Librarians: It’s time to stand up for ourselves!

I recently attended a library association meeting where I heard a familiar concern among my colleagues: “Our products and services are used widely by many within our institution, yet nobody knows that we(librarians) developed them.” Similarly, there seemed to be a lot of uncertainty amongst the group about how to transform our roles and provide services that will benefit our patron base. The remainder of the discussion involved the doom and gloom of libraries… I personally found this discussion incredibly frustrating because I have heard it time and time again. Librarians seem to love sitting around and talking about how we are suffering and losing patrons left, right and center; how does this help us improve? I know librarians are capable of doing amazing things with information and developing services that can benefit users, we just need to actively go out and do it. For this post I want to address a few things that I think librarians need to do on a regular basis to remain relevant and stand up for themselves.

Develop Relationships

Liaison and subject librarians already have a head start on this one, but I think developing and fostering relationships among our patron groups is essential. With the emergence of embedded librarianship, I believe that librarians need to take a more hands on approach to their work. In order to find out what will benefit a patron base, we need to go out and ask them directly. In an academic library, librarians need to ask faculty and students how they can better serve their needs. This approach accomplishes two things: first, it gives us an opportunity to explain and demonstrate our skills and expertise, and second it allows us to hear firsthand how our patrons function and evaluate how we can help them.

I think that fostering relationships is the first step towards changing the ways librarians do their work. The stronger the relationships, the better the opportunity to create information resources and services that will benefit our patrons. Furthermore, when it comes time for annual review, we will be able to provide actual evidence that can prove that our work has been beneficial. 

Expand our role

We have to continually explore new ways that we can help our users — simple as that. Many librarians are now seeking out new ways they can provide services that range from helping researchers with data management to becoming more embedded within an institution. Specific roles I have been really impressed with are as follows:

NIH Library’s Informationists

The NIH Library’s Informationists are really pushing the envelope in terms of services they provide to patrons. Being completely embedded within clinical teams, these librarians have specialized knowledge and clinical expertise that allows for them to be a contributing member of a clinical research team. These librarians take multiple continuing education (CE) courses in information technology and biomedical sciences in order to keep up with their patrons. I think librarians in general should follow this model in the sense that taking CE courses should be a regular part of our jobs. As a medical librarian I believe it is important to learn how my patrons work within their research environment. Moreover, I believe learning about new technology and information practices will help me discover new ways to help users.

Purdue University’s Digital Curation Profiles

Purdue’s Digital Curation Profiles (DCP) provide an opportunity for academic librarians to enter a new role by helping academic researchers manage and understand their data. A DCP is designed to be “essentially an outline of the “story” of a data set or collection, describing its origin and lifecycle within a research project.” These DCPs allow librarians to meet with and understand how their patrons perform their research and manage their data. From this evaluation, librarians can assist with researchers’ data management methodology so that it can be preserved or uploaded into an information repository. Moreover, this exercise gives the librarian an opportunity to learn about how their users actually perform their research. The DCPs and data management in general are areas where I believe librarians should get more involved as it 1) fosters a relationship with a specific patron base, 2) provides a new role for librarians, and 3) allows librarians to provide tangible evidence in the form of DCPs as to the services they provide. 

University of Massachusetts’ Journal of eScience Librarianship

UMass has received a grant from the National Library of Medicine to create a journal where eScience is the topic of discussion. The journal is designed to “advance the theory and practice of librarianship with a special focus on services related to data-driven research in the physical, biological, and medical sciences. The journal explores the many roles of librarians in supporting eScience and welcomes articles related to education, outreach, collaborations, and current practices, by contributors from all areas of the globe.” I think this is an excellent initiative as it fosters collaboration amongst librarians and provides a new way to educate librarians about a new topic. The collaborative nature of librarians is something I have discussed before, but we need to support the interpersonal nature of the field as we move into new areas. The Journal of eScience Librarianship is just one, but excellent example of this.

Assessment! Assessment! Assessment!

This one is a no brainer – librarians need to perform more evaluations and assessments of their services. If you’re an instructional librarian, it is vital that you survey your audience so that we can prove the students are learning something. These evaluative measures also provides insight into how we can improve our services. Similarly if you’re a subject librarian, allow your patrons to evaluate you and the services you provide: How can your services be improved? What do these patrons expect from their librarian? If they don’t know – explain to them how you can better serve their needs!

One initiative I am impressed with is the ACRL’s “Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success.” This study sets out to build a professional development program to strengthen the competencies of librarians in campus leadership and data-informed advocacy. Individual libraries can follow this model to ensure that if they ever come under scrutiny (and surely they will), they can prove how their efforts have been successful within their institution. 

Final Thoughts

The basic point I am trying to get across is that librarians experienced and inexperienced cannot sit idly and hope that they will remain relevant within their institution. As information specialists we need to keep up with emerging technologies in order to provide services that our patrons need. After all, isn’t learning new things  one of the main reasons we all love this profession?

We also need to get out of our comfort zones and head into the environments where our patrons spend their time. How are our patrons going to know how we can help them if we don’t tell them?! It may seem daunting to some, but we need to prove to our institutions that we are essential and that the expertise we possess can improve the work our patrons do. The relationships we build will help us prove our worth, as well as make our jobs more dynamic and interesting.

Finally, evaluating our services is incredibly important. How so many librarians have gotten by without doing this until now is baffling to me. Just like any thing we do, it is important that we know if you we’re doing it well and if it has value. With every instructional session we give, every research guide we create, and every hands on information service we provide, we need to know that it is effective and meeting the needs of our users. 

Using these measures can help us improve as librarians and give us an opportunity to stand up for ourselves.. Maybe then we won’t have to attend any more library meetings where the topic of discussion is the doom and gloom of the librarians.

As a librarian, how do you stand up for yourself within your institution?


Web archiving: The importance of collecting born-digital materials

Recently I had the privilege to sit in on the Board of Regents meeting at the National Library of Medicine (NLM). At this meeting the History of Medicine and Technical Services Division presented a report on an initiative to expand the NLM’s collection to born-digital web materials. The presentation involved a preliminary trial where the team collected twelve specific doctor and patient blogs to be preserved. I thought that this was an incredible idea and naturally ran up to them immediately after the presentation and asked if I could participate in the project as part of my Associate Fellowship. What I liked most about their presentation was their methodology, and the tools they used to collect this content. I thought the strategy they used was a good opportunity to write a blog post giving an overview of what tools they used in this process. 

Strategy & Guidelines

What first caught my eye was that the NLM Web Collecting and Arching Working Group has recommended that the NLM follow the ARL Code of Best Practices and Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries. This code was created in February of 2012, and Section 8 is completely devoted to Collecting Material Posted on the World Wide Web and Making It AvailableAccording to the code collecting web material is valuable because it creates an accessible archive of what is available on the web — an environment that contains an enormous amount of important historical and research related content. The code states that:

Selecting and collecting material from the Internet in this way is highly transformative. The collecting library takes a historical snapshot of a dynamic and ephemeral object and places the collected impression of the site into a new context: a curated historical archive.

The ARL also places certain limitations on how this content should be created. This is important because it sets a standard for other libraries and archives to follow. Furthermore, it provides guidance to institutions on how to approach the creators of this content. In accordance to fair use, the ARL states that:

Captured material should be represented as it was captured, with appropriate information on mode of harvesting and date.

To the extent reasonably possible, the legal proprietors of the sites in question should be identified according to the prevailing conventions of attribution.

Libraries should provide copyright owners with a simple tool for registering objections to making items from such a collection available online, and respond to such objections promptly.

These limitations support traditional archival theory in the sense that the goal is to preserve the integrity and authenticity of the website that is captured. It also reflects the importance of acknowledging the creator of the content, and asking for permission before the material is made available to the public.

What I love about the NLM’s consideration of the use the ARL Code for Fair Use is that it is one library collaborating with another to access and preserve content for the benefit of others. The ARL is an excellent resource for academic and research libraries that should be used more often. I would also love to see more libraries collaborating with one another on this topic. Because collecting born-digital material should reflect an institutions own collection development policies, it is important that the library community communicate with one another to avoid duplication of captured content.

Now that I have gone over the guidelines and standards that were used to approach the content, I would like to speak briefly about the technology the NLM used to gather this material: Archive-it. 


Archive-it is a subscription web archiving service developed from the Internet Archive that helps to build, harvest and preserve digital content on the web. The program allows users to collect and manage this content in a way that preserves all the original qualities of a web page keeping its integrity in place. The program can essentially run 24 hours a day in order to harvest and capture the material on a web page. Once the content is captured it is stored in the Internet Archive data centres. The NLM staff who presented this report praised Archive-it for the ease of use and outstanding institutional support. Many other libraries have begun using Archive-it as well including the Library of Congress, University of Michigan, Tufts University and many others. Although I have not tried the program yet, when l browse through some of the collections they support it appears to do an excellent job of maintaining the look and feel of the web pages. Take a look for yourself and see; they have a large number of collections available. 

Why is this important?

The staggering amount of research available on the web is the most obvious reason for collecting this material. Every day we surf the web, gather information and use it as evidence for solving problems, answering questions and enhancing research. What we don’t consider is that if the web was ever to disappear we would no longer have this amazing research to refer to. Grey literature, social media and at-risk content are just a few types of research content that would be very useful to have a historical record of. With grey literature, many websites that provide valuable reports may only last for a limited amount of time — capturing this content will provide an opportunity for increased exposure, and safeguard against the loss of valuable research. Similarly, social media provides a wealth of information about the collaborative and interactive nature of doctors and patients. Preserving this material to better understand trends and issues among these groups can be a valuable resource. Finally capturing at-risk content can help government agencies track and gather web content that provide information about threats on public health; websites of early responders to disasters; and social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook) that documents individuals responses to health crises. All of this information is valuable and can provide a historical record for those interested in researching it in the future. 

Not enough has been done to preserve the valuable information born on the web. So many of us use the Internet for many of our daily tasks, yet we don’t think about how in ten years from now we may never be able to access that material again. I believe that each library institution needs to think about gathering born-digital content that aligns with their own collection development policy. The fact that the NLM has launched an initiative to preserve biomedical born-digital material demonstrates that it is deemed important on a national level smaller health science libraries could start archiving regional web research as well as their institutions personal webpages that provide unique research to their patron base. 

What do you think? Should libraries be trying to do more work in this area? Should this be a part of their strategic plan? 

It is important to note that these opinions are mine and not of the National Library of Medicine. I wrote this post out of appreciation for the project and the opportunity to share my beliefs on the important role libraries can play in collecting born-digital materials.


Archive-it: A web archiving service to harvest and preserve digital collections. 2012. Retrieved from on September 16, 2012.

Association of Research Libraries. Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries. Jan 19, 2012. Retrieved from: on September 16, 2012.

Librarians and reference management software: Why we need to pay attention

I have been using a variety of free reference management software for ages. I use Zotero for my Graduate Academic Assistant position, where my supervisor and several other assistants collaborate. I use Mendeley primarily because of its ease of use, interface, and ability to share research articles with others. Just recently I came across a new free reference manager called ReadCube, and I absolutely love it. I now use all three programs — not because I can’t decide on which is the best, but because I want to learn as much about them as possible so that I can show them to patrons while at work. They all have positive and negative attributes, but as a librarian I believe it is important to have a strong, if not expert understanding of these tools. These tools were created to manage information, and I am trained to do the same. I believe it is my duty to be an expert!

For the rest of this post I am going to highlight a few of the features from my two favourite programs — ReadCube and Mendeley and explain how they can be useful for library patrons. I believe librarians need to pay attention to all forms of information management software, as it provides us with an opportunity to gain a new skill set that can be taught to patrons. 


ReadCube is relatively new and has a feature that no other management software has: an enhanced pdf function. This feature allows for easy navigation of all the cited evidence within an article. Simply click on the reference, and the full citation will appear on the right side of the screen:

ReadCube’s enhanced pdf function also provides any supplement associated with the article and embeds it into the article. This feature is very handy because it provides all the other information that is often missed when you import an article into the program:

Authors are also completely searchable within the enhanced pdf function, and ReadCube gives you the option of looking for an author’s research in either Google Scholar or PubMed. This feature makes it easier to track a researcher who may specialize in a particular field:

In the above screenshot I have clicked on an author’s name. Not only does ReadCube allow me to search this author in Google Scholar or PubMed, but it also lists every article written by that author in the right hand column. I think this is an excellent feature that is missing from other reference management software.

The other feature I love about ReadCube is that it lets you set up a proxy server when you first install the program. This means that if you are a part of an institution, you can enter your login information during the installation process and then access articles easily without the hassle of having to enter your password over and over again:

The above image came from my installation process. It asks me to enter this information once, and I have since been able to access any article that my institution subscribes to. This is an invaluable resource for patrons and researchers because I know firsthand that they hate entering passwords and any other information that creates a roadblock on their way to a journal article. At the College of Physician and Surgeons Library, doctors absolutely loathed the idea of having to login every time they wanted to access an article. ReadCube eliminates this process, and it’s really a beautiful thing.


Mendeley is another useful program that is easy to use, collaborative and now available for institutions. I have always enjoyed Mendeley because it provides an intuitive platform where multiple people can collaborate on one article (ie. take notes, highlight, annotate):

Mendeley has also launched an institutional edition that allows librarians to track altmetrics  so that they know what library materials are being used, and can make decisions based on this data. An article from the Swets Blog explores this topic and Mendeley at greater length, and is definitely worth a read.

Why should librarians care?

Librarians should care about reference management software because they are tools that can ultimately help our patrons manage their information, and with new developments from Mendeley — manage our own as well. Last summer I spent time with two other librarians teaching students and faculty about Refworks, Zotero and Mendeley. The goal of this workshop was not to prove one tool was better than the other, but instead that there are many different tools out there. Librarians should be holding workshops like this regularly

Refworks Zotero Mendeley UBC Library Workshop 2011

What I’m trying to get across here is that our understanding of these tools can lead to a teachable moment. When a patron is feeling overwhelmed with the amount of research they have accumulated, I want them to come to me because I am a librarian and I know about these kinds of tools. So if you aren’t familiar with some of the tools I have mentioned here, go out and learn about them. Not only are they useful for personal use, but they provide an excellent opportunity for us to stake a claim as experts and share our knowledge with library patrons. 

The author would like to note that he is in no way affiliated with ReadCube, Mendeley, Zotero or Refworks.