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Beyond The Library Walls: Informationists and Popups

I really enjoyed the “Beyond the library walls: informationists and popups” session, in particular Ariel Deardorff’s talk “Assessing the National Library of Medicine's Informationist Awards”. She is currently the Assessment and Data Management Librarian, NLM Associate Fellow, University of California, San Francisco, UCSF Library, San Francisco, California, but completed this project as a first year fellow at the NIH Library. Ariel gave a nice summary of the informationist program, from the coining of the term informationist ( to the award of a total of 30 administrative supplements for informationist services from NLM. (Full disclosure: I received one of these awards in the third round of funding in 2015.)


For those who are unfamiliar, the goal of the informationist program is to enhance basic and clinical research by embedding an informationist in a funded NIH research project. These awards enrich the project with a variety of information services and assess the value and impact of these services.


The main questions that Ariel wanted to address in her project were:

  • What kinds of services did informationists provide?
  • Were the informationists able to the assess value of their contributions?
  • What was the overall experience of informationist and researchers?


She addressed these questions by survey of PIs and holding a focus group of informationists. Due to the timing, she only assessed the first round of awardees from 2012. Only 6 of 8 of the PIs responded to the survey, and 5 of those 6 said they changed their practices based on having informationists involved in their research project. Services that were most well-received were data models and security, data management plans, finding appropriate references, and data capture. They also indicated that they would continue using an informationist if more funding was provided and that more training for the informationists, both in the scientific disciplines and in data management, would be valuable.


Focus group included 13 of the 31 informationists funded in 2012. They indicated that they helped with data management skills, awareness of library skills, and improved curriculum in departments. They also said that they enhanced own skills and become partners in the research process. They evaluated their work using interviews, surveys, outcome based tools, but noted that assessment is hard because there’s no control experiment of a research project that didn’t have an informationist and evaluation is difficult during the short funding term.


Despite challenges, Ariel reported that the experience was positive overall for the researchers and the informationists. Some areas that need to be explored further include more research on how to appropriately evaluate these contributions, how to provide continuing education for informationists and create a more cohesive community for informationists to share ideas and get support.


I have been an informationist on Katerina Kechris’s project on microRNAs that are associated with alcohol use phenotypes for about 9 months now, and my experiences generally conform with the experiences listed here by the informationists, and I have received a lot of good feedback from the research team as I attend their weekly lab meetings. Hearing about the experiences of other informationists has invigorated me to get back to CU Anschutz and continue working on this project!

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