Sherry Pagoto if I could use her as a guinea pig to set up all of the previously-mentioned profiles for her. Her reply was, “Cool! Yeah, I’d love to see this data (I think!).  I’ve been wanting to set this kind of thing up but haven’t gotten to it, so this will be fun!” Later, when I had her ImpactStory profile pretty well done, I tweeted it (of course!) and it prompted this “transaction”:

Sherry ImpactStoryTo me, this is an unequivocal demonstration of my value as a librarian on that particular day. I did my job and I did it very well and I have the proof, in a tweet, of this fact. Great, isn’t it? But short of taking screen shots of tweets and email replies, short of catching conversations with grateful patrons on video and posting them to YouTube, short of saving notes and phone messages and journal entries describing “good days”, how do I systematically capture all of this “value”? It’s a challenge. It’s perhaps THE challenge that any and all of us who work in information, innovation, and intellect, and the service roles that operate in those realms, face. It’s perplexing.

This week I’ve been reading Kim Dority’s book, Rethinking Information Work, and I really resonated with her sentiment that ultimately we are all self-employed.

And believe it or not, this is good news. Because if we understand that regardless of our current employment situation we are solely responsible for the well-being of our careers (and paychecks), that means we can take control. We can focus not on lifetime employment, but on lifetime employability.

One thing that I often find myself saying to colleagues, particularly newer grads from library schools, is that when you successfully embed yourself in the work of your patrons, your own value – and your job security – rises much more than if you were only trying to prove your value to your library directors and managers. This is because, if you want to talk numbers, there are more of them than there are library directors and managers. The word gets out that you’re worth having around – that you can do this and that and the other thing that they never knew before. And suddenly, you have done for yourself what can’t easily be captured on any annual evaluation, but is worth much more. You have made yourself employable, regardless of any circumstance. In a time of tight budgets and job cuts and the very real struggles of librarians to keep their libraries open, this is likely the biggest asset you can have.

Perhaps for a long time, librarians depended upon their libraries for their value. We counted on the intrinsic value of the institution to give us worth. Perhaps today, however, it’s the institution that is dependent upon those of us who work in it to bring that value back. And this is why, I believe, we need to shift the discussion from measuring the value of libraries to measuring the value of librarians. Those are the altmetrics that I’m still waiting to see emerge.

Dr. Who?: A Library Director Responds

30 Sep

My post from last week prompted several email responses from colleagues, including some thoughts from my Library Director, Elaine Martin. With her permission, I post them here:

Elaine Martin

Dr. Elaine Martin

I read Sally’s latest post with interest as it suggests questions about the embedded librarianship model that I have been thinking about as we embrace this new model of librarianship. I would categorize the questions she poses under the heading of “professional identity.” Professional identity is not about professionalism. Professionalism to me implies behavior. But professional identity goes to the core of who we are as librarians and the values we hold dear. The post suggests that embedded librarians as they steadily move outside the library and into research teams may be neither “fish nor fowl.” Is the embedded librarian’s professional identity with the library or with the team? Second, will the embedded librarian somehow achieve more autonomy over their time and work if they are identified more closely with their research team than with their home library?

Librarians have always held dear the value of equal access to information for all. If we move our professional identity away from the library to the research team are we willing to question, and possibly reject, rethink, and redo that value? Will we be able to provide the free information access, such as ILL, to all our colleagues? Will we serve only those departments that have money to pay us? Must we reject our core values in order to transform our profession?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. But I will be exploring them further as we continue to develop our embedded librarianship model. There are opportunities for you to participate in these discussions, too. AAHSL will be hosting a series of three webinars highlighting the informationist projects and Neil Rambo and I will be giving the administrative perspective. Watch also for the next issue of the Journal of eScience Librarianship where I will have an editorial on the issue of professional identity.

Thank you Sally, as always, for sharing your thoughts on the embedded librarianship model and raising the questions that we need to discuss as we move forward.

Elaine Martin, DA
Director of Library Services
Lamar Soutter Library
U. of Massachusetts Medical School Worcester

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.