Tag Archives: professional development

Rules of Travel

7 Nov
sally-and-janene_their-finest-hour

With my favorite Aussie, Janene Batten, medical librarian extraordinaire at Yale Medical School and Yale School of Nursing.

(This was originally posted on NAHSL Blog, the official blog of the North Atlantic Health Sciences Libraries, Inc. It’s reposted here with my own permission. Heh!)

One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Rosanne Cash, has a song titled, “Rules of Travel.” It’s completely unrelated to the content of this blog post, but it’s a great lead-in and/or title for it. I also realize that I’m not completely following the rules of NAHSL Professional Development Award blog posts, but please stick with me. It’ll make sense…

I have the great fortune to be on some short list for speakers for library conferences. I receive several invitations each year to travel to state or regional meetings, or library school classes, to talk about what I do for a living. I like to think that it’s because I do interesting things, that I’ve knitted together an interesting career path (not that I knit, but enough librarians do to get the metaphor). Enough folks have told me that they’ve read my blog for years and I know that this gets me invites. And I also like to think that I’m somewhat entertaining. At least to some people.

Anyhoooo… when I receive such invitations, I have some rules of travel that I try my best to apply. One of these is that if the content of the conference is of the slightest interest and/or relevance to my work – good odds, since these are library/information professional conferences – I ask that I receive free registration to attend the whole meeting. I don’t ask for much, if anything, to speak, so I figure it’s a good deal for both me and the group doing the inviting. I always learn things and I get to meet so many wonderful colleagues from all over the place.

The week before NAHSL’s annual meeting this year, I traveled to Detroit to give a keynote at the Michigan Health Sciences Library Association. The opening speaker for the meeting was Thomas Buchmueller, PhD, a health economist and professor at the University of Michigan. He teaches and does research within the School of Public Health there, focusing on “the economics of health insurance and related public policy issues.” (MHSLA program bio) In his talk, “Insured by Obamacare: Early Evidence of the Coverage Effects of the Affordable Care Act,” Dr. Buchmueller described the private coverage provisions of the ACA as a 3-legged stool. One leg represents underwriting reforms, an aspect the overwhelming majority of Americans support. The second is the individual mandate, the leg that has caused no end of trouble for the law, particularly given that the third leg, premium tax credits, haven’t kept up. The second and third legs are dependent upon one another for success.

For me, Dr. Buchmueller’s talk was a terrific lead-up to the first plenary speaker at NAHSL 2016, Jack Hughes, MD, from the Yale School of Medicine. Dr. Hughes also took on the topic of health care / health insurance / the ACA in his talk. His description of the problem as “the iron triangle” fit so well with the 3-legged stool metaphor. The 3 sides of the Triangle – Cost, Access, and Quality – are all connected and addressing one aspect cannot and does not occur without effecting the others. The statistics presented in both of these talks are, in my opinion, both hopeful and shameful. Early evidence shows that the ACA has positively affected the numbers of Americans who are insured and who seek preventive health care both earlier and more often, thus reducing many expensive illnesses / procedures down the line. But at the same time, the issue of unbridled cost remains one that must be addressed before we will ever see and/or experience effective change in our health care system. Quality suffers, people suffer, and the American health system thus lags woefully behind those found in countries comparable to us in wealth and development.

I so appreciated hearing these two talks within a short period of time. I learned a great deal. I also really enjoyed following the back-channel, Twitter discussion on #NAHSL2016 that took place during Dr. Hughes’ talk. The questions of what defines American society, the beliefs the country was founded upon, the underlying sense of independence, our holding this up as the ideal of who we are as a nation/people… all of these came up in a GREAT discussion on how this ideal will or even can be reconciled with the ideas related to “health care for all.” I loved it! I love the passionate thoughts and knowledge-based opinions of my colleagues. It’s such a great characteristic of our profession. (As an aside, I also loved how Dr. Hughes’ tapped into this very thing with his polling exercises throughout his talk!)

I want to thank the NAHSL Professional Development Committee for awarding me a scholarship to help offset my expenses to travel to the conference this year. I also want to thank former NAHSL Chair, good friend, and tutor of all things Australian, Janene Batten, for letting me stay at her home during the meeting. Like so many of us, travel funds have been frozen at my institution, and the assistance of scholarships and the kindness of friends makes attending these wonderful events possible. This and a few rules of travel.

And lastly, thanks to the Program Committee for an outstanding meeting. Kudos on a job so very well done.

Here, There and Everywhere

18 Oct
Eliza on the Cape

Eliza meets the sand and sea. Love at first sight.

It’s been one of those weeks filled with activities that took me away from my normal work routine. Monday was a holiday and I enjoyed a wonderful, long weekend on Cape Cod, introducing my new puppy to the Atlantic Ocean. Now that was fun!

On Tuesday, the staff of the NN/LM NER invited members of its Regional Advisory Committee to attend a day-long update of all of the activities and accomplishments they’ve experienced during the first half of their current contract. I attended as the representative from NAHSL. Besides getting a terrific review of the work of the NER (despite the fact that I work in the same Library in which the NER is housed, I don’t actually know everything that they’re doing), I also realized yet again how much our profession – and in particular, our professional organizations – need a knowledge manager. So many opportunities are available for librarians and other information professionals to learn new things, gain new skills, fund new projects, and network with colleagues in different (but related) fields, yet too often these opportunities go unknown by a good many people who could benefit from them. We lack any centralized way of informing those in the profession of all of that’s available to them. As I sat at the meeting, I couldn’t help but think that we really need to figure out a way to better coordinate all of our efforts. I also couldn’t help but think up a few ideas regarding how we might do this. Stay tuned as I try out a few on this blog.

Wednesday found me spending much of the day prepping for, getting to, and offering up a lecture to the students taking the Research Data Management course being offered by Simmons College’s LIS program this fall. This course, taught by my colleagues from here at UMMS, Elaine Martin, Andrew Creamer and Donna Kafel, has been a great success for students in the library science program who wish to learn about this emerging area of work. I’ve been invited both semesters it’s been taught to come and share my experiences and offer my thoughts on the role of the informationist and/or embedded librarian in research settings today. It’s always a tremendous chance to share with interested and engaged librarians and/or librarians-in-training about the work that I do. They always ask really thoughtful questions and along with my talking about what I do, we never fail to have a good discussion about the profession as a whole and where we might be heading. And then, as a bonus, when class was over, one of the students asked if she could have her picture taken with me. I asked why she would want such a thing and she said, “I just LOVE your blog!”  Now THAT is a sign that I have reached some sort of surreal place in the land of blogging librarians, isn’t it?!

Amy Dickinson_Superstar

If Amy Dickinson tweets it, it’s official. 🙂

 

Yesterday, I had another opportunity to speak to a group of LIS students, this time via a webcast to the Special Libraries class in the University of Alabama’s LIS program. Again, it was just wonderful to get to talk for an hour or so with a group of people so excited to enter into our profession. Their energy and the enthusiasm for being future librarians was palpable, even over the Interwebs. They aren’t without many of the same anxieties and questions that those of us already working experience, e.g. libraries closing, librarian roles changing significantly, etc., but they appear ready and willing to ride the waves of the future and personally, I think that’s just the attitude that will bring each of them success.

Today, a blog post that I was invited to write for the Special Libraries Association was published. Please give, Playoff Season for Information Professionals a read and let me know what you think. 

And lastly, those of you who have been reading this blog all along know that at this time last year I enjoyed the thrill of a lifetime when I got to be Curious George at the Boston Book Festival. Well, tomorrow will find me at this year’s BBF being TWO different characters. Multiple personality costume wearing! Tune in next week for pictures and a recap of the fun! And if you’re close to the City, do consider coming out to Copley Square and the Boston Public Library for the day. It’s a great event featuring 150+ writers, workshops, events for children, exhibits by numerous literary-related groups, and more. And it’s all FREE! And if you see Lyle, Lyle Crocodile or Bad Kitty along the way, say hi!

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.

 

Where Do I Belong?

10 Jun

[A colleague recently posed the question on a professional listserv as to what kind and/or which professional organization best fits an academic, health, and special library librarian – something that many health sciences librarians feel that they are, i.e. a mix of a librarian that doesn’t solely fit within the Medical Library Association (MLA), the American Library Association (ALA), or the Special Libraries Association (SLA). It’s a GREAT question and I wanted to share my reply both to the list and on my blog, as I feel the value of professional organizations, in general, is really up for grabs. I hope this will spark some discussion.]

Areyoumymother

Do I belong to you?
One of the best children’s book’s ever!

Your question is a really good one AND one that I know is being asked at national, regional and state-level organizations across the board. What is the relevance of these groups. Annual memberships, meeting costs, and service time add up quickly, and in this day and age when both time and money are in short supply, the return on one’s investment really needs to be clear.

I very recently joined SLA. I made this decision for several reasons:

    • My fairly new role as an informationist and embedded librarian requires many skills and covers many topics that I noticed SLA programming and resources (both regionally and nationally) support more than MLA, e.g. entrepreneurship, knowledge management, and embedded librarianship itself.
    •  I feel that my work is progressive in nature, meaning that I’m doing some things as a librarian that haven’t always been viewed as a librarian’s role. Quite frankly, I find MLA as a whole (please read this as a general statement and in no way a reflection upon any individual member and/or group within the organization) to be something less than progressive. We tend to put energies towards fighting a lot of battles that we have likely already lost. This is NOT to say that preserving our past and/or current roles is irrelevant, but I do feel that we often fight to keep things a certain way when we’d do better to fight for change. Again, this is simply my opinion and what played into my joining SLA.
    • I appreciated the fact that membership in the national organization of SLA automatically included membership in the regional and local chapters. To me, this is a critical piece that MLA has missed for awhile. We really need strong local associations in order for the national one to mean much. To paraphrase our former Speaker of the House, “all professional development is local.” We support one another a lot easier in our states and regions than we do at the national level. I have many, many wonderful friends in MLA who I LOVE seeing each year at the annual meeting, but when it comes to the day-to-day of my job, I get the most from colleagues nearby. I have felt for a number of years now that MLA could do a much better job demonstrating that it appreciates the value of the regional chapters.
    • And finally, along with the reason cited above (one cost for both regional and national membership), the fact that membership dues in SLA are based upon a sliding scale, i.e. based upon salary, is a fantastic idea. This didn’t make my membership much cheaper (maybe not cheaper than MLA at all, I can’t remember at the moment), but it demonstrated an effort and awareness on behalf of the organization that while no librarian ever makes a million bucks, there is a bit of difference across the board and those who don’t get paid much, in no way deserve to be left out of professional groups. While my institution has never paid any of my professional association dues, I know that some who experienced this benefit in the past are quickly finding it disappearing. Helping people belong is a good thing.

For now, I’ll remain a member of both MLA and SLA. I’ve not yet experienced enough of SLA to grade it long-term and I do value the relationships I’ve made in MLA, along with most of the annual meeting programming, to stay a member. Hopefully, I’ll be able to afford both for awhile, but I think that you raise a really good – and REALLY important – issue for all groups to grapple with today.

ROI: What’s Yours?

8 Apr

In my reply to a comment made by Regina Raboin, a colleague at Tufts University, I wrote:

One thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about is while it’s acceptable (even exciting) to be a life-long learner and seek professional development/continuing ed opportunities in our work, why do we find that more and more we need to start doing this from the get-go? It seems to me that our degrees are the equivalent of automobiles, nowadays; they depreciate in value as soon as you walk off the campus.

What do you think? What’s the return on investment of your graduate degree in library and/or information science? Are you prepared for the workforce or do you find you need additional skills before you even begin? I’m curious about this for any number of reasons, but wonder more what my readers think. Please share your comments here. Thanks!

Car Lot

Image from the U.S. National Archives. Unrestricted.

What’s In Your Toolbox?

4 Feb

Last fall, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences here at the University of Massachusetts Medical School hired, for the first time, an Assistant Dean for Career and Professional Development. Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD, has been on the job since September, working hard towards her charge of establishing an overall program for career planning for the doctoral students at our university. Dr. Fuhrmann comes to us from the University of California, San Francisco, a school that has proved to be a leader in the area of academic career development.

Why, you might ask, do students in such a specialized field need help deciding on a career? Haven’t they already done that? Isn’t that why they’re here pursuing graduate studies? The answer seems to be both yes and no. Many students do enter graduate school with some idea of the direction that their career will take. Most probably believe that they’re on the well-trod path of those who’ve gone before them, because for a long time, careers in science followed a pretty specific pipeline:

Undergraduate degree in a science  ->  Graduate degree in a science  ->  Postdoctoral training  -> Tenure-track faculty in academia

Like many other professions today, however, the path that we used to follow is nowhere near as clear-cut or as straight. Today’s doctoral students are just as likely to end up working for biotech companies, for the government, or for universities, or even some combination of these. They may end up doing research, creating new products or drugs, teaching, writing, policy-making, or any number of other things. In fact, as more and more students earn PhDs, the number of tenure track positions available to them lags significantly behind. Even if they enter their graduate studies wanting to stay in academia, the odds of doing such are against them.

The National Institutes of Health and other funding agencies have noticed this trend and are beginning to call on graduate schools and programs to better prepare their students for a broader career path. Students need to have ways to explore their different career options, develop the skills they need in these different areas, and gain relevant experience that will serve them well as they move into the biomedical workforce. Thus, schools like UCSF and now my own institution, UMMS, are designing programs, services, and educational opportunities to meet this growing need.

I had the chance to hear Dr. Fuhrmann speak last week. In her presentation, she outlined this need and her vision, goals and anticipated outcomes for her new position. I’d had some brief communication with her earlier and we have plans to work on a project together in the future, but this was my first opportunity to hear first-hand why the University created this new position and what will come out of it. A little more than half-way through her talk, she put up the following slide:

Fuhrmann_Skills Slide

Credit: Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD
Used with permission.

As I read the different pieces, particularly the spokes off of the “Professional Development Skills” balloon, I couldn’t help but notice the striking resemblance between these skills and those that we’ve been talking about in our own profession. Strong writing and editing, including the ability to write proposals for projects or grants, are needed by young scientists. They’re needed by librarians and/or informationists, too. When graduates become researchers, they likely need to know how to present their work, their proposals, their findings. They likely need to know how to teach the subject(s) that they’ve learned. It’s expected of them. The same can be said for the librarian. It’s expected of us. We all need to know how to manage projects. We all need to know how to manage (or at least work successfully with) other people. We all need to become more creative and more innovative. In other words, we’re all in the same boat.

Will library and information science schools get on board with biomedical science programs and begin to develop the necessary programs to best prepare their graduates in these areas? And for those of us already working, can we or do we easily find the opportunities that we need to continue our professional development around these things? It’s true that you can learn a lot on the job, but it’s also true that simply standing in front of a classroom of students is not teaching. Juggling projects is not the same as managing them. Working with people via forced teams or committees doesn’t guarantee the best outcomes. Networking is more than talking to people at a party. We need to learn and hone the skills necessary in these areas that will bring us success. It needs to become a priority.

It’s my hope that as we continue to branch out in our own field, we will begin to see more clearly the skills we need for success and then, once we identify them, have the support of our institutions, our administrations, and our professional organizations towards meeting them. I hope we can expand our offerings of CE classes at professional meetings, bringing in courses that touch on some of these other skills. I hope we can be supported to go to different kinds of meetings and events outside of the usual suspects. And more than anything, I hope that we individually have the spark and initiative and excitement to do so. With these all coming together, we will surely strengthen both ourselves and our profession.

Special thanks to Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD, for her insights related to this post and for sharing her presentation slides with me.