What is your current job?
I'm a Liaison and Outreach Librarian at the Health Sciences and Human Services Library at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Specifically, I'm the liaison to the School of Medicine, which, aside from your obvious med students, includes Physical Therapy, Public Health, PhD programs in the life sciences, as well as the physicians and residents at the hospital on campus.
How did you find your job?
I found this particular job on the medlib-l listserv, which is specific to medical libraries. While I was searching for jobs, though, I was on a number of mailing lists, and I kept up with a huge number of job boards and Twitter feeds, including HigherEd Jobs, LibGig, LIS Jobs, ALA JobList, and the University of Texas iSchool jobs list. It's a lot to go through, but it's worth the time and effort if you want to make sure you don't miss out on your dream job!
This was actually the second position I interviewed for at this library. I felt really good about my first interview, didn't get the job, but was encouraged by the search committee to apply again if anything opened up. When this job was posted a few months later, I jumped at the opportunity. It turns out that if they hadn't gone with an internal applicant for the first job, I would've been their first choice. So don't get discouraged from applying to your dream library if you don't get it the first time - your rejection might have nothing to do with you.
What does your typical day look like? Is this what you expected when you took the job?
I absolutely hated when librarians I talked to would tell me this, but there really is no typical day in my job. As a liaison librarian, my time is almost entirely scheduled by what faculty, students, and staff request of me. At my library, we have a separate reference department, so I don't have any desk hours. I do have research consultations with students, faculty, and staff who need more in depth and personal help with their research than a stop at the reference desk can provide. Usually this involves people who are working to publish their research and need help with their literature review, but could also include a student writing a paper for class. I spend a great deal of time on instruction. I train all of the new students, faculty, and medical residents each year, so while most academic librarians have a light summer, I'm actually busiest in June and July. I also teach more specialized research-oriented classes on demand, and I participate in our library's workshop series, teaching on topics like PubMed and Journal Impact Factor (and other metrics). I also do some pretty typical subject librarian tasks - I go through our approval plan every week to request books to purchase (although as a state school, we have no budget for purchasing right now), I keep LibGuides in my subject areas updated. One of the cooler things I get to do is go to morning report over at the hospital every few weeks. I listen to residents from Internal Medicine report on cases, go back to the library to do some research about any lingering questions the group has, and blog about what I found (and how I found it) later that day. That way the residents get to keep learning about medicine even post-med school, and hopefully they pick up a thing or two about searching along the way. I'll also (fingers crossed) soon be involved in a grant to learn more about the information needs of researchers involved in the University's new Clinical and Translational Science Institute, which will let me visit some other medical libraries, survey our faculty, staff, and grad students, and find a way to get them the training and resources they need to do better work in informatics. Aside from that, I serve on the library's Staff Education and Training committee, a committee to plan an Apps and Tablets fair for the fall, and I go to a lot of various faculty meetings as they come up.
This is all pretty much what I expected of the job when I took it, although I didn't realize how much of my work would be driven by my actions, as opposed to my going out to the School of Medicine and drumming up business for myself and for the library.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The biggest reason I left biomedical research and decided not to get my PhD was that doing the same thing at the same time every single day made me crazy. Here, everything is so dependent on what patrons need that I can never predict what I'll be working on any given week. I could have a handful of consults to prepare for and then follow up on; I could have two or three classes to teach in a day, or a day of back to back meetings. It's always changing, and it's always different, so it's very rarely boring. And because of my subject area, I occasionally get to use that chemistry degree, so it hasn't been languishing in a drawer somewhere.
What are some of the common misconceptions about your job/your area of librarianship?
I don't think there are any major misconceptions about working in public services at an academic library. I will note that medical librarianship, even in an academic setting like mine, really is pretty specialized and can be more urgent than other areas of librarianship. While it's more common to hospital librarians, it's not unheard of to have a physician come in needing to find information from the literature to help with a case they're currently working on. You're dealing with real people with real medical conditions, and it's important to keep that in mind when you're doing a search. I won't go as far to say that lives depend on the searching we do in medical libraries, but it's definitely more pressing (and a little more stressful at times) than helping freshmen write their first big research paper.
What was the most valuable thing that you did or learned while in library school?
The absolute best thing I could have done in school was work in a library. I worked at Penn for 2 years, all the way through library school, and I can't recommend their vast internship program enough. Between that job (and to some extent my other internships), I learned more about being a librarian than I got from any class. I got experience working at the reference desk, teaching workshops, making video tutorials and LibGuides, and more skills that I use on a regular basis in my current job. I was lucky enough to hold several paid internships that allowed me to spend as much time as I did in libraries, but even if you're not getting paid, it's hugely valuable to work in a library before you graduate. I know for sure that having so much experience before I graduated was a big part of what got me my job.
What inspired you to choose this career?
As I said before, I started out in biomedical research. It was incredibly tedious, but I didn't want to leave the sciences. As a medical librarian, I get the best of both worlds. I get to work on a variety of tasks, but I also get to work with people in all areas of medicine whose research is fascinating. Whenever I have a consult or go to morning report, I get to learn about areas of scientific research I didn't know about before. And with tuition remission, I get to be the perpetual student of the sciences I always wanted to be (next fall: human anatomy)!
What do you wish you had learned more about?
The University, and in turn, the library, have recently started focusing a lot more informatics. I have a little bit of bioinformatics background from my undergrad biochemistry classes, but I'm starting to wish I'd taken a course or two on the Healthcare Informatics track while I was still at Drexel. I avoided it because I couldn't quite figure out what informatics was (it turns out no one really has a good definition, even the people who teach the workshops I've been to since graduating). It's definitely a huge area though, and anyone in medical libraries is going to have to start learning more about it. I'm hopefully going to start to remedy that this summer at a week-long biomedical informatics course.
Any tips for current students?
Like I said earlier, work in a library while you're in school. I was lucky enough to come to Drexel with a pretty clear career path. I wasn't sure about tech services vs. public services, but I knew I'd end up in a medical or science library, and I was able to work in all of those areas to narrow down my interests. If you don't know what you want, in addition to getting a library job or volunteer position, make an effort to do informational interviews with librarians in as many fields as you can think of. Ask them tough questions about what they like and dislike about their jobs; where they see their fields going in the future; what skills you'd need to do what they do. If you can't work in public, academic, school, and special libraries, you can at least get a better idea of what people who work in them do.
On a related note, take advantage of student pricing for professional organizations. Hopefully as a SCALA member, you've joined ALA and any of their divisions that interest you (I'm already missing paying student dues). SLA, MLA, and other organizations all give you a similar deal. Even if you don't get involved in any committees, you'll get useful publications from the organizations you join, and you'll be able to go to their conferences for far less than other members. National conferences can be overwhelming, but they're a great opportunity to network and to learn more about your chosen field. A presentation or poster might inspire you to try something new, or give you something great to talk about when you go to your next interview. Plus, you never know who you'll meet! I was assigned a great mentor from the Delaware Valley Chapter of ACRL, and he really helped me through the job search process. I'd definitely recommend seeking out mentoring opportunities from both local and national organizations.
Feel free to get in touch with me at email@example.com or follow me @oreadandletsing, where I do occasionally tweet about librarianship, despite a fair number of cooking and tv-related tweets.