NLM Associate Fellows Spark Library Alchemy

Their accomplishments push us forward

Sillhouette of a man gazing up at a star-filled sky

Guest post by Kathel Dunn, PhD, NLM Associate Fellowship Coordinator

We’ve nearly reached the halfway point in the NLM Associate Fellowship Program year. The Fellows, recent library science graduates in residence at NLM for a year, are in the midst of selecting the projects they will work on this spring. Each year staff propose projects from which the Associate Fellows choose two to lead. The proposed projects encompass the full range of work at NLM.

The opportunity to choose their own project work—to choose their own problem, rather than a problem handed to them—is a rare experience for an early career or even mid-career professional. The Associate Fellows make a choice based on their interests, their skills and abilities, and their assessment of the impact of the project, both for them and for NLM and the profession.

Formal headshots of two women and one man
Former Associate Fellows Erin Foster, Ariel Deardorff, and Kevin Read

Three years ago one of the Associate Fellows, Kevin Read, now the Knowledge Management Librarian at NYU Health Sciences Library, took on the task of building a web portal to NIH data-sharing repositories and data-sharing policies. He followed that with a second project that involved estimating the number and type of datasets generated annually by NIH-funded research, work that led to presentations and a publication in PLoS One. Two years later two of the Associate Fellows worked on data science projects. Ariel Deardorff, now the Assessment and Data Librarian at UCSF, tackled a project on data visualization, while Erin Foster, currently the Data Services Librarian at Indiana University School of Medicine, dove into a project on common data elements. Since then, Erin and Ariel have co-founded a Data Interest Group within the Medical Library Association, bringing together other talented librarians in data science to advance the field and make a difference.

What will this year’s Associate Fellows accomplish? How will they impact the health information environment?

Six months ago I introduced them at various welcome events at NLM; six months from now I will watch them present the results of their work to NLM staff. There is something about the alchemy of smart people—both staff and Associate Fellows—and mentoring, high expectations, and support that yields accomplishments that often move NLM, information science, and library science forward.

To many people that can appear a magical process of transformation or creation, but for those in the know it’s simply what librarians do. As NLM Deputy Director Betsy Humphreys wisely observed when asked about the future of librarians in our ever-shifting information landscape, “Librarians are problem-solvers. And one thing you wouldn’t do is get rid of the problem-solvers.”

It seems a quasi-tradition of this blog to ask a question of its readers. So I ask you now, what are the problems NLM should solve? To what tasks should we apply our unique alchemy of smarts, hard work, and high expectations?

Your answers might give current and future Associate Fellows, librarians, and library leaders the opportunity to work their magic and improve the information ecology in libraries, healthcare, science, and technology.

Author: Kathel Dunn

Associate Fellowship Coordinator