July 16, 2004

Health Sciences Library Assistants Continue their Education, Preparing for Professional Library Careers

libraryasstslunch.jpgStudents utilize libraries to learn about their chosen fields of study, but for eight U of M health sciences library assistants, the library itself has become the focus of their studies. Bio-Medical Library workers Ashley Halverson, Bob Johnson, Nicole Theis-Mahon, and Deb Werner; Biomedical Information Service (BIS) employees Liz Fine and Emily Nolan; and Veterinary Medical Library assistants Elizabeth Hunt and Heather Bryan are working towards master’s degrees in library science while preparing for future library careers.

As students, their positions in the University Libraries system provide opportunities to enhance their skills, explore career options and complement classroom learning. “Any exposure to working in a library is a huge advantage,” says Jim Beattie, Bio-Med's Head of Reference. Kathy Robbins, also a Bio-Med reference librarian, noted the mutual benefits of employing library students, saying, “We foster professional development which will lead to improved service to patrons both now and in the future.” The students agree, and commented about the skills they have developed, their interests in libraries, and their post-graduation plans.

Ashley Halverson, a serials worker at Bio-Med, pursued librarianship out of a love of sharing learning with others. At Bio-Med, she has gained experience at many levels of the library, which she credits with boosting her confidence and enhancing her resume. Ashley says her library coworkers have given her “role models to follow in professionalism and levels of excellence.” After completing her degree, Ashley hopes to work as a youth services librarian, or manage a small or rural library.

After realizing that following in the footsteps of Woody Allen’s character in “Manhattan Murder Mystery” was not a viable career option for him, Bio-Med reference and access services worker Bob Johnson looked into library science. His position at Bio-Med has shown him how important and skillful health sciences librarians can be, and he is constantly learning from his coworkers. Says Bob, “It is good to see what experts look like.” Bob hopes to one day work at a James Joyce museum in Dublin, Ireland.

Serials employee Nicole Theis-Mahon became interested in libraries when her husband worked in one – and realized she enjoyed it, too. Opportunities at Bio-Med, such as working the reference desk and seeing the inner workings of a library, have helped prepare Nicole for the job market. She calls coworkers and librarians “very supportive” and credits them with expanding her education. Nicole hopes to work in an archive or college library after earning her degree.

Although career assessment tests suggested she become a mime (!), Deb Werner, a Bio-Med acquisitions and cataloging worker, opted for the many possibilities of librarianship instead. Although Deb is unsure of what sort of library she wants to work in, her biology background and her current experience in a health sciences library will be extremely beneficial if she pursues medical librarianship. Deb says coworkers and librarians have been wonderful, providing support and learning opportunities.

Liz Fine, a BIS employee, was drawn to librarianship because of its combination of learning and teaching. Working at BIS has exposed her to real world duties and issues faced by academic librarians. Coworkers have helped her education; says Liz, “They have offered many opportunities for me to develop new skills that give me an extremely valuable head start on my future career.” After library school, Liz hopes to work as a reference librarian in an academic library.

After working at Bio-Med as an undergraduate, BIS employee Emily Nolan realized she wanted to pursue the library field professionally. Daily exposure to library operations has taught her skills that will be valuable while pursuing her degree. Of her colleagues, Emily says, “All have encouraged me to pursue librarianship and have actively looked for opportunities to teach me new skills.” Emily plans to attend library school and explore a variety of career opportunities in libraries.

Education, learning, free public access to information, and the social responsibility of libraries attracted Vet Med serials and reference assistant Elizabeth Hunt to the field. Through her jobs at Bio-Med and Vet Med, she has gained technical, reference, and circulation experience. “Coworkers and librarians have been very encouraging,” says Elizabeth. After finishing library school, Elizabeth would like to work in an urban public library or alternative library, and gain experience as a museum or special collections archivist.

Heather Bryan, a temporary assistant at the Vet Med and Magrath Libraries, worked in the campus library as an undergraduate student, and decided that "librarianship offered the three criteria I was looking for in my ideal career – the opportunity for continuous and diverse learning, to solve problems, and to help people." Of her experiences working in the University of Wisconsin and University of Minnesota libraries, she says, "my coworkers and the librarians are better than any textbook I had as an undergraduate. They are personable and knowledgeable, and always willing to explain vocabulary, system functions, methods of organization, and offer professional advice." Heather begins library school this fall. In the long term, she hopes to work as a reference librarian in an academic setting. She is also interested in helping set up libraries in Latin America through various international organizations, to help spread the benefits of libraries to those who do not currently have them.

Many of these budding librarians are currently gaining additional training in reference services and are helping to man the Bio-Med and Vet Med Reference Desks, with the help of Bio-Med's Beattie, Robbins, and Del Reed. Says Robbins, "I think that the best way to learn about reference is to do it, and to see others do it. By working with experienced reference staff, it is possible for new staff to try techniques and get feedback on how to handle questions." Beattie adds of this mentoring relationship, "It helps you to keep learning and forces you to re-examine how you do things. It functions as an opportunity to refresh your skills and to examine whether the way you and the library are doing something is still necessary."

Posted by biomednews at July 16, 2004 03:53 PM