Tag Archives: librarians

Hello, Muddah. Hello, Fadduh.

16 Jun

Last week found me at the SIXTH Annual Science Boot Camp for Librarians here in New England. As an original member of the planning group for this yearly event, I’m proud that it’s an idea that’s continued to be of relevance to science librarians in the region, as well as to others from across the U.S.A. and Canada. I’m also really proud that over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the concept catch on with colleagues in other parts of the country so that now there are science boot camps for librarians in the West, the Southeast … the list keeps growing. And everywhere they pop up, the response from participants is a united, “This is GREAT!”

For those unfamiliar with the concept, these camps bring together science librarians and scientific researchers, providing a venue for librarians to learn more about different scientific disciplines and current research in the same. The goal is for librarians to gain a base level of knowledge that allows them to prompt discussions with researchers on their own campuses. Ideally, these discussions then lead to improvements and growth in library services offered to the research community. Over the years, I’ve learned about biochemistry, nanotechnology, geographic information systems, astronomy, robotics, remote sensing, evolutionary biology, epidemiology, public health, and so much more. Perhaps most interesting is that with every discipline I’ve learned, I have found at least one thing relevant to my own work as an embedded biomedical librarian. Even astronomy! What this says to me is that science crosses and involves so many disciplines today, learning about any one of them informs others.

This year’s Camp was held at the University of Connecticut and we had sessions focusing on computer science, personalized medicine, evolutionary biology, toxicology (pharmaceutical sciences), and a capstone presentation that covered how to both talk about and engage the public in science, i.e. promoting science literacy and citizen science. I’ll not recap each session here, but I will share my sketchnotes for those who might want to get a peek at some of the terrific content shared. Enjoy!

SESSION ONE: COMPUTER SCIENCE

Speakers – Craig Wills, PhD; Krishna Venkatasubramanian, PhD; Dan Dougherty, PhD (all from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA)

SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_01       SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_02     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_03     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_04     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_05     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_06     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_07     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_08     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_09

SESSION TWO: PERSONALIZED MEDICINE

Speaker – Christopher Heinen, PhD, UConn Health

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SESSION THREE: EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY

Speakers – Kent Holsinger, PhD; Janine Caira, PhD (both from the University of Connecticut)

SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_13     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_14     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_15     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_16     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_17     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_18     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_19     SciBoot Sketchnotes_Page_20

SESSION THREE: TOXICOLOGY (PHARMACEUTICAL SCIENCES)

Speakers – John Morris, PhD; Amy Bataille, PhD (both from the University of Connecticut)

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SESSION FOUR – CAPSTONE: SCIENCE LITERACY & CITIZEN SCIENCE

Speakers – Jonathan Garlick, PhD (Tufts University); Robert Stevenson, PhD (University of Massachusetts, Boston)

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ONE Partridge, ONE Pear Tree

19 Dec
The Partridge Family first cast, 1970. Public Domain

The Partridge Family first cast, 1970.
Public Domain

I had lunch yesterday with a friend who used to work at UMass Medical School. We hadn’t seen each other in awhile and so we began with the usual and mutual ritual of catching up. She has a new job, something that I somehow missed an announcement for months ago. We talked about her projects and tasks and the pros and cons of working remotely. Then we talked about my year, my own new roles, changes in the library and in our staffing, the new structure and directions we’re heading. My friend works in a technology-heavy world too, thus she knows of the challenges that libraries, IT, higher education, medical education… all of us are facing lately. 

One thing that she asked me in particular was how had I managed, over the past year, to build new collaborations and projects. “How do you get people to say, ‘Yes,'” she asked. It’s a great question. Roger Fisher and William L. Ury had a best seller in the 1980s that answered that very question. But the art of negotiation that they teach in their book is something different from what my friend asked. What she was more interested in is how to get buy in, trust, respect, and the “thumbs up” from your boss to try and/or to develop new things. Here are some of the tidbits of experience that I shared, with a little holiday twist for you, just because…

12 Drummers Drumming

Bang that drum! For the past 12 months, I have talked and talked and talked about what I do. In doing so, I have kept my Library Director, my supervisor, and my co-workers in the communication loop. This becomes all the more important when you spend less and less time in the library and more and more in the presence of the teams that you’re a part of. “Out of sight, out of mind,” cannot happen. Use all the means at your disposal to be both heard and seen. Emails, social media, shared reports, and face-to-face meetings every now and then keep folks from forgetting you or worse, thinking that you’re not doing anything.

11 Pipers Piping

Pipe up! Know what you can do, be able to articulate it clearly and succinctly, and then… DO IT! Much of the work that I find myself doing is not work that I think many people initially thought about a librarian doing. They were in the dark about the skills I could bring to their project or team. You’ve got to tell them. Don’t kid yourself. No one else will.

10 Lords-a-Leaping

Take a flying leap! Take risks. Try to do some things that maybe you’re not completely sure that you can do at the moment, but you’re positive that you can learn how in the future. Think creatively, just as we wish our patrons to think of us. When it comes to information, data, and knowledge management, there are so many services that we can offer and so many needs that we can fill. Go after them.

9 Ladies Dancing

Keep moving! Without a doubt, this has been the most filled year of work that I’ve ever experienced. It’s been challenging, it’s been exciting, and it’s been downright exhausting at times. But that’s how change goes and I wasn’t the only person and/or aspect of my library that experienced change this year. We’ve all gone through some big changes that resulted in a lot of dancing around to make sure everything is getting done. Hopefully, as we grow into our new model, we’ll have a few more seats along the wall to rest.

8 Maids-a-Milking

Milk it for all it’s worth! Receiving an administrative supplement grant from NIH/NLM was a big deal and we made sure that people on campus and in the larger library world were aware of it. It’s a thin line to walk between promoting something and bragging, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job of sticking to the promotional aspects, using the award as clout to secure some other opportunities. Librarians aren’t always very comfortable with tooting their own horns, but sometimes, that’s just what you have to do.

7 Swans-a-Swimming

Swim against the grain. Assuming newer roles in our profession is not always readily accepted. Within our own ranks, we often argue and grumble over having to do new things, make new changes, and assume new roles that we don’t necessarily want to do. If you find yourself going against the fray, do your best to seek out colleagues and peers who are supportive and positive. Doom and gloom breeds doom and gloom. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Avoid the negative.

6 Geese-a-Laying

Lay an egg! Make some mistakes, or rather accept the fact that you will. I made some this past year. I had more than one hand-slap-to-forehead moment, those times when you can’t believe that you didn’t see something and/or understand something a certain way. It happens. To everyone. Enjoy the company.

5 Gold Rings

Find some gold medal champions! I have benefited tremendously from a couple or three researchers on my campus who know me, like me, and respect what I can do. They are my advocates and I never hesitate to use them for such when it’s needed. Convince a few people to take a chance on you, then come through for them. When you do this, you’ll have people in your corner for the long haul.

4 Calling Birds

Tweet! Tweet! TWEET DAMMIT! Social media – be it Twitter, Linked In, Tumblr, Facebook, or blogs – is a revolution for disseminating your work. These tools allow you to tell more people, more easily than every before, what you’re up to. They allow you to demonstrate both process and product. They let you share your expertise (and your amateurism, as Austin Kleon reminds) with such a wide audience that you’ll never know who you might net. Did I have any idea that Amy Dickinson would become an advocate for me as a librarian? Heck no! Who could have imagined it? But when she introduced me as such to the audience at the Lenox Public Library that night in August… well, THAT was one awesome highlight of my year. Stop thinking that social media is about nothing more than cute kittens. It’s your key to a powerful network of people who can help you grow professionally in countless ways.

3 French Hens

Go abroad! Maybe not literally, but do cross the waters that separate you from those you think you can help. Go to talks and meetings and other arenas where you can learn about what the people that you want to work with do. Don’t wait for invitations, but search the daily announcements of open forums and go. I have done this over the past year and one thing I’ve learned is this… we all share an awful lot of the same problems and talk about the same issues when it comes to communication, information overload, and addressing challenges that a bit of organization might improve. These are opportunities to identify the talking points that will connect you with people and groups that you may think you have nothing in common with. Trust me. You do. 

2 Turtle Doves

MAKE some quiet time to think. Doing something new, particularly becoming comfortable and good at it, requires time. Time to think and time to read and time to plan. I have a card over the desk in my studio that reads, “Practice Takes Practice.” Yes, this is one of the hardest things to do when you’re on the dance floor all of the time, but it’s really essential to both grow your role and maintain the relevance of it (not to mention, maintain your sanity). Over the past year, I’ve found a number of quiet corners in research buildings, out of the way places where I can go for an hour to read a few chapters of a book that will give me some new ideas or teach me a new skill, articles that will get me up to speed on a topic that a research team is addressing, or write a blog post that I hope will be useful to my friends and colleagues. 

And ONE Partridge in ONE Pear Tree

It only takes ONE! This is the bit of advice that my friend found most useful. Find one champion, one partner, and one project that you can pour all of your efforts and energies into, in terms of your new role. Make it work. Make it happen. Make it a success. Many, many times, just one success is all that you need to get the ball rolling. We got one grant and the success of that gave me an awful lot of confidence and grist for my argument mill when it came to persuading others that I could bring something of value to their table, too. When you’re feeling like the change is too big and the frustration too great, just focus on one thing. One partridge in one pear tree. 

I want to thank you all for following along with my adventures this past year. A safe and happy holiday season to all!

Change is Inevitable, but is Transformation?

12 Dec

Maria Sibylla Merian [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My colleague, Mary Piorun, is defending her doctoral dissertation this afternoon. (Woohoo!! Go, Mary! Go!) To help her get ready, a bunch of us listened to her give her presentation earlier this week. Her topic is on transformational change in organizations, in particular, this type of change in academic libraries today. I found it to be pretty interesting stuff, not just as it relates to our work in eScience and data management (the focus of Mary’s research question), but the bigger topic of how organizations change, in general. Transformation suggests significant shifts in one’s thinking, behavior, environment, etc. How do such changes happen? What are the components of the change and how do leaders usher their organization through them? Don’t ask me, ask Mary. She’s the one who’s spent the last several years reading and thinking and writing about it. You can reach her at… 

But seriously, as a librarian in today’s changing environment, as an exercise physiologist who encourages behavior changes around exercise and diet, and as a member of a committee at my church called the “Transition Team,” I can’t help but be curious about how and why we change. And how and why we don’t. 

We often hear that change is inevitable and I won’t argue that, but there are lots of different levels of change. Compared to changing an institutional mindset, choosing a salad for lunch is pretty easy. Relatively speaking. Libraries – at least my library – are undergoing some significant, likely even defined as transformational changes. We have reorganized a few times since I came on board 9 years ago. We have made some big shifts in the services we provide and how we provide them. However, the latest changes require a different level of shifting and adjustment. We are, in many ways, redefining what it means to be a librarian on this campus. This is certainly the case for my role as a librarian here. I do very different things today than I did a couple of years ago. I think of myself and my role in very different ways than I did then. I operate with a different mindset – some days clearer than others – than I did before. As Mary outlined the process of this kind of change during her talk, I could see how it has played out in my own career the past years.

I remain curious, though, of how many times and how many levels of an organization have to go through this process before the whole of the institution experiences transformational change. I asked Mary this question and she said that it’s an area that certainly needs research. As a result of leadership taking us through transformation, I may experience a real shift in my understanding of who I am as a librarian. Similarly, our library, as a whole, over time, will hopefully achieve the same. But what’s next? Who is next? Because we are an organization within a larger institution, it seems to me that our work isn’t finished here until we can change the whole of the institution in how it perceives the library and librarians. It’s a big job ahead, no doubt.

Maybe we’ll get Mary to take it on as soon as she finishes up that defense! 

Trees, Forests, and Other Fall Metaphors

6 Sep

What a few weeks it’s been! Regular readers of this blog know all about the changes in my library of late. Suffice it to say, the load of emotions and thoughts and tasks have kept the wheels spinning, both literally and figuratively. The result, in terms of this week’s blog post, is a bunch of bits and pieces – a collection of some of those thoughts and experiences that hopefully you find worthy of reading and/or commenting.

Missing the Forest for the Trees

First, let me give you an update on my informationist work with the mammography study. It seems like it’s been too long since I’ve done that. September marks a year that I’ve been embedded in the research team. I have about 5 months to go on the grant funding and a whole slew of deliverables to deliver between now and then. Thankfully, the project coordinator has taken it on as a priority to make sure that I get all of the things done that we said I’d get done, thus she is putting me on the agenda every week from here on out, encouraging me to keep everyone on task with the things that they need to do to insure my success. I realize that Mary Jo has to be the ideal project coordinator for any informationist and/or embedded librarian to come across when looking for success in this new role. All along, the team has been welcoming and encouraging of me, but a good coordinator keeps everyone accountable to everyone else, and thus to the overall goal of the research project. As I mentioned during last night’s weekly #medlibs tweetchat, it’s this level of accountability that distinguishes librarian support from librarian embeddedness.

Which brings me back to the one deliverable that has stumped me from early on, the data dictionary. As I’ve described in previous posts, the data for the mammography study comes from various sources. Helping team members to communicate more efficiently and effectively about the data was Aim 1 of my role. We envisioned that a comprehensive data dictionary would be the key to reaching this goal and so I set about collecting the different codebooks and related documentation, compiling them into a single file with the hope that I’d be able to easily see overlap in terms, discrepancies between definitions of the same terms, gaps in terminology, etc. It seemed simple enough.

What I found, however, was less than simple. I found a lot of tools that already existed, yet weren’t being used. As an example, the codebooks were there, yet weren’t always referenced during data requests between team members and the analyst. People continued to use their own chosen vocabulary, despite the ongoing confusion that it caused. More than once I’ve heard the phrase, “So and so uses ‘x’ to describe ‘y’, but we all know what s/he means.” If you think about it, we all operate like this to varying degrees. If/when you work or live with another person long enough, you figure out what s/he means regardless of what s/he is saying. Except when you can’t figure it out. And that’s when the communication breaks down. It’s why we have dictionaries and standards in the first place, particularly when it comes to technical research.

I literally went for months, scratching my head and being utterly confused (and often exasperated) over the amount of time spent talking about the algorithmic logic behind exclusion variables and which flags turned off or on in the system when. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how the data dictionary that I was putting together was going to help make that hang-up in the study go any better.

Until this week.

Finally, during a conversation with Mary Jo about the dictionary that involved sharing the work with her and walking through my understanding of it, along with hers (something that I see now I should have done MONTHS ago), she mentioned that if I could add to the dictionary how each variable functions within the system, it would be a really helpful document. FUNCTION! It was like a light bulb went off. I’d been so stuck on names and definitions that I either never heard this word or I had completely missed the concept, all the previous months. For whatever reason, this dimension to the dictionary had escaped me. I went back to the spreadsheet, added the columns for the different functions that we identified, and began working through the different scripts, assigning each variable its proper function. Now the goal is to have it all together by next Tuesday so that I can present it to the group for feedback and evaluation.

Going Out on a Limb

“We all hear that it takes 20 years for something new to be implemented in medicine, but how long does it take us to de-implement something?” I’m paraphrasing a cardiologist who spoke something to this effect in a meeting that I attended this week. Basically he was asking, “How do you stop doing something once you know it no longer works?” It’s a great question and cuts at the heart of all of my personal curiosities and interests around human behavior and why we do (or don’t do) the things that we do. I wrote in my notebook, “The Challenge of De-Implementation” and tucked it aside as a possible question for thought – perhaps even some kind of research project – in the future. It’s certainly pertinent in my profession right now.

When do we take the chances that we need to take? What finally prompts us to stop doing what we know no longer works? What’s worth giving up and what is worth fighting for when it comes to health sciences libraries and librarianship as a profession? 

Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees

In the mid-90s, at arguably the peak of their success as a band, REM released a less-successful, commercially speaking, CD entitled, “Monster.” It’s not my favorite, yet I did find myself pulling it off the shelf this morning to listen to one song in particular during my morning commute (I generally have about a 3-song commute). “King of Comedy” has a catchy little closing refrain,

 

I’m not king of comedy,
I’m not your magazine,
I’m not your television,
I’m not your movie screen
I’m not commodity

(King of Comedy, Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe, 1994)

The irony is, of course, that the band was very much a commodity by that point. Like it or not, their huge success made them no longer individuals, per se, but an entity that could be bought and sold. What happened to REM is pretty much what has happened to information over the past couple of decades. With the rise of the Internet and the ease with which we can/could find and share and access information, its power and profitability has grown in ways likely no one ever imagined.  Once something freely shared by say, your local library, is now out there generating a bunch of money for Google. “But Google is free!” you cry. Really? We gave up a lot to be bombarded with advertising, with product, with noise; to have personal information about ourselves be retrieved and resold to others for a profit. We are commodity.

What does this have to do with libraries? Oh, I’ve just been thinking about the move towards entrepreneurship in our profession. I’ve been thinking about just what is it that I’m selling to patrons. What is the real value of me as an embedded librarian – is it me or is it my skill set? I know that it’s a combination, but is one piece worth more? I once heard the story of a law firm in Chicago that, upon acquiring Westlaw, decided that they no longer needed a law library and the librarian who worked there. She was, like many of our colleagues, let go. Within a few months, however, the firm came back to her, offering her the position she once held. They realized that her value was actually more than the resources she provided. She considered their offer and rejected it, opting instead to hire herself back to them as a consultant (with no library), charging them much more for the work that she had always done. 

You might think this is a great lesson in entrepreneurship and I can’t argue that it’s not, at least not for this individual and her personal value (financial status), but what does it say about the direction that health sciences librarians could take? Is our allegiance to the library, to the research team, or to ourselves? Again, I know that there is no one answer and that we hold a certain amount of loyalty to each, but if we do move towards a more independent and consultant-type model as embedded librarians, what will be the ramifications on the library – and on our profession – as a whole? There are pros and cons for being a commodity.

The Power of Branching Out

Sally and AmyI love social media. For those who have rejected the power of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, et al for both professional and personal gains, I give you another chapter in the story, “Sally Meets Fantastically Cool People Through Twitter.” If you missed the previous chapter on my Twitter friendship with Rosanne Cash, you can catch up here. This past week involved finally getting to meet the one and only Amy Dickinson; the voice behind the syndicated advice column, “Ask Amy,” the author of the NY Times bestseller, The Mighty Queens of Freeville, and a regular panelist on the always funny NPR news quiz show, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me

I started tweeting back and forth regularly with Amy Dickinson about a year or so ago. I liked her as a writer and humorist, and followed her on Twitter. She tweeted something funny one day, I tweeted back, she back to me, and so on. Eventually, she started to follow me on Twitter, too. I became a fan of hers on Facebook. I offer up comments to the letters that she posts online. We got to know each other about as much as a librarian from Worcester gets to know a somewhat famous personality via these outlets. 

Last Friday night, after appearing on the panel of Wait Wait that taped at Tanglewood the night before, she gave a book talk at the Lenox (MA) Public Library. I had a gig scheduled with my band, but after a week (more like a month, but a really horrible week) of dental trauma, I was a scratch in the band lineup. Rather than sitting home yet one more evening, wallowing in my tooth pain, I decided that I’d drive out to Lenox, a nice, quiet 2-hour ride from Worcester, and take the opportunity to meet – and especially thank – Amy in person. 

Like my desire to meet Rosanne, I think it’s really special if/when we ever get the chance to say “thank you” to those people who fill up a bunch of our hours, days, even years. For me, these special people are most often writers and musicians (or a combination of both). Think about it. When I read Amy Dickinson’s memoir, I spent hours with her. She took the time to write a story and share it. I took the time to read it. Like taking the time to listen to a song and learn the lyrics, you have to give up something of yourself (a lot of your time) to accept all that the artist has given. As the hours unfold and you read an author’s book, particularly a memoir, you come to know them. It may be a little one-sided, but you still know them. 

I got to the talk and Amy saw me walk in. She recognized me from my pictures on Twitter and Facebook. I recognized her from the same, plus the fact that she was at the front of the room, next to the podium. We made eye contact and waved to each other. She gave a great talk, funny as expected, and answered a bunch of questions about her work as a columnist and a radio personality. I had my hand up to ask a question and finally, at the very end of the evening, she looked my way and wrapped up by saying, “I need to introduce Sally.” And then… Amy Dickinson introduced me! Really. Before I could ask my question, she told everyone all about how we met via Twitter, how I was a librarian with a wonderful blog (she said that), how I’d offered her some help in terms of pointing her towards reputable folks in health care for reference in her letters, and how I was the first friend that she’s made completely through social media. Amy Dickinson called me her friend. 

Several years ago, before the age of social media, I gave a talk where I introduced the “top ten” people that I wanted to be a personal librarian for. I did actually have a radio personality on my list, though (sorry, Amy) it wasn’t Amy Dickinson. It was Terry Gross. I think even Amy would take that gig. Who wouldn’t want to look up all of the cool stuff about all of the fascinating people Terry Gross interviews on Fresh Air?! Still, never did I imagine at that time that a day would come when I actually would be a bit of a personal librarian to the stars. But there was Amy, last Friday night, telling the audience about how powerful social media is in its ability to connect us with people and resources and ideas like we never could before. She said that while she’d been a bit late coming to it, she now sees what a rich tool it can be to help you do your job – be your job writing advice, sharing good information with others, promoting yourself, or connecting with people. 

This blog has helped me share a lot of ideas and experiences with an awful lot of people over the past year. It’s helped me to reach some folks that I never would have reached in traditional means like writing journal articles or even posting on listservs. My presence on Twitter has connected me with researchers, science writers, other librarians across many disciplines, and even a few musicians and writers that I admire immensely. It’s not the one tool that will make or break my success as an informationist, but it’s certainly proved more than worth its value to me. Amy Dickinson introduced me as her friend. I rest my case. 

 

The Future is Now

30 Aug

(This is the second part to last week’s post. If you missed that one, you can read it here.)

We said our goodbyes yesterday. We shared donuts, coffee, memories, and hugs, and then our colleagues of the past many years moved on. The next chapters in their post-LSL lives have begun. And for those of us still here, we’ve a bit of a blank page staring us in the face, as well. But like my former colleagues, our new journey isn’t completely without structure. There is a plan. There are ideas. There are theories that we will now attempt to put into action. As I’ve repeated often, no one knows all of the answers nor how it will all turn out, but in this post, I’ll shed some light on the big-picture plan, and where and how we hope it will lead us.

Manage Your Day-to-DayI’ve been reading a book this week entitled, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (ed. by Jocelyn K. Glie). It’s the perfect Kindle book for those times when you’re forced to spend hours in the dentist’s chair and on the couch, battling a nasty infection. It’s a great collection of tips from a lot of recognizable voices in the creative world. A product of 99U, the brainchild of Scott Belsky and his company, Behance, it’s a web-based clearinghouse of all things for creatives. Personally, I’m hanging my hat on the idea that creativity will be the thing that fixes and/or saves a lot of things in our society and workplaces, and if not, learning about it and adopting many practices of creatives makes me feel a lot better about myself and my work, so if for no other fact than that, I keep up.

But back to the book. The title “99U” comes from the quote by Thomas Edison, “Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.” In the intro to the book, Belsky writes, 

For too long, the creative world has focused on idea generation at the expense of idea execution. … To make great ideas a reality, we must act, experiment, fail, adapt, and learn on a daily basis.

While he limits this thought to the creative world, I expand it to the world of libraries, education, and health care; three large and powerful institutions that merge in my academic health sciences library workplace. Implementation is always the sticking point. Putting theory into practice is hard work. It’s messy. It’s risky. And it’s bogged down at every step, it seems, by the roadblocks of resistance to change, fear of the unknown, or perhaps the most sinister bedeviller of all, apathy. So often, in an unceasing world of work stress, after awhile people simply no longer care. We just want to hold on until we can find the exit door to retirement or the winning lottery ticket. And that’s pretty sad, because for many of us, those options are no longer. Personally, I never imagine being retired. I don’t see it as a possibility in my future. But rather than let this be some kind of depressing bell toll on my work life, I’ve chosen instead to see it as a call that I’d better find and/or make my work life something that I darned well enjoy because I’m going to be doing it for the rest of my life. Whatever it may be.

So how does this fit with the changes in my library now? Well, for one, it’s a message that I’ve been reminding myself of daily. It’s not the easiest time to believe it, but I’m saying it anyway. I’m believing it anyway. I’m writing it here to those who read this blog, colleagues and friends, who are facing the same. As the current president of my regional chapter of the Medical Library Association, I’m preaching it to folks in the pews. They may be sick of hearing it now, but I’m going to keep on saying it… the future is now! If you honestly believe that health sciences libraries and librarians are of value in health care, then the time is now (actually, it was about a decade or two ago, but… better late than never) to put some of our big ideas, our new ideas, our challenging ideas, into practice. We must redefine who we are and what we do, in the mindsets of both ourselves and our patrons. This is not because there isn’t value in our past, but rather that our past is not going to make it in the now or the future.

Am I completely comfortable with this idea? Heck no! In fact, when I sit and think about how different my job is today, I can really struggle with the ideas that I both like the new work and that it feels like it’s taking me further and further away from what I once thought I’d do as a librarian. But that struggle is my struggle to redefine. And if it this is hard for me, I can only imagine how difficult the challenge is for someone without a 24-7 dedication to the institution of libraries and the profession of librarianship. Challenge. Capital “C”. 

At the Lamar Soutter Library, we’re bringing “4 Rs” to meet this “C”. This is a pretty different approach, i.e. a big change for a big challenge. It involves the nurturing of new librarians, those recently out of their graduate programs, by giving them hands-on, professional work in an area that interests them, i.e. health sciences librarianship. It brings together those of us with long term experience and expertise, with those who are fresh out of school, filled with energy and ideas and a desire to implement some of the things that they’ve learned. On paper, it’s a win-win. Those of us who need help in our new endeavors will get it through our library fellowship program. Library fellows will get a full-time, professional job where they can both learn and contribute from the get-go. And our profession, overall, will gain in the recruitment of new blood, new energy, new people to work and serve and hopefully, one day, lead. 

As like last week, my Library Director, Elaine Martin, prepared a presentation that describes the fellows program in detail. She’s graciously posted it on her slideshare account, making it available for others to view, utilitze and comment (Implementing the 4 Rs: Moving Forward and Defining a New Model of Librarianship). You’ll note that first and foremost, this change is about providing opportunities for new health sciences librarians. “Why?” you might ask. Why opportunities for them when we’re struggling to keep our own jobs? Well, maybe because if we don’t invest in our future now, there will be no profession tomorrow. People have been bemoaning the fact that we’re dinosaurs for too long. One way to silence those critics is to invest in the future. Was seeing people lose their jobs in order to make room for the future difficult. 110%. It was hard and it was sad and I didn’t cry crocodile tears yesterday when I said goodbye to one of my closest colleagues during my tenure here at LSL. The feelings of hurt are very real, but the hope for a different, more effective, more relevant future is what I’m holding on to now. And I believe that this program has a chance to get us there.

We’re placing an emphasis on research and professional development in these fellowships. We will address “mission critical areas” in their day-to-day training and work, but will also provide an environment where they will be expected to grow as professionals and this includes gaining experience in doing research. (I have tooted this horn forever, so you can guess that it’s a BIG happy spot in the program for me.) It is at last seen as a priority that, as a profession, librarians must be competent at doing the kind of research that will, over time, build the body of evidence necessary to prove our worth and value to evidence-based administrators. Enough with the “we search better.” Prove it. Enough saying that we have a place in getting health information into electronic medical records, that we have a role in data management. Get out there and do it and then do the research necessary to evaluate these programs so that we have something concrete to stand on when we sing our praises.

When are we going to manage doing this in already overloaded schedules? I don’t know! But I know that I like the idea of operating much more like the patrons that I serve (granted, they are researchers); constantly questioning, constantly researching, constantly watching and constantly stressing about where the next dollars will come from, the next grant opportunity will raise its head, the next opportunity, in general, will arise. As an exercise physiologist, I learned a lot about eustress; good stress. Eustress is the kind of stress that we need to help us grow. Muscles need to be stressed in order to get stronger. So do our minds. There may well be something to be said for embracing this kind of stress in our work today. Stability is grand while it lasts, but over time, it leads to a sense of complacency and entitlement that may well prove our downfall. Maybe it’s good to have a little stress, not so much in the area of work overload, but in that of pushing ourselves into new areas, knowing that if we don’t, we’re done. 

To close, I want to return all the way back to the beginning, where I mentioned that book. I’m reading that book because I absolutely know that one of the skills I have got to master in my role as an informationist, as an embedded librarian, is efficiency. I have to learn to set boundaries, plan a schedule and stick to it, take care of the big things first, and know how to say “yes” and “no” appropriately. I need to be a whole lot better at managing multiple, complicated projects at the same time. I need to articulate reasonable goals (in time and in skill) for myself and those I seek to work with. I need to take the time to know (even catalog) the things that I do really well, utilize them the most, and improve on the areas where there are gaps that can prevent success. 

I once heard a doc say that the hardest thing about developing and implementing an EHR system is that it’s like trying to change the engine of a 747 while it’s in mid-flight. You can’t stop what you’re doing long enough to make the changes because you risk crashing the plane. But you have to figure out how. So do we. 

And now I’m off to a meeting of one of our Transition Teams, the one charged with coming up with how we will provide needed reference services without staffing a service desk, a pager system, or an “on call” librarian system of any kind. Our recommendation to the Management Team is due October 1. Out of the box thinking, folks. Let’s go!

NOTE: If you or someone you know is interested in applying for our new fellowship program, the announcement is now available on the Human Resources site of the University of Massachusetts Med School. If you have any questions, you can feel free to contact Elaine Martin and she’ll be more than happy to answer your questions. 

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!

 

Breaking Stereotypes

18 Feb

Like a “Where’s Waldo?” puzzle, how many stereotypes can you find us breaking in this video clip? Watch and read on, and you’ll find out.

 

My birthday is this coming Wednesday. I’ll be teaching in Dr. Elaine Martin’s data management course at Simmons College (Boston) on that day, so we had to celebrate early.

Oh, who am I kidding?! I celebrate my birthday for DAYS! And I believe everyone should do the same.

So to begin the week of celebration, my spouse and friends threw me a grand “Jam 50!” party this past Saturday evening. I share this particular video here to entertain, but also to point out that there are librarians, business folk, teachers, editors, and self-employed entrepreneurial types on that stage. In the conga line we have medical researchers, a pediatrician, more librarians (from different libraries), and even an old tax man! And guess where we’re singing and dancing… a Baptist church’s fellowship hall.

All of this goes to show that too often, too much of what stops us from building relationships that make life and work so much better (and successful) are stereotypes. Better put, the fears that they give us, thinking that we’re really different from one another – too different to work and play together. Let’s get beyond them, everyone! And for those of us trying to make our way into the embedded librarian world, I have but one piece of advice:

Invite the researchers you want to work with to the party! Conga line!!