Tag Archives: Transferable Skills

Taking Inventory

7 May

I was invited to present a webinar to a group of military medical librarians. Originally, back in 2011 when I first got the invitation, I was going to offer up something related to eScience (based on a webinar I’d done for the NN/LM GMR around that time). A few hiccups along the way and the event got put aside for a few years. When the organizer came back to me late last year, I said that I was happy to still present, but that my job was different now. We decided upon the topic of transition in health sciences librarianship, i.e. how the profession is changing and how librarians within it can change, too. Here’s what I came up with:


While my job title has changed many times over the past ten years, most noticeably last December when I moved from the UMMS Library to the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science, I still think of myself as a librarian. I’ve done many things under that umbrella – tackled all kinds of projects and honed many skills. That’s one of the best parts about being an information professional today. Information drives so much of everything. The more you can learn, adapt, refocus, redefine, etc., the better off you’ll be in terms of having a fulfilling and enjoyable career – either within the walls of a library or not.


I heard a great presentation at MAHSLIN’s Annual Meeting last week by Jean Shipman, Director of the Spencer S. Eccles Library at the University of Utah School of Medicine (stay tuned for the sketchnotes). Besides the content – applying Lean process improvement principles to projects in her library – what I liked was how Jean structured her talk around 4 case studies. Her presentation followed another terrific one by Varang Parikh, Senior Process Improvement Specialist at UMass Memorial Healthcare. Varang covered the theory and then Jean offered some real-life examples from her library.

As I thought about how to structure my own talk, I thought about how there’s a lot of theory and a lot of talk about transitioning within the profession of librarianship. It’s helpful. What’s also helpful are some concrete examples, thus I decided to follow Jean’s lead and offer up myself as a case study for my talk.

I’ve worked for UMass Medical School for over 10 years. In that time, I can identify 5 distinct roles and/or jobs and/or titles and/or transitions within my career. I often tell people that this is the longest that I’ve ever worked at any one place, not to mention the longest that I’ve ever worked in any one profession. I think that the fact that I’ve been able to assume so many different roles is what’s made that possible. Who can get bored when you’re regularly doing something new?

So in my 10 years, I’ve been a consumer health librarian, a reference librarian, a research and scholarly communications librarian, an informationist, and now a research evaluation analyst. But remember what I said earlier, for me these are all facets of the same profession – librarianship and/or information science. They’re all about dealing with information, that’s the common denominator.


In each of these roles, I gained some knowledge and skills. I decided to take an inventory of these things, to see where they built upon one another or carried over from one role to the next. As a consumer health librarian, working on the projects, “MedlinePlus Go Local Massachusetts” and “eMental Health of Central Massachusetts,” I was able to both put to good use a  bunch of things I’d learned in library school (this was my first job after graduating), as well as add some new skills to my toolbox.


The same thing happened, a couple of years later, when I got to move from being a grant-funded librarian to a full-time staff person. As a reference librarian (something I’d been doing all along, but now more formally), I added to my skill set, essentially adding to my value as a librarian.


As a research and scholarly communications librarian, I had the chance to do more of the same. I also learned during this time that I didn’t like administration. I don’t do it well, at least not in the context where I was working. I recently saw a colleague who’s moved from administration to teaching and data services in her library. We talked about how it’s hard in our world to not be made to feel like you’re somehow failing and/or taking a step backwards to not be an administrator. Supervision and management, for better or worse, is seen as the one “promotion” in many a business, including higher ed. It’s too bad, since we all know that there are many, many ways to improve in your career without taking that path. But alas, it’s our world. And I share this as encouragement for anyone who’s happy and content finding their professional way along a path that doesn’t necessarily go up a corporate ladder.


As in embedded research librarian and informationist, I gained a whole big grab bag of new skills. In many ways, it’s the transition that transitioned me most. If you read this blog with any sense of regularity, you know how all of these new skills and knowledge and projects emerged. And from them, I inventoried this nice list …


When I added all of these lists together, when I took my inventory of all of the librarian skills I’ve gained the past years, I was amazed. Whenever I teach library school students, I encourage them to start their list now. I offer the same idea/advice to seasoned veterans. Think of all of the things you’ve done in your work and all of the resulting skills gained. Write them down. Take an inventory. You’ll be amazed, too.

But more, my inventory was put to the test last year when I decided to take my skill set beyond the library altogether. When I applied for the position in the UMCCTS, I had to make the case that all of those library and information and data management skills made me well-prepared to take on the role of a research evaluation analyst. It wasn’t the easiest sell, either, but fortunately I’d also learned perseverance when it comes to making this argument. It’s something we’ve been doing for a long time now, as we’re continually put into the position of demonstrating our relevance and value. So, when our HR department asked me to map my very librarian-centric CV to the job requirements listed in the position announcement, I offered them this:


This was the job listing.

And these were my “maps”:





All I did for these was pull pieces from my CV and put them with the requirements. It was a great exercise (beyond landing me the job), because it forced me to prove what I’d been saying for awhile – that the skill set of a librarian, by any name, is pretty darned valuable and can offer a person any number of opportunities.


And of course, I’m still learning. My new job is filled with new challenges (opportunities for growth) that keep work interesting and fulfilling. For me, that’s the reward of taking the leap.

I left my audience yesterday with three takeaways:


Nobody makes “The Flying Wallendas” varsity team without years and years of practice (and good genes). And the little Wallendas don’t start off by leaping off the high platform. Scaffolding, nets, safety gear … it’s all there. And it’s there for librarians, too. In fact, I think that the library profession has to be one of the most interwoven, networked, supporting professions out there. It is, after all, our nature to share and to help. And we do so for one another all of the time.


Then eventually, you become so good at what you do that people don’t see the nets and the scaffolding. They only see you doing what you know how to do. And you know what else? It doesn’t matter what they call you, either. I feel most pleased when people simply say, “I call Sally because she can help.” It’s not “Sally the librarian” or “Sally the informationist” or “Sally the knowledge manager” or “Sally the evaluator.” Just Sally.

The last takeaway is “Step out in faith.” Just like Indiana Jones in “The Last Crusade.” Step out over the chasm between the library and wherever you want to take your skills and whether you see it or not, a bridge will appear under your feet to take you there safely. (If you don’t know this scene from the movie, seek it out. It’s a good one.)

So that’s what I shared with the group of librarians yesterday. I hope they enjoyed it and got something out of it. And by reading this, I hope you have, too.

Where the Buffalo Roam: Adventures in Health Sciences Librarianship in North Dakota

27 Oct

I’ve been on the road a LOT this month, traveling to North Dakota and Maine and, later this week, Virginia. It’s been a full schedule and I’ve missed catching up with my blog post each week. Here’s an attempt to begin filling in the holes.

Roamin' with the buffalo in North Dakota.

Roamin’ with the buffalo in North Dakota.

Last year, I was invited by members of the Program Planning Committee of the Midwest Chapter of the Medical Library Association to present a keynote lecture at their Annual Conference. As the meeting was to take place in Bismarck, ND and North Dakota was the only state of the 48 states in the Continental United States that I’d never visited, I jumped at the chance! I was flattered to be asked to talk about my work, too. 

I shared the first morning’s sessions with Betsy Humphreys, the Deputy Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. When we realized that we would be speaking back-to-back at the conference, Betsy and I arranged a quick phone call to talk about what we thought we were each going to say. It proved to be a really beneficial chat, as our keynotes ended up complementing one another very well.

Betsy’s talk, entitled “Points of Departure,” offers a survey of the current landscape in which medical libraries and medical librarians find themselves, and sheds light on the MANY places that professionals can insert themselves and their skills. From electronic health records to patient advocacy to health literacy to informatics, the opportunities abound for those individuals and libraries who are willing to step out (or step up) to the challenges, rather than saying the future holds no place for us. “Set out from any point,” we were reminded. They all lead to opportunity. (You can see my sketchnotes of Betsy’s talk here.)

I titled my own keynote, “Making the Case: Health Sciences Librarians Staking their Claim in a ‘New World.'” You can download the slides here, but I’ll provide an annotated version of the talk in this post.


I confess that in those times when I’m facing many deadlines, feeling stressed, feeling bored, or feeling tired, I have a particular vice that I indulge in. Fortunately for me (though not necessarily for my practices in discipline of any sort), my vice is pretty easy to partake in, as it involves a certain television show that one is hard pressed to not be able to find airing at any hour of any given day. As the deadline for this talk loomed larger, I found myself giving in to my vice so often that eventually, I figured I’d use it as a framework for my talk. Here goes…


A disclaimer.


Imagine the infamous “duhn duhn” sound. (It played during the talk.)

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_04Our episode starts at a dinner party in Louisville, Kentucky, some time in the late 1980s. Everyone had finished eating and gathered in the living room, sitting in a circle and chatting, when someone said, “I know. Let’s go around the room and everyone share a dream.” 

The usual suspects were offered up; “I hope for a family.” “I want to have children.” “I want to travel around the world.”

When it came my turn, I shared what has, for as long as I can remember, been my life’s dream,” I want to win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.”

“GET SERIOUS!” shouted this woman who, by the way, I’d never met in my life. “Tell us something that you might ACTUALLY do!”

Sigh… My dream. Busted.


Thank you, Lenny.


Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_06So, what’s your dream for libraries? When you think of what a library is and/or can be, what do you dream? Do you imagine the “Library of the Future,” complete with no books and lots of modular furniture, spaces for gaming and tools to help students and faculty and researchers fuel their innovative spirits? Do you dream of tranquility and order and the beauty of our National treasures, like the Library of Congress? Or do you see the library as not a place at all, but people embedded in research centers, bringing the services of libraries directly to the patrons?


And what do you dream for librarians? Do you miss the “good old days” when we held the keys to the information kingdom; when we were the gatekeepers that everyone had to pass through and by in order to access what they needed? Do you miss the heady power of those days? Or do you dream of times when librarians are no longer associated with libraries; when we’re not even called librarians anymore? What do you dream?


And for all of those dreams, do you have any kind of plan in mind for how to get there?

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_09My own library recently had our annual all-staff retreat in which our Director, Elaine Martin, delivered her “State of the Library” address. She covered where we’ve been the past year, where we are now, and where we’re likely headed over the next months. One of these future places involves the development of a new strategic plan. Looking ahead five years, where do we think we’ll be? That’s the question Elaine posed to her staff.

When I think back on all of the change that’s happened here in the past 10 years (the amount of time that I’ve worked at UMass Med), I find it pretty hard to even imagine that I ever could have imagined the things I’ve seen come and go, the transformations we’ve endured, and the many different roles we’ve taken on as a library (and as librarians). The thought of imagining the next five years seems daunting, if not downright impossible for me, and it got me to thinking about how I do go about planning my work, my roles, and my future as a health sciences librarian.


Backyard camping!

I grew up in a camping family. We camped weekends and summer vacations. We camped in the mountains, occasionally at the beach, and often in New England and Canada. My father was also a backpacker and he took my brother and I on week-long backpacking adventures, alternating years between us, during spring breaks. The first time I went on one of these trips, I was probably about 10 years old. My dad, being a good bit taller than me, often hiked ahead on the trail. He’d make his way up the path, me following behind, always being sure that he never got too far ahead that I couldn’t see his pack. (It was always a bright color – red or orange – so that I could easily see it.) 

As I thought about how I strategically plan my work, I came to realize that I do so very much like I strategically made it through the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. I call my strategy…


It works. Not just for hiking along unknown trails, but also for making one’s way down the mysterious, always developing and ever evolving paths of medical librarianship.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_12And as every strategic plan needs goals and objectives, these are the ones that I propose for my Backpacking model:

  • Know yourself – what you do well, what you don’t do well, what you like to do, what you don’t like to do, etc.
  • Know your environment – the people, places, and things that surround you and make up your workplace.
  • Know how to bring these two things together – YOU and your environment.

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_13We talk a lot in our profession about the gap between what students, faculty, staff, and researchers want from health sciences libraries and what health sciences librarians know how to do. We’re very focused upon identifying the skills that we need to develop to close this gap and become, again, a vital and relevant resource to our patrons. The gap produces a great deal of anxiety for many of us; we don’t know how we’ll ever keep up, ever gain the skills we need, and/or ever meet our patrons’ needs again.


So I propose an exercise…

I've had LOTS of jobs.

I’ve had LOTS of jobs.

Take some time to think about every single job that you’ve ever had in your life. Write them down. Every job, everything you’ve ever volunteered for, every class that you’ve ever taken in formal education or not. List them all.


And then, take that list and from it create another list of all of the many, many, many things that you know how to do. Yes, you’re a librarian and you have a whole host of skills that come with that, but think of others. Think of how all of the other things that you’ve done in your life have helped you gain expertise in information management or communication or team building or organization. And once you have that list, look around you at all of the many, many, many needs your current environment offers. Can you now, with all of these lists in hand, find one or two or a dozen matches, opportunities where you can put yourself, the librarian, to good use to meet these needs? As Betsy Humphreys noted in her talk, these opportunities are our POINTS OF DEPARTURE. They are our keys to relevancy and the future of our profession.


My list looks like this.


And it defines me, the health sciences librarian, as a person who does all of those things. As we each redefine ourselves and our roles, we will, ultimately, redefine our profession. Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_19

And our value will no longer be such a mystery.


This plan, I think, pretty much closes that gap that worries us so.


Next, I provide a bunch of examples from my own work. For each, I offer the project that came to be and the skills used to meet the needs of each.






I can imagine some new projects and dream up some new places to perhaps find myself working.


I can dream of really BIG things on the horizon, areas that could offer countless opportunities for a librarian.


For my closing argument, I offer up my good friend, Cindy Stewart. If you’re a medical librarian, you may well know Cindy, for up until just a few weeks ago, she was an Associate Director for the health sciences library at Dartmouth’s medical school. Today, though, she’s the new Program Manager for Dartmouth’s Clinical and Translational Science Award. Do you think she stopped being a librarian, simply because she assumed this new position? NO. Do you think that she got this position in large part because of all of the skills she honed over the years as a medical librarian. YES. Cindy was able to sell herself as the person for this job because of all of the things that she knows how to do, from being a librarian, that fit all of the information needs (and more) that the researchers at Dartmouth and their CTSA program have and/or are going to have over the next few years. She closed that gap, but good.


Next I read a great passage from this book, but I’m not going to post it here. Suffice it to say, it summed up how we do a lot of things in life, develop a lot of habits and patterns and trains of thought, based upon not much more than a couple of horse’s asses. (The story is about why railroad tracks are the width that they are.)

Sally-Gore-keynote_Page_30Did I make my case?


You decide.


There were other tremendously great talks at the conference. I won’t recap them all here, but I’ve posted my sketchnotes for each: