Archive for March, 2010

Today’s Conference on Informationists

March 31, 2010

Today I attended a conference sponsored by Elsevier, entitled “The Informationist: Collaboration between Scientists and Librarians to Support Informatics Research.” It was held here in Washington DC and drew a crowd of about 80 – 100, largely medical librarians with a significant number of other academic and government librarians. (Christina Pikas did some real time reporting on it which you can read over on her blog at

I thought the name was a bit misleading as it didn’t just focus on “informatics research” or for that matter, research of any type — it also got into the role of librarians in clinical medicine. Still, I found it time well spent. The Elsevier folks said the presentations will be made available, but I don’t have details on that yet.

For me, the most relevant sessions were the morning sessions, which dealt with informatics and the role of (what i’m going to call) embedded medical librarians. Ellen Detlefsen of the U. of Pittsburgh offered several definitions of “informatics” and its subfields (medical informatics, bioinformatics, public health informatics etc.). She also proposed a distinction between the terms “clinical medical librarian” and “informationist” based on comparing their educational background, supervisory/reporting relationships, and salary levels. She was followed by Ed Shortliffe of the American Medical Informatics Association, who offered further insights into informatics, including the AMIA’s definition. Shortliffe also distinguished between biomedical informatics and health information technology — as I understand it, the former focuses on the use of information in research, while the latter refers to information systems that support healthcare delivery.

The third morning speaker was Annette Williams, representing the biomedical library at Vanderbilt University. She told the story of the initiation and development of Vanderbilt’s embedded library services, with insights too numerous to repeat them all here. In initiating the service, she emphasized the importance of the librarians getting out of the library, developing an understanding of the clinical environment, and building relationships. Later in the day, she added that the Vanderbilt librarians don’t only serve in clinical care teams — they also participate in the research programs.

One thing i think all in the conference agreed on was the word “partnership”. Ellen Detlefsen emphasized this a couple times: that the librarians can, and must be, equal partners in the team — whether the mission is clinical care or research. This means going beyond traditional notions and roles as a support service.

All in all, it was a day well spent. I may have some more comments on it as the ideas percolate!


An “Embedded” Middle School Librarian

March 12, 2010

At the same time that I’ve been studying embedded librarianship over the past 3 years, I’ve also been learning a lot about the role of the school librarian / media specialist, thanks to students who are working in school libraries and preparing for careers as media specialists.

It’s seemed to me that school librarians had great opportunities to develop an embedded role, working in partnership with teachers; taking their knowledge of resources and information literacy into classrooms. However, there are few if any examples of this in the literature, and the media specialists I’ve talked to are spread pretty thin, with little time to build relationships and develop customized services.

So I was glad to see the recent post by John Kennerly, in which he characterizes a middle school librarian as “embedded”. She makes a practice of taking her information literacy expertise to the classroom, and works with the students “on their ‘turf'”.

While she may not have all the attributes of an embedded librarian, she does have some of the essentials, including a commitment to the educational mission that transcends a narrow definition of the librarian’s role, and a talent for building relationships.

I’m indebted to John Kennerly for sharing this great example.