Health Science Librarians of Ilinois

HSLI Newsletter


Serving Illinois Health Information Professionals

Conference Report, Eric Edwards

I would like to thank the Scholarship Committee for awarding me a Syed Maghrabi Scholarship to attend the HSLI 2014 Annual Conference. I greatly appreciate HSLI’s generosity, especially given that I also received the scholarship to attend the 2011 conference. Being able to attend the 2011 conference allowed me to become more fully involved with the organization, first as a member of the Legislative Committee, and later as Secretary. Attending HSLI conferences since then, including the 2014 one, has given me the opportunity to continue growing professionally, both within the organization and in the field as a whole.

A session at this year’s conference that I found particularly helpful was Mary Ellen Bates’s “Information Alchemy: Transforming Information into Insight”. Although the presentation focused on a topic–providing information to library users–with which I was already familiar, the ideas and strategies that Ms. Bates discussed are forcing me to reconsider many aspects of my approach to serving patrons. While it may be obvious to us, as librarians, that we provide a vital service, our patrons may not think the same way, especially if other sources, such as Google and Wikipedia, provide information (albeit sometimes of a lower quality) more quickly. We have to show users, including administrators who make budget decisions, that the type of information we can provide, and the ways in which we can convey that information (through bullet points, charts, or graphs, for instance, instead of through simply handing them an article or sending them a link, as I have done), will help them reach their goals more quickly.

On a related note, Ms. Bates argued that we need to demonstrate to library users that, in providing them with information, we can play a significant part in their academic and professional success, and that we also have a crucial role to play in the larger organizations of which libraries are a part. Doing so requires building a long-term relationship with users, beyond just answering a question or retrieving an item. While I already do this, to some extent, by following up with patrons to make sure that they have been able to locate the sources they need, I have not gone further, as Ms. Bates suggested, by asking patrons how the assistance I provide fits into their long-term academic and professional growth and, more importantly, what the library can do to help users further their goals. Building these deeper relationships, especially with virtual users, while it may be a bit awkward initially, not only convinces clients to keep using a library, but also encourages users to inform others of the services the library provides, enabling the library to expand its client base further.

Another session that I found particularly useful was “Keeping a Professional Presence in Times of Change”, given by Faith Roberts. Her main theme, that resistance to change–particularly technological change–while presenting challenges, can also provide opportunities, seems relevant not just to staff within an organization, but also to customers. (By the same token, if an organization’s customers will not use technology, then its employees will be less inclined to see technology’s value and promote its use.) In the case of the library, many users, including those who may already be familiar with a particular technology outside of the library, may still be hesitant to embrace that technology within a library setting.

One instance I have seen firsthand, and that has proven frustrating at times, is a reluctance among users to embrace e-books. This is an especially-challenging issue because so many of my library’s resources are available in that format, and for some searches, e-books make up a large portion of the relevant results. Ms. Roberts’s suggestions of taking an incremental approach to solving the problem is one that I had not considered, but that I think would be extremely useful, particularly for students who may be new to an academic library and have a mindset about “doing things a certain way” that may not work as well in a college environment as it did in, say, high school. Explaining to students how to find print books, and then suggesting e-books as an alternative that can fill in the gaps in one’s research (instead of directing them to e-book results right away and expecting them to use those results), might be one of those incremental steps.

Again, I greatly appreciate having received a Syed Maghrabi Scholarship to attend this year’s HSLI conference. Being able to attend HSLI conferences and take advantage of the educational and networking opportunities has been one of my most worthwhile experiences, not just during my time with HSLI, but as a member of the library and information science profession. Also, as the recipient of this year’s Starfish Thrower Award, I am truly grateful to the organization for the acknowledgment it gives of its members’ efforts. Through providing financial assistance and recognition to its members, HSLI clearly values the individuals involved with the organization and considers their professional growth to be at the heart of the organization’s mission.

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