Q. Can you tell us about your background and your current role?
A. I have been a practicing biomedical sciences librarian for 19 years, and my expertise is in building library collections. I am the founding library director of the newest digital medical library in North America at Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine in Kalamazoo. I am also proud to write that my undergraduate degree is in British history. On the job training at the medical school has taught me how to insert a central line catheter, intubate a critical care patient, and apply a ligature to a blood vessel. See what you can do with a history degree!
Q. You built a digital library from the ground up in under eight months! What was the most challenging part of that experience?
A. My biggest challenge was to prove to the administration, faculty and staff that I could build a completely functional digital library in less than a year. Before I begin at the Stryker School of Medicine, I had to draft a startup plan of how I would accomplish this task. There was a contingency plan just in case I failed. However, the secret ingredient to the new library’s success is the unwavering support from my colleagues, peers and publisher friends. I hired my friend and former colleague to design the library’s services and instruction. She has an amazing ability to teach and reach library users. Our skills and talents complement each other nicely.
Q. How has your job changed over the past five-10 years?
A. The rise of demand-driven systems offers more possibilities for librarians to procure content. For my entire career in librarianship, there has been some crisis imposed on my ability to procure content. I learned the art of cancelling journals during the height of the 1990s serials crisis, completely stopped buying print textbooks in the 2000s, and managed to cancel every Big Deal package during the Great Recession. I became too good at cancelling content and contracts. Distraught with another year of looming cancellations, I decided to focus my attention in negotiating access based on demand. Article demand has been around for a long time. It is not new. Sans the facsimile, the reboot of article demand offers the ability to have larger collections than ever before.
Q. What’s the toughest part of developing a collection to meet the needs of clinicians or clinician trainees?
A. Most clinicians can find what they need by doing a quick search on their smartphone. The digital medical library is what is in your hand. This means making the library's website incredibly attractive and agile for mobile device use. However, not all of the electronic resources the library subscribes to work well in the mobile environment. This is a missed opportunity for librarians and publishers, as clinicians will instead use the free integrated medical information apps. These apps have branded their content as peer-reviewed and do a good enough job at retrieving answers to clinical questions.
Q. How do you see libraries evolving in the future?
A. Libraries are becoming more fluid. It is all about the connection to created knowledge and scholarship. Digital libraries by nature are organic. Nothing about them is fixed or permanent. I have constructed and deconstructed the library’s online systems and platforms several times until they are just right, for the moment. Digital libraries do not collect. They lease, rent, subscribe and borrow content. It is not possible, nor is it intended to be a fixed repository of knowledge. Rather, digital libraries are a storehouse of information to be consumed, not continuously stocked collections.
Q. What one piece of advice would you give to a new librarian?
A. You can never sit back. You cannot expect your library’s collection to do all the work. It does not define who you are, nor should it ever limit you. You have to adapt, reinvent, and evolve. The digital library I built today will be obsolete tomorrow, but tomorrow’s library will be far better than the one I have today.
Q. What is your favorite library in the world?
A. My favorite library is the one I built for my two young children. (Yes, I built yet another library!) I wanted to share my love for books and leave something special for them to pass on to their family and friends. The Sarah and Rosie Library of Unlimited Adventures boasts a collection of over 400 children’s and young adult titles. The children’s playroom serves as a reading room and includes a library table, chairs and reading carpet. I recently added an iPad to the collection that now serves as their traveling online library. Most of the print books in the collection are signed by the author with a personal note or illustration for them to enjoy.