Neither Fish nor Fowl

December 11, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Posted in NAHSL Annual Meeting 2013, Professional Development | 2 Comments

That’s the phrase that’s been coming to mind for the past few months, whenever I try to describe my position as the Health Sciences Librarian at Brown University. The phrase had already been bouncing around in my head for a few weeks when Elaine Martin used it in her presentation, The Informationist: Pushing the Boundaries. At Brown, I’m a member of the “Research and Outreach Services” department within the University Library. But I’m also paid by—and embedded within— the medical school. My office is in the (bookless) Champlin Library at the Alpert Medical School, which is located about ½ mile from the main Brown campus. So I play multiple roles: according to AAHSL, and from the point of view of the medical school administration, I’m the health sciences library director. And I’m the collection development librarian for Medicine and for Public Health, all the while maintaining (as best I can) an open door policy for the medical students who study outside my office and providing reference and instruction to the faculty, residents, and students in the medical school and in the School of Public Health.  Elaine, in her presentation, was using the phrase “neither fish nor fowl” to describe the work of an informationist. But for me, it goes much further than that: at the same time, I’m both all and none of the following:

  1. An embedded librarian
  2. A solo librarian
  3. A member of the reference and instruction team in a relatively traditional, education-focused academic library
  4. A public health librarian
  5. A medical education librarian and member of the medical education team
  6. A clinical librarian
  7. A research support librarian who can teach EndNote, Mendeley, or RefWorks; build or critique a search for a systematic review; talk about NIH Public Access policy compliance; or provide (very bare-bones) data management instruction
  8. A proponent and evangelist for the library’s role in the growing research enterprise at an evolving institution.
  9. A library director, who is responsible for maintaining relationships with our affiliated hospital libraries, and for being able to take a step back and see the opportunities for the library in all of the above areas


Do I sound overwhelmed? I am, at times.

So what does this have to do with NAHSL?

Networking. Although I’m not, technically, a solo librarian, it’s true that I’m the only one who does what I do here. In my previous institution, I was one of a team of health sciences librarians. If I needed a new search scenario, or wanted to bounce an idea off of a colleague, or even just blow off steam, all I had to do was walk around until I found a colleague in one of the offices in our suite.  I no longer have that easy access to peers, so networking with librarians and information professionals from other institutions is even more important than it ever was to me. However, I’ve been in New England for less than two years, and am still getting to know my colleagues from across the region, so conferences such as NAHSL are key to my professional sanity. At NAHSL, in addition to attending great presentations (which have been ably described in other posts on this blog),  I met librarians doing similar work and facing similar challenges. I heard about how other libraries are facing these challenges and turning them into opportunities. I remembered my love of trivia contests. And I was able to step back from my own daily work (even for just 48 hours), and start to think about what I see as the challenges and opportunities at my own institution, and how I might begin to quantify and articulate them.

The NAHSL conference at Falmouth had one other, very important, purpose for me. Those of you who keep track know that the 2015 conference is slated to return to Rhode Island. About 6 months ago I was asked to be the conference chair for NAHSL 2015, and I accepted. I felt a bit odd about doing so, though, primarily because I’d never actually attended a NAHSL conference before. I thought it important to remedy that issue as soon as possible so that I would have some idea what I was talking about when planning for Providence! Between having informal opportunities to talk to other RI librarians and find out about past conference history, and attending the wrap-up lunch for the Massachusetts-Maine hand-off, I feel much more prepared than I did for this task.

I thank NAHSL for providing the Professional Development Award that helped me to attend—and I look forward to seeing you all in Rockport in 2014, and in Providence in 2015!

Submitted by Erika Sevetson, Brown University



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  1. Thank you, Erika! This is a really helpful post for those of us in leadership positions for NAHSL as we’re working on defining/redefining/re-imagining our purpose. You note several key roles that NAHSL plays for you. We can make sure that these are part of our discussions.

  2. Well Done, Erika. Can’t wait to start the planning for 2015! Sue

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