Tag Archives: research

Share and Share Alike

17 Jan

PMC ArticleBefore I even get started with this week’s post, let me first draw your attention to this little bit of awesomeness, after all, it’s not every day that you (well, at least I) get to see yourself in print. I feel that I just have to do a little shout out. Plus, my poetic welcome to the attendees of MLA 2013 may well be the most valuable legacy that I ever leave to my profession. 

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Back to the reality of our work at hand, I had a few experiences this week that got me thinking about where and/or how dissemination of knowledge fits into our role as knowledge and information management professionals. The first of these occurred during the weekly meeting of the mammography study team. This week’s meeting was different in that it involved bringing together not only the primary members of the team, but also the players from the technology aspects of it, specifically the programmers from Claricode, and the IT people from Fallon Insurance Company and Reliant Health Care. These individuals have played a key role in the study related to developing the software platform used to collect telephone interview data (the CATI system), pulling necessary data from insurance and health records, and coordinating the disparate data sources into a tracking database that can, ultimately, provide the data for analysis. It’s been no small task from the very beginning of the project. In fact, the very issues raised in the bringing together of these people to accomplish the necessary technological aspects of the study are the ones that led to Aim 2 of the informationist supplement grant that brought me to the study:

Aim 2: Assist investigators in identifying and reporting information technology issues that have arisen in the implementation of the study that may be of use to others.

Initially, we thought that the deliverable for Aim 2 would be a white paper; an outline of the different issues, along with references to the literature, that could be shared with both the clinical research and IT communities, with hopes that the information would prove helpful to those who sought to do this type of collaborative work in the future. In short, the team believes that they have learned some things, including some mistakes that others might want to avoid. However, as we began talking about the topic and I began searching the literature for relevant articles, I found that not much existed that touched on just what we were trying to articulate. This fact led us to discuss whether or not a white paper was the best way to go with this topic/issue. Perhaps a symposium, a meeting that could actually bring the different players – clinicians, researchers, computer programmers, software developers, etc. – together to share insights and brainstorm ideas for how we could all work better together. But this thought got us to wondering more about just who we’d invite. Who are the real stakeholders in this situation? Who would find this interesting? Do clinicians want to talk to developers? Do programmers have the faintest interest in problem-solving with medical researchers? We weren’t sure, so we decided the best way to begin would be to simply bring all of us together – all of the people who have worked on this project for the past 5 years – and see if this group, at least, could identify topics, issues, and/or projects in this area worth moving forward on. 

In short, we found out that the answer is YES!

That’s good news. We could easily list off any number of “lessons learned” and “things to consider next time.” Everyone agreed that we have knowledge that can be useful to others. Excellent!

Now let me tell you about a couple of other experiences of the week before I tie them all together. This one happened yesterday when a group of us from my library were taking part in a webinar for the current eScience Institute run by Duraspace, the Council on Information Library Resources, and the Digital Library Federation. The Institute is a continuation of a project funded by the Association of Research Libraries that began several years ago. It’s objective is to help research libraries assess the data and/or cyber-infrastructure needs of their universities, mostly through conducting environmental scans, surveys, needs assessments, and the like. It involves interviewing key stakeholders in each library’s respective institution, thus providing a better picture and/or road map for planning library services in the areas associated with data management. Our cohort consists of about 25 other libraries. Combined with the previous years, approximately 120 libraries have taken part in this initiative.

As we listened in, someone in our group asked, “Do we share our findings with the other libraries?” Our leader typed the question into the chat box and the answer we received was along the lines of “You can, if you wish.” Now this is, to me, well… well, it’s strange. I’ll just say it. Strange. It’s strange because of every profession on the planet, which one is best associated with sharing? I’m thinking that it’s us. Libraries. Librarians. Librarianship. We are founded on the principle of sharing. At least in part. One of the biggest forces driving the movement of libraries into data management is the concept (for some, mandates) of data sharing. We, of all people, know the benefits of sharing. That’s why we’re advocates here. So to me, it’s kind of strange to find a whole bunch of libraries involved in a project where all of the information, data, and most importantly, knowledge discovered in the process of going through these exercises isn’t being readily shared. Why? How can this be? Maybe I just misunderstood.

Also yesterday, my library’s journal club met and discussed the article, “The New Medical Library Association Research Agenda: Final Results from a Three-Phase Delphi Study,” (Eldredge, Ascher, Holmes, and Harris). The paper reports on the process undertaken by the researchers to identify the leading research questions in the field of medical librarianship as they were identified by members of MLA’s Research Section, as well as leadership within different levels of the organization. As we looked over and discussed the list of questions in the article, many people noted that they remain the same questions that we’ve been asking for years, e.g. questions of the value of librarians, the value of libraries, the information needs of our patron groups, etc. The comment was also made, both in our group’s discussion and in the paper, that some of these questions may well have been answered already. To this thought I commented, “Well evidently not well enough, if those with vested interests and notable involvement in our profession still have them.” Or maybe less cynically, my comment could have been, “Perhaps so, but if this is the case, we haven’t done a very good job of sharing that knowledge, because we still have the questions.”

All of this leads me back to a bigger question that’s become quite clear to me of late as I continue to observe or be a part of these type experiences, i.e. How do we share what we know with others?

To me, this is a HUGE need in the world of knowledge and information management where librarians can help. Quite honestly, I’m not clear on all of the ways that we can help, but I absolutely believe that there is a place for us here. We are experts in gathering and organizing information. We have the skills that allow us to make that information accessible. We know how to evaluate materials, weed out junk, and build strong collections (notice how I never use a certain trendy word in describing these activities). These are all foundations to sharing information and, ultimately, knowledge.

However, it’s the next step where we need to bring our own skills up to the task. It’s the next step that’s woefully missing in the whole “knowledge sharing” world. To me, that step is dissemination. Better put, effective dissemination. That is where the sharing of knowledge happens and I’m not sure that anyone is doing the best job at it today.

Researchers within their own institutions don’t know what their colleagues are doing; what their colleagues are discovering. How can we help them with this? They want to know. They tell us this. But so far nobody has been able to create the resources or the tools or the environment to make this happen, at least not in a seamless, integrated way. Libraries have tried, but as one of our Library Fellows said to me, “We have a ‘Field of Dreams’ mentality. We think that if we just build the resource, everyone will use it.” I agree. We are quite capable of building resource guides and special collections, but unless people use them, the information they contain just sits there. The knowledge that they are capable of spreading is trapped. A “Help Manual” is of no help when no one reads it.

I said to that same Fellow, “I have really no idea how to solve the problem yet, but that’s always the first step. Recognizing it.” But I do really believe that if we can become adept at whatever all of the skills are that we need to build and implement resources that fit into the workflows and the paths and the processes of our patrons, we will have discovered an entire new area of work for our profession. Part behaviorist, part ethnographer, part programmer, part librarian… likely a combination of these and more. It’s no simple problem to solve, but it’s an awfully big key to sharing and as we have long been the leaders in that act, I see no reason why we should stop now. 

*Interested in thinking about this more? Here’s a podcast and a paper that I’ve assigned as the material for the February journal club in my library. 

 

Words into Action

17 May

My blog post for this week is hanging out on the NAHSL blog. I hope you’ll pop over and give it a read. It’s a reflection on librarians and research. You’ll find several really interesting posts there from other colleagues reflecting on the sessions they attended at the Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association last week in Boston. Good stuff!

Happy Weekend, everyone!

Top 10 Informationist Moments of 2012

27 Dec
Closing the Whiteboard on 2012

Closing the Whiteboard on 2012

I’ve only been at this informationist work for a few months, thus a true “Top 10” list is a bit of a stretch for my New Year’s post, but a few really terrific things HAVE happened, thus I figured coming up with some list warranted at least a college try. Here goes:

#10. An Invitation to the Party

I was invited to attend a retirement party for the project administrator of the research study I’m working on. What makes this special is that the invitation came before I officially became a part of the research team and while I wasn’t able to make it, it let me know that I was included in the group, by the group, before I ever even became part of the group. Inclusion, both physically and cognitively, is an important part of success in this arena.

#9. A Weekly Schedule

It took a little while, but eventually I was able to carve out some semblance of a regular weekly schedule that included the hours I’m committed to working as an informationist on the study. It’s not perfect yet, but we’re headed in the right direction. I imagine that balancing time and tasks between being in and out of the Library will remain a key focus in 2013.

#8. Office Space

Going along with a weekly schedule, securing a physical place outside of the Library to work on the project was also a coup. I was lucky in that the research team has other consultant-type people as members, thus having a research staff office was both known to be important and already existent. I’ve found that if/when I go into the Library on the days that I’ve scheduled myself to work on things related to the project, I too easily get pulled into other things. Staying away is important!

#7. Impromptu Conversations on Sidewalks

Being able to bring up my role as an informationist to researchers that I already know on campus is both easy and productive. I’ve had several conversations with individuals in the process of writing grants and as they tell me about their ideas, because I know them personally, it’s easy to say, “Have you thought about including an informationist on your team and/or in the proposal?” What I’ve also discovered is a lot of overlap between the researchers that I know. Part of this is expected (you do a lot of work in one department or division, and you tend to know many people who naturally work together), but it’s the unexpected connections that have been the biggest thrill. They’re also the ones with the greatest potential to build further collaborations. Cross-discipline research is really important in translational science and an informationist is very well suited to help build the bridges between the people and research currently happening in different areas.

#6. The Bucket List

During about the third or fourth weekly team meeting that I attended, I confessed that I was completely confused by the word “eligible”. It seemed to me that women were eligible for the study several different times. In other words, there were different levels of eligibility. I said, “I’m lost. Who is eligible for what, when?” In voicing what might appear like a weakness (after all, I was brought on board as the “expert” in communication), I hit on something that everyone was struggling with! Too many times, people were using the same word to describe different things. It was confusing not just me, but others as well. The result was my first tangible item to the team – a very simple list of what we would all agree to call each “bucket” of subjects. Producing something (an actual THING, in this case a list of words) was the first step to make me feel like I was a contributing member of the team.

#5. Presentation Proposal with a PI

It was a 2012 highlight that one of the principal investigators on the study agreed to submit a presentation proposal with me to the New England Chapter of ACRL’s next annual meeting. I hope it will be a 2013 highlight that we are chosen to present on our work together as informationist and researcher. The more that we can get researchers themselves to talk about the importance of embedded librarians and/or informationists in their work, the further we will advance in this area of our profession. I’m convinced of this.

#4. Informationist Invasion 2012

If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, you know that in early November, informationists representing each of the NIH-funded awards gathered in Worcester, MA to share with science and medical librarians from New England about their new roles. “Embedded with the Scientists: Librarians’ Roles in the Research Process” was a big success! Personally, I was really happy to have the chance to meet my colleagues from around the country; to share ideas, talk about issues and roadblocks and how we might overcome them, to plan ways to support one another in our work, and to make new professional friends. Pursuing new directions is a lot easier with the support of colleagues.

#3. I Lost My Old Job

It’s nice to know that people care about you. When the announcement that my Library was (still is!) accepting applications for my current position as the Head of Research and Scholarly Communication Services, I got more than a few phone calls and emails from friends and colleagues. “Is everything okay?!” “Where are you going?” “What happened?” For once, I was happy to say that I’d lost my job. Even before we received the supplemental grant award, the management team of my Library saw that charging a librarian with the task(s) of becoming embedded in research teams was a direction we both wanted and needed to go. Receiving the grant only further solidified this commitment and my Director began to work the budget as she was able to move me into this new position, thus freeing me from the responsibilities of the former. To be successful in this area, we need such commitment. In today’s environment, creating new positions requires structuring budgets and workloads in ways we might not have thought before, but unless a Library is willing to do this, the work of the informationist, if it proves valuable, will ultimately be consumed by research departments or Information Technology, and the library profession will find itself missing out on a very relevant path.

#2. Supplemental Grant Award

It kind of goes without saying that there likely is no “Top 10 Informationist Moments of 2012” without the awarding of the NIH Supplemental Grant for the R01 study that I’m now a part of. It was not the beginning of the embedded librarian/informationist idea and/or role by any means, but as noted above, it solidified our movement forward into this new direction. My Director and the PIs stated, while we prepared the grant application, that we would pursue the project regardless of whether or not we got funded. This showed the level of commitment to it. But the fact that we DID get funding, opened doors that otherwise might have taken a bit longer to unlock. By offering these awards, the National Library of Medicine, through NIH, demonstrated that the role of the informationist in biomedical research is one worth supporting and examining to determine its longterm value. Sometimes professions need this kind of support to make big changes.

#1. Guest Lecture Invitation

You might think that #2 would be #1, and I admit that I went back-and-forth on deciding what moment I’m giving top billing to. What I ultimately decided is that moment #1 happened only yesterday, squeaking in just under the wire! I got an email yesterday morning from a researcher I’ve worked with in the past in a different capacity. She told me that she’s teaching a class this coming semester on Team Science. To avoid misquoting, I’ll share the text of the email:

“I’m teaching a class called Team Science in the Spring, the focus of which is to help students (in the MSCI program) to understand the importance of teams in science, how to build their research teams, and how to effectively function in teams.  You have talked a lot about how many researchers and docs don’t understand the role of the informationist in their work, so I wondered if you might be interested in coming as a guest some time and talking about the role of the informationist on an academic team?”

Perhaps you can see why this invitation wins out in the “Big Moments of 2012” contest. Here is a pretty prominent researcher on my campus who gets it – or at least is willing to give me a shot to convince her, as well as a classroom of future researchers, of the important role librarians and/or informationists can play on research teams. Here is an opportunity to make my case that we are, in fact, part of the team. We’re not just a supporting cast on the sidelines.

Of course, I took her up on the offer right away. Stay tuned for a post in early March telling how it all goes.

So, while it’s only been a short few months in Informationist-landia, I feel confident saying that it’s been filled with more than a few memorable moments. In short, I’ve learned a great deal about the importance of building relationships, of harnessing the possibilities of existing relationships, of finding and exuding confidence, of setting boundaries and limits, of setting priorities, of finding balance, of speaking up, and of accepting change. And perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned the importance of articulating what I can do, what I can’t (or won’t) do, and what I’m capable of learning to do. Above all else, I believe being able to state these things clearly to a researcher is the way to open the door to their world, but it takes some work to be able to do that. Do the work.

In his book, Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon writes, “Ironically, really good work often appears to be effortless. People will say, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ They won’t see the years of toil and sweat that went into it.” To step into a new area professionally requires work. You need to take the time to read and explore and emulate and try and eventually find your own way; a way that is ultimately a blending of who you are and what you can do. This is the “you” that succeeds. This is what I learned, maybe more clearly than anything else, in 2012. I learned it in this new role as an informationist and I learned it in life. As I close the calendar on this year, I can’t complain much about that.

[Looking for a New Year’s book for yourself? Pick up a copy of Kleon’s book. You can read it over a cup of coffee on a Saturday (or a snowy) morning and you’ll come away with 10 pretty good tips (or more) for being creative in your work and in your life.]

In Theory…

4 Dec
Pythagorean Theorem

Pythagorean Theorem

Last Friday, I attended the 2nd annual Community Engagement Research Symposium sponsored by the section of the same name that is part of the University of Massachusetts’ Center for Clinical and Translational Science. The Community Engagement and Research Section is the arm of the CCTS charged with helping researchers from the University work with the local communities and community leaders to address issues related to public health.

We do this by helping university researchers and community leaders form equal partnerships for health research. This approach is called community engaged research. Other names for this type of approach include Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR), Community Collaborative Research, Community Partnered Research, and Participatory Action Research. (CCTS website)

The program featured an excellent keynote address by Elmer Freeman, Executive Director of the Center for Community Health Education Research and Service, a community-based organization that provides research funding and support for issues related to professional development and education for community healthcare providers, community advocacy programs, health disparities and inequities, and health policy. Freeman is a veteran of the trenches, an individual who has spent his career at the forefront of community-based health care and who never shies away from speaking frankly about the realities of healthcare in poorer neighborhoods, the gap between health research and medical practice in community health, the politics of funding bodies and academic institutions, and the frustrations that come with trying to address the many challenges of doing community partnered research. Among the many great, quotable lines he spoke (and I tweeted) was this one, “Health care providers in community health centers want practice-based medicine, NOT evidence-based practice.”

As I listened to Freeman and the other panelists of the day, and as I looked at the many poster presentations from projects around the state, and as I took note of comments from the audience, I couldn’t help but draw a whole bunch of parallels between the situation(s) they were describing and much of our own in the world of academic librarianship. Several times, I overheard people say, “We need to create research methodologies that work for a community, not just publication.” Another UMMS leader said, “Academics need to integrate themselves into the community.” Many spoke of the big difference between theory and practice.

Today I had lunch with a friend and colleague who is working to develop curricula for teaching data management practices. I described for him a task that I’m beginning to tackle in my informationist role, i.e. the creation of a data request form with an integrated (or perhaps attached) data dictionary. He asked, “Where is the data for this project stored?” To answer, I began to describe how some data comes from insurance claims (claims data), collected and maintained by the insurance company. Other data comes from electronic health records (staging data), managed by different health care providers. Another source is the system used by schedulers and counselors, the database where they input all of the information that they collect while making their phone calls (intervention data). Lastly, there is analytic data, kind of a collection of the relevant data that comes in from these other sources, ultimately used by our analyst for statistical analysis.

As I talked on, I could see a crinkle form on my friend’s forehead. “There isn’t one dataset?” he asked. Technically, I guess I can say that there is. The analytic dataset is probably the closest to that, but that dataset is derived from others. It’s dependent upon others. As we talked more about other “data” – things like minutes from meetings, progress reports, email correspondence related to the study – he said, “I imagine data management as creating this one neat file folder. You click it and it opens to have everything related to a study organized, accessible, easy to share.”

What a nice image.

And then I told him about last Friday’s meeting and how I’d been thinking about the huge gulf between theory and practice, not necessarily in healthcare, but in our own profession. Library school was all about theory. I remember sitting in classes when I was earning my LIS degree and the faculty member would say that grad school was about learning the theory of librarianship and information science. We would learn how to BE librarians on the job. I feel a lot like this is what’s happening to me now as an informationist. We’ve been talking about eScience and data management for a few years now, in theory. We keep saying that when it comes to managing data, librarians can do this and this and this. We talk about best practices, yet have a bit of a gap in our knowledge base when it comes to knowing what the current practices are. I feel, in a way, like the academic researcher who’s come up with an interesting hypothesis about what an informationist is and now I’m all about testing it.

So far though, what I’m finding is that our theory of what an informationist is and does, and the reality of my day-to-day work is not quite on the same page. I do believe we’re on a good path to figuring out the answer to our “research question” and ultimately, to knowing what our role can be here in the research process. I also think that the researcher who implored her fellow academics to integrate themselves into the community was speaking to me, too. Embedded librarians and informationists are trying to heed the message. I am integrated into this study and it’s a huge step towards putting our theories into practice, in a truly meaningful way.