Tag Archives: evaluation

Iterations on a Profession

6 Apr

PencilsI’m currently taking a 4-week course, Fundamentals of Graphic Design, via the online learning platform, Coursera. In pulling together the content for the Data Visualization course that I’m developing for a local college, I realized that I need to include a crash course, i.e. one week in the basics of design, thus I thought taking this online course would give me some ideas for how to cover the topic myself. Plus, I could learn some things and improve my own skills. The first week we covered the image and the assignment was to create at least 10 iterations on an everyday, common object. You can see here my takes on a pencil.

Creating these images reminded me of my professional journey and in particular some of the struggles I’ve been feeling of late regarding where I fit in professionally. Since I started my career in librarianship, I’ve belonged to several related professional organizations – the Medical Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, the American Library Association, the Special Libraries Association, plus regional chapters and state organizations associated with each of these. I’ve tried different groups at different times, looking for the best fit as my work changed. Among these, the one organization that I’ve invested the most time and effort (and felt the most a part of) for the past dozen years has been the Medical Library Association. It makes since, since I worked the first decade of my career in an academic medical library (and even today still work at the same medical school). Regardless of how many times that my job title and/or role changed within the Library, I still worked in a medical library and thus, MLA worked for me.

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about being a member of MLA is attending the annual meeting. It’s where I get to see so many of my friends and colleagues, where I’m always renewed and energized by the sessions and speakers and topics, where I get to share some of my own work with colleagues, and where I remember where I belong professionally. It’s such a highlight of my professional life.

Last week, I withdrew my accepted posters from this year’s meeting and accepted the decision that I’d not be attending MLA 2016 in Toronto. I’d be lying if I didn’t say how sad the choice makes me. But it’s the choice that I had to make. As I looked through the content of the meeting this year, there simply wasn’t enough related to the work that I do as an evaluator for the UMCCTS. There aren’t any sessions devoted to librarians working with and/or as part of their CTSA offices. There aren’t enough talks about measuring research impact and evaluating programs (outside of evaluating library programs). Given that I’d be paying to travel and attend out of my own pocket, and knowing without enough related content offered I’d have to take personal vacation time to attend, I just couldn’t justify the expenses. And it makes me really sad.

Since I left the physical library to use all of the very same skills that I possess as a librarian, it’s become harder and harder to face the fact (or is it “harder and harder to ignore the fact”?) that most folks, even many I consider colleagues, don’t think of me as a librarian anymore. What makes it all the more difficult is my “new” professional home, the American Evaluation Association, hardly feels like home either. Despite the fact that our skill sets overlap in so many areas, despite the fact that I got the job I have today because I have the skill set of a librarian, it seems like evaluators are evaluators and librarians are librarians, and a librarian who happens be an evaluator is an odd duck, alone in the pond. 

I don’t wish to turn this post into a pity party. I enjoy what I do, I’m very proud to be a librarian, and I know that despite the inability (or at least difficulty) of our professional pigeon holes to expand, those of us willing to seek out new and different opportunities will find them. It’s not always easy, but it’s okay. Yes, I’m sad about the particulars of this year’s MLA annual meeting and I’m grieving a little, knowing I’ll not be having fun with friends in Toronto, but more than anything, the situation has caused me to think a great deal about the benefits, the purpose, and the future of our professional organizations. Why do we have them? What do they provide? Why do we belong? I’ve been part of executive boards of these very groups, asking these very questions for awhile. It isn’t new, but it did hit me differently this go ’round.

The instructor for my graphic design course said that when you do iterations, you need to push the boundaries; work with the image until you get right up to the point where it falls apart – where it no longer resembles the object you started with. I’ve been thinking a good bit if that’s not the perfect metaphor for my professional journey as a librarian. I’ve pushed many boundaries of the profession and now I wonder if I’ve pushed to the point that the image of me as a librarian has fallen apart.

And the Oscar Goes To: Best Picture

15 Jan

OscarThe Oscar nominations are out. No big surprises. When it comes to patting themselves on the back, the industry that is Hollywood is still overwhelmingly white and male. Still, it was a year for several good films and many wonderful performances and, per usual, I have a lot to catch up on before the awards are handed out next month. Cue up the movie tickets, Netflix, and popcorn.

For fun, I wondered what it would be like to name my personal Oscar nominations and winners this year. Oh, I don’t mean making picks based upon the movies of last year, but the events of my life during that time. What would be the Best Picture of my 2015? Who would be the Best Actress? Best Director? What was the Best Score, the background music of my year?

I sat down with pen and paper and started my lists. It’s more difficult that I thought and thus will take a few posts, but let’s start with what those darned Oscar celebration directors always make us wait until the end to find out – Best Picture. No need to stay up past midnight here.

The 2015 nominees for Best Picture in my year are:

ACC

It’s a long way from the Library to the 7th floor of the ACC.

The Road Less Traveled – A medical research librarian leaves the familiar confines of the library and her library kin to explore the highway of evaluation in clinical and translational  science. Along the way she meets up with intense grant writing, crazy deadlines, people who speak a different language, and much packing and unpacking of office boxes. Will it be a cliffhanger or a “happily ever after”? You decide.

*****

Little Snow

Dogs always steal the snow, er… show.

Snowpocalypse 2015 – The bustling, blue collar, chip-on-its-shoulder city of Worcester, Massachusetts is pummeled with snow the likes of which it cannot remember. Almost 120 inches of snow falls, leaving the City buried in challenges, but full of heart as the citizens all get behind the race to claim the title, “Snowiest City in the US.” No spoilers here. You’ll have to check out the Golden Snow Globe to see who won.

*****

IMG_2052

Austin, Texas. The backdrop alone makes for a winning film.

SwingTime – A bunch of medical librarians land in Austin, Texas and discover that honky tonks and margaritas and Texas Swing are all right up their alley. Meeting? Was there also a meeting? Think of this one as Todd Phillips writes a movie with smart people in the cast.

*****

IMG_2282

It’s ideal, but is it a winner?

Our House in the Middle of the Street – Adopting the title of the hit song by the band, Madness, back in the 1980s, the attempt to buy a home becomes maddeningly complicated at every turn possible. A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World it was, but this picture avoids the pitfalls of  The Money Pit and becomes an instant classic. Home, Sweet Home.

*****

Four Friends

Who will fall into the drama?

The Big Thrill – Four friends gather by a lake for a weekend of reminiscing. Twenty five years may have gone by between meetings, but the reunion is filled with laughter and tears. Lawrence Kasdan’s influence knows no bounds.

***************

Wow! What a slate. There’s not a non-deserving picture in the bunch. Hand me the envelope there, judges. And the Oscar for Best Picture of 2015 goes to…

Our House in the Middle of the Street! 

This is the first Oscar win for first-time homeowners Sally and Lynn. The sentimental favorite, yes, but who can argue? We can now sit in the comfort of a warm and cozy home and watch movies forever. Definitely a “Happily Ever After” feature.

Stay tuned for more. We’ll be back after a commercial break.

Fancy Doodles

23 Jul

One of my favorite parts of my still relatively new job as an evaluator is being able to tell the stories of our programs not only in words, but also in pictures. Regular readers of my blog know how much I enjoy and value sketching, doodling, and drawing as part of my work process, and I’ve enjoyed sharing my sketchnotes over the past few years here on my blog, but my new role allows me to create infograms for each newsletter produced by the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science. I thought I’d share some here.

When I had to report on the current work of our funded clinical scholars, I decided to highlight how a small group of people (6) can lead to much larger groups and connections and ultimately, outputs such as subsequent funding and peer-reviewed papers. Turning those facts into pictures, I came up with this:

Slide1

For those curious, I used PowerPoint to draw this graphic. The dollar signs and presentation screens are clip art, but the rest I was able to draw by hand. You can draw pretty much anything with triangles and rectangles and circles. 🙂

Next, I had to report on the progress of another group of funded researchers – our Pilot Project Program Awardees. I took the information given to me via lengthy written reports and turned it into this graphic to show the importance and value of Team Science. For this one, I tested out the infographic site, Easel.ly. It allows you to do many things via their free version.

PPPSummaryUpdateSpring2015

Most recently, the Principal Investigator for our Center wanted to know about the funding of these Pilot Projects since we began doing so, back in 2007. What could we say about this program, since we initiated it? I decided one thing worth evaluating was our return on investment. Since 2007, the UMCCTS has awarded around $5 million to fund research that promotes collaboration between basic science and clinical researchers, provides seed funding for ideas to grow, and advances translational science. What’s been the return on that investment? Turning back to PowerPoint, I created this graphic:

PPP Investment

It’s a challenge to collect and analyze the data behind these images, but in many ways the bigger challenge is to figure out which story is the one to tell and how best to tell it. It’s a skill of an accomplished evaluator, something that I can’t really call myself only 8 months into the job, but I’m happy to report that it’s both interesting and rewarding to work towards such a goal.

A Sheep in Sheep’s Clothing

28 May

[Alternate Title: The Sheep that Wags the Wolf’s Tail]

Photo Credit:  petsadviser.com

Photo Credit: petsadviser.com

A few years back, I made a deal with a friend to run the Chicago Marathon. I’d run several marathons previously, but none in a number of years. I was nowhere near the shape I wanted to be in when I made the deal and as both my friend and I were trying to be healthy, it was a win-win situation. At least it seemed that way. I trained in the winter, indoors on the treadmill. Once spring came, I moved outside. Week after week, I slogged through, never feeling like I was gaining any stamina, losing any weight, or getting any healthier. As summer came along and I started to stretch out my miles, I found myself getting pretty sick after running. I couldn’t eat anything without having serious digestive troubles. It got to the point that after running I’d stick with a smoothie and not much else. Even that didn’t always go well. I’d never had this experience in past training and kept chalking it up to being out of shape.

Then, one Friday evening I went for a 12 mile run – struggling through it as my gut rebelled against me. I finally finished, stopped by the 7-11 for a Gatorade, and drove home. After showering, I had a smoothie and settled in to watch the Red Sox. Next thing I knew, I was on the floor of my bathroom and next after that in an ambulance to the emergency room. I’d never been in an ambulance before – and that’s about the only positive I can think of regarding the experience.

After a night in the ER, tests that revealed nothing much, trips to my doc and a couple of specialists, the vascular surgeon told me that he suspected I had celiac artery compression syndrome (or median arcuate ligament syndrome). He also said, as I described my symptoms related to running with him, that he’d never heard of it being associated with exercise.

Being the medical librarian that I am, I set about searching PubMed (now that I knew some terms to search) to learn about what was going on inside of me. Mostly, I was looking for something that would link my training with this syndrome. Lo and behold, I found one. One. That was it. One case study about one individual – an elite runner who’d suffered something similar to what I was experiencing. Granted, I was hardly “elite” in my running, but the symptoms and situations described for this runner were just what kept happening to me.

I promptly sent a copy of the article to my surgeon and then, a couple of weeks later when I was wheeled into the operating room for an arteriogram to confirm his diagnosis, he said to everyone in the room, “If you have any questions, ask Sally. She’s read more about this than you have.” (Though fortunately not more than my surgeon!)

This is a long, round-about story to demonstrate a point – when it comes to evidence, a case study that resonates with you, the individual, is worth as much as any randomized control trial.

Evidence-based practice is THE term in medicine today. As noted by Stewart Donaldson, Christina Christie, and Melvin Mark in the introduction to their book, “What Counts as Credible Evidence in Applied Research and Evaluation Practice?” we live in an evidence-based society. Evidence-based medicine, evidence-based mental health, evidence-based management, evidence-based decision making, evidence-based education, evidence-based coaching, evidence-based policy, evidence-based sex education, evidence-based fill-in-any-blank are just some of the examples they list from a quick Google search of “evidence-based practice”. For those of us who have taught any course related to evidence-based practice, we know all about the EBM Pyramid and the hierarchy of quality when it comes to evidence. At the top of the pyramid sits the randomized control trial and systematic reviews. Further down, the anecdotal case study. In other words, something happening to one or two people – like me and that other runner – simply doesn’t qualify as enough evidence to state that there is any connection between exercise and celiac artery compression syndrome.

Except when it is enough. As it is/was for the two of us (and no doubt a few others).

I found myself thinking often of my personal case history and the evidence-based pyramid during a number of sessions that I attended during last week’s annual meeting of the Medical Library Association. Why? Well, mostly because I attended a lot of talks on the new roles that librarians and other professionals working within libraries, i.e. PhDs in bioinformatics, are assuming today. People are doing an awful lot of interesting things related to specialized services. I count myself in that lot. I may well be an evaluator now, but I personally think it’s simply an extension of the specialized work that I was doing in the library. But the thing that I kept noticing – and a point I raised in one of the sessions – was when, if ever, will we get past case studies related to these services? When, if ever, will we be able to say as a profession that the successful new roles and services that some libraries are offering today are roles and services that can be adopted broadly? When, if ever, will we have enough evidence that demonstrates the success is based more on the service and the role, and less upon the individual delivering it?

Watching Twitter throughout the meeting, I noticed one person tweet a picture of a slide from Bart Ragon’s (University of Virginia) presentation, “Where is My Data Scientist?” (Disclaimer: I was in a different session at the time, thus am taking Bart’s slide out of context.) The slide read, “Unless you are Kristi Holmes or Michele Tennant – Most librarians lack any of these skills.” For those less familiar with MLA, for many years, Kristi (formerly at Washington University, St. Louis, now the Library Director of Galter Health Science Library, Northwestern University) and Michele (University of Florida) were known as the two PhD biochemistry people in our midst. They were anomalies; scientists working in medical libraries. Today we have more – Jackie Wirz at Oregon Health Sciences University, Meng Li and Yibu Chen at the University of Southern California, and Tobin Magle at the University of Colorado Denver to name a few – but they still remain oddities.

When I asked the panel of Kristi, Tobin, Jackie, Meng, and Jerry Perry (former director of UC-Denver’s medical library, soon to be the same at the University of Arizona’s health sciences library) this question about case studies versus a broader body of evidence, Jackie admitted that sometimes she does wonder if people call on her because they think “Jackie can help” or if they think the bigger, “the library can help.” I don’t mean to suggest that the two are mutually exclusive, but how much are our trends towards specialized services redefining the health sciences/medical library profession, as a whole, and how much are they simply taking advantage of particular individuals and the strengths, expertise, etc. they bring to a particular library?

One of the bits of advice that Kristi Holmes offered during this session was, “Build the best library for your institution, thus what works here may not work there.” It’s hard to argue that this isn’t good advice, yet at the same time I can’t help but wonder about how well it sums up our future as a profession. It’s becoming more and more specialized, more and more individualized, and the parts aren’t easily interchangeable anymore. This can be either good or bad for us. Thinking to what Mae Jemison said in her McGovern Lecture (I wrote about this for the NAHSL blog and will share the link when it’s published), innovation is not inherently good or bad; progressive or regressive. It’s the choices that we make around our innovations, our new ideas, our new roles, and our new services that ultimately make the difference.

I’m a librarian with the title of “Evaluator” sitting in an office in the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science. Jackie Wirz is a PhD biochemist and molecular biologist with the title “Biomedical Research Specialist” and an office in the OHSU library. What do we have in common? What do we do that can be teased out, taught to others, and adopted by other libraries, centers, or institutions? To me, that’s a BIG question and something worth continuing to try and answer/address as our profession continues to redefine itself for the future (and now).

Turning the Tables

27 Mar

Earlier today, a very nice first year medical student came by my office and apologetically asked me if I could tell her where the offices of our Institutional Review Board people are. I don’t work in the library anymore, you might recall, and now my office sits in a maze of other offices on the 7th (top) floor of the ambulatory care center of our medical complex and medical school. It’s not a place that anyone wanders past. Mine is not an office that someone might simply pop in for a visit. It’s out of the way. And as I said to my former colleagues in the Library and my friends on Facebook, I admittedly miss such interruptions. Not all of the time, mind you, but one of the greatest joys that I knew as a librarian was simply answering someone’s question and / or helping them in some way that made their day better. The student was SO grateful when I got up and walked her around the corner to the IRB folks. She thanked me several times. It was a flashback to those days of yore … oh, 3 months ago or so.

For ten years, I spent the better part of my working days answering people’s questions. Either answering them directly, looking for the answer for them, or helping them learn how to find the answer for themselves. All day long, the overwhelming majority of sentences spoken to me ended in question marks. Librarians answer questions.

Evaluators, on the other hand, ask them. This is what I’m quickly learning. We are the ones who need the answers, thus we’re the ones who ask the questions. How well did “X” intervention work? How much time was saved by implementing “Y” into the process? What does “Z” do for you that no other letter of the alphabet ever did for you before?

But I’ve also learned that there’s a speed bump; the researchers and clinicians and other users of the resources and services that I’m evaluating … well … they typically aren’t librarians. In other words, I don’t think that they like answering questions as much as any librarian does.

“It’s a simple survey,” I claim.

“It won’t take more than 5 minutes of your time.”

“The results will help us help YOU!”

“I’d be ever so grateful,” said Babe the Pig. (If you miss the reference, check out the movie.)

And still, getting people to answer questions is way harder than I ever imagined. I’m actually very good at talking to people, and usually pretty good at getting people to talk to me. It was one of the skills and characteristics that I honed as a librarian / informationist that I figured would be easily transferable to my new role. Not so much. At least not yet.

It could be the method – the dreaded survey. People don’t like them. Heck, I don’t like them. But in some cases it is the most appropriate and most efficient method for getting the data (answers) you need for the evaluation. I read and studied and asked about writing good questions. I worked with seasoned researchers to put my survey together. I piloted it with different groups and made all of the necessary tweaks based on the feedback I received. I picked my target audience carefully. And once I felt confident about the whole thing, I let it loose.

And then … I waited.

And waited.

And sent out a couple of reminders.

And broadened my audience.

And worked some different angles to reach people.

And waited some more.

I’m still waiting; waiting for the responses to grow to some level that will afford me some information needed to present my findings to a couple of different groups. It’s coming along, but golly it’s slow. And such a cumbersome process. Ask me a question and I’ll happily answer for you, straightaway. But waiting for others to answer me … well, the tables have turned, my friends.

A turning table playing a different tune!

A turning table playing a different tune!

Stay Put!

6 Mar
Sit, Eliza. Stay.  Our puppy on her first day home, Aug 2013.

Sit, Eliza. Stay.
Our puppy on her first day home, Aug 2013.

I read a couple of good blog posts this morning, over on the Medical Library Association’s blog, “Full Speed Ahead.” The first was by MLA President, Linda Walton, called, “The Time for Change is Now.” It offers a nice summary of the organization’s new strategic goals, each of which contains some level of a call for action. Like many professional organizations, MLA is challenged to find its purpose and goals in the ever-changing world of libraries, health care, and information. The second post is by MLA’s new Executive Director, Kevin Baliozian. “Words I Can Do Without” lays the foundation for what became the very strategic plan outlined in Linda’s post. Wondering what Kevin’s “no say” words are? SPOILER ALERT: They are “try” and “continue.” Again, you can see that MLA and it’s leadership are focused on moving forward, shedding the “same old, same old,” and making the organization as relevant and important to health sciences librarians and information professionals as its storied history shows it to be in the past. 

I serve on the Executive Board of my regional chapter of MLA and we are engaged in much the same type of work. What do we continue doing? What do we cast aside? Who do we reach out to? What defines us and makes us different, unique, worthy of a colleague’s membership dues and energy? Important questions, all.

I’ve got nothing against change. I think it’s important to take stock on a regular basis and adjust accordingly. In my new job as an evaluator, that’s one of the main focuses (foci?) of my work. More, it’s one of the main reasons for my work. I evaluate the research cores and programs of the UMCCTS to track their progress and to make corrections; to identify where changes need to happen. 

But all of this said, I do have one cautionary note about change: Change for the sake of change is no change at all.

I once counted the number of times that I moved between the ages of 20 and 30. I don’t remember the exact number today, but it was around 18. Eighteen moves in 10 years. I also had a number of jobs during that time. I changed all of the time, BUT I went nowhere. I never stayed in any one place long enough for it to feel like home and I never stayed in any job long enough to become very good at it. And it’s the latter that I sometimes fear when it comes to the bigger picture of organizational and/or professional change.

The other day, someone called me to ask for some “librarian expertise.” I told him that I no longer worked in the library, but I could still certainly help him because I still have librarian expertise. I have it because I stayed in a job for 10 years. My job in the library did not stay the same for 10 years, but I stayed true to a certain core ideal – to help the students, clinicians, and researchers of the Medical School with their information needs, whatever those needs might be. Whether I was building consumer health websites, answering reference questions, teaching how to better search PubMed, or building data dictionaries for research teams, in each I was staying true to that ideal. 

As we search and investigate and try on new roles as librarians – at the individual, institutional, and professional organization level – I hope that we stay true to our ideals. It’s a big challenge, but not impossible. It doesn’t mean we don’t change, but that we purposefully change. Change is expensive. It costs time to learn new things and time to become an expert. It costs time to raise the awarenesses of the people we serve regarding the things we now do. It costs people jobs, when roles and tasks disappear. It costs people their identity, when they’re tied closely to one in particular. 

In the past 2 months, I have changed jobs, moved offices twice, watched my mother-in-law pass away, and (just about – almost ready to sign the papers) bought a house. I seem to be forgetting another big thing, but that’s probably an innate defense mechanism, because let me tell you … all of this change has been exhausting. It takes a toll on a person physically, mentally, and emotionally. We all know this. So it’s all the more important to make sure that we undertake change that’s worth the expense.

I’m enjoying my new job, though it’s stressful to not be an expert anymore and I’d be lying if I said that I don’t miss the library. I’m going to love our new house, something that I’ve never had before in my life. And I do so love having an office for the first time, even if it’s across the campus from all of my old colleagues. All good changes. All worth it.

In the same way, I think that many of the changes that we’re talking about and making in the world of health sciences libraries and beyond are great – necessary and worth the cost. But I do wonder about some and I question their true connection to our ideals. Are we scrambling to change because we don’t know what else to do? Are we forced to change for reasons that have nothing to do with our work, e.g. budgets, space, etc. All very real forces of change, but I worry that sometimes the changes that they force aren’t necessarily in our best interest.

Change is difficult. Change is inevitable. And perhaps most importantly, change requires good leadership – whether you’re leading an organization or just trying to lead yourself in the right direction. In that respect, I feel pretty good about my professional organization. I paid my dues for another year. 🙂

 

Making Mistakes

15 Jan

The button has been pushed and our proposal for a Clinical Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health is out of our hands. Let the review process begin! 

My part of the writing and work has been done for a few days now, so I’ve been spending much of the past week doing many things that I likely would have done when I started this new job, if only I hadn’t jumped into the grant writing fire. I’ve read all of the Center’s newsletters for the past few years, I’ve taken lots of notes and done a bunch of documentation related to who’s who for each of our core components. I’d drawn a lot of pictures and graphs and maps to help me understand the landscape. My informationist role in the Library prepared me well for these latter tasks, as I’d been embedded in projects and made it my job to know what was going on around the University. Still, it’s a lot of putting names to faces to departments to projects. It’s a lot to learn.

I also need to learn a lot about the role of an evaluator. I knew enough to get the job, but now that I have it, I know that I need to learn a great deal more before I’m proficient in the task(s). I’ve been reading a lot of articles from evaluation journals. I tracked down several good books on program evaluation, and a couple on evaluating biomedical and health research, in particular. I’ve subscribed to professional listservs, been reading daily blog posts by evaluators, and joined a professional organization to have access to needed resources. Lastly, I’ve been working through a few self-guided mini-courses to make sure I’ve got the basics down pat and that I understand the terminology that I’m reading elsewhere. So far, so good.

And I’m planning. It’s true that I worked with the section writers and leadership of the CCTS to develop evaluation plans for the different components of our proposal. In other words, I’ve already written a whole bunch of plans stating what I’m going to do over the next few years. That said though, there’s planning and then there’s PLANNING. The all-caps version is where I am now. I have plans to collect and track certain metrics to answer certain evaluation questions, but now I really need to plan out how I’m going to do all of that. The logistics. It’s a great challenge. It’s interesting and I’m learning a lot. I cannot complain.

A torn page from a book. I found this on the sidewalk one day during a walk. It's hung over my desk ever since.

A torn page from a book. I found this on the sidewalk one day during a walk. It’s hung over my desk ever since.

One clear thing that I’ve read – and thus learned – over and over in my study ’til now is that the practices of measuring and evaluating are continuous. You need to plan for them from the beginning and, depending upon your goal, assess at different points along the way. It’s pretty much like life in general. If you make that New Year’s Resolution to lose weight, you need to make a plan and part of that plan involves devising a means to track your progress along the way. If you want to go on a trip to Europe, you need a plan to save the money and a way to keep track of what you’ve saved, so you’ll know when you’re ready to pack your bags. 

I am a reflective person by nature. I majored in philosophy during my first time through college. I went to seminary where you hone your spiritual reflection skills well. I’ve spent time with therapists, here and there in life. I’ve been writing this blog for the past few years as a way to reflect upon and keep track of my changing roles as a librarian. For me, it’s a really helpful practice because it keeps my awareness of where I am and what I’m doing and what I’m learning at the forefront. Annual evaluations (and/or quarterly reports) don’t work for me without keeping track of things along the way. This blog helps with that.

I recently re-read something that I wrote last fall for a different blog, Hack Library School. I was interviewed, along with several other medical librarians, about our work. One of the questions asked was what advice I’d give to current students studying library science and my answer, in part, was:

Sell yourself! One of the things that I see happening in settings like mine (an academic medical school and research center) is that there is never a shortage of work for a person who can match his/her skill set to existing needs. And there are LOTS of existing needs. The key is to really know what you know how to do, know what you need to learn how to do (and learn it – ESPECIALLY if you’re weak in the sciences), and then know how to show people that what you bring is uniquely useful to them. I don’t necessarily think that this means you wait around and look for job openings in medical libraries, but that you also keep your eye on other parts of the health care system or biomedical research where what you can do fits. People looking for help often don’t think of a librarian as one who could do the job for them, but I think that’s mostly because we haven’t done the best job of selling ourselves. Know yourself, have confidence (even if you have to fake it at first), and put yourself in places that offer you opportunity.

One thing I could add to this is that developing a practice of self-reflection, evaluation, and/or tracking yourself – however you do it – will put you in a much better position to sell yourself and/or match your abilities to opportunities as they arrive. This is exactly what happened to me last November and it landed me in a great new role. My CV didn’t say a thing about being an evaluator, but I was able to map pretty much every aspect of it to the qualifications needed for the person in this post. The discipline of weekly reflection via this blog made that task easy.

We always encounter times in our lives where evaluation is forced upon us, whether it’s that mandatory annual review or a major life event. My mother-in-law is in hospice care now and nearing the end of her life. It’s a time of reflection for her and everyone in the family. “Did I live a good life?” is likely the ultimate evaluation question. You hope for the answer, “Yes” and you hope for lots of reasons to be sure of your answer, since it’s basically too late to change much. Driving home last night after visiting with her, I thought a lot about how all of these things fit together. There’s no need to wait until the program is over, until a career is over, or until a life is over to ask, “Did I do a good job?” When we plan to track, measure, reflect, and evaluate along the way, I’m fairly certain we’re better off in the end.