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Meet the MLA ’24 Presenters of Data Allies: Building Institutional Support Networks

Navigating Research Data Together: Librarians, Researchers, and Students Symposium

In the weeks before MLA ’24 in Portland, we are profiling the experts leading each of the symposium sessions by sharing their answers to questions about themselves and their session. We continue the series with the presenters and moderator of Data Allies: Building Institutional Support Networks, Andrea H. Denton (AD), Sally Gore (SG), Eugenia Opuda (EO), and Sara M. Samuel (SS).

Join them for their session on Tuesday May 21, 2024, 1:30-2:45 p.m., pacific time. To learn about all the Symposium sessions and their presenters, please see the Symposium Session Schedule.

What are you most looking forward to seeing/eating/experiencing in Portland?

AD: All of it! I was on MLA’s National Program Committee for the 2020 Portland meeting, and, well, we know what happened that spring. So, I am looking forward to my first visit to Portland and Oregon!

EO: I am most looking forward to eating as much as I can around the city, visiting some of the beautiful gardens in Portland, and going to the Portland Art Museum.

SG: It’s been about 10 years since I last visited Portland. I’m looking forward to taking in the food trucks again, visiting Powell’s bookstore, and, if I save enough pennies and can find the time, dining at at least one of the fancy restaurants featured on “Top Chef” and other celebrity chef shows.

SS: I’ve never been to Portland, so I’m excited to just be there and see it for the first time! I haven’t yet done any investigation into good places to eat or things to see, so please feel free to share recommendations. :)

What’s a fun or surprising fact about research enterprise-librarian partnerships?

AD: Maybe a bit surprising was to learn about the number of research support staff at my university. They may have different titles and roles than ours (e.g. Research Intelligence Analyst), but their goals are similar and it has been so interesting to get to know them and what they do. 

EO: My evidence synthesis searching skills were incredibly useful when it came to reviewing Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee protocols that included a literature search for alternatives to animal use.

SG: Biomedical researchers are a lot easier to work with than medical doctors! There’s so much less hierarchy and much more a sense of collegiality.

SS: One thing that I hear from many librarians about how they get connected to research (and other) units at their institution is that there is often one key person that helps them get their foot in the door. For me, I happened to be introduced fairly early on in my current position to a wonderful person who works in the University of Michigan Medical School Office of Regulatory Affairs. Our working together has led to all sorts of opportunities and collaborations beyond our initial connection. For other librarians, it might be a connection to someone working on the RCRS program or someone working in the grants office. You might be surprised which working relationship ends up being the most fruitful for building connections on campus!

How did you get started in librarianship?

AD: I was a college student worker in a small academic library, and when the library assistant went on maternity leave, I began working part-time in her role. The librarian soon learned not to let me type the catalog cards (horrible typist; yes, it was a typewriter not a computer), but I really enjoyed the variety of tasks, including cataloging and reference work.  When I found, post-graduation, that being a scientist was not a good fit for me, I remembered that job, and off to library school I went!

EO: As an art student in college, I took a required art history course and realized how much I enjoyed doing research and helping my friends find research articles for their papers. This kickstarted my interest in becoming a librarian. From there, I volunteered at several different libraries and worked as a graduate assistant at the Health Sciences Library at SUNY Buffalo.

SG: It’s a very long and winding story – my third and, perhaps, final professional career.

SS: I got a job at my college’s library as an undergraduate, where I helped the systems librarian manage the library’s website and keep the public computers up to date. I enjoyed the job, but at the time, I didn’t necessarily think it was going to be where I would end up. I majored in communications and computer science as an undergraduate and identified the University of Michigan’s School of Information (UMSI) as a great next step where I could study human computer interaction, combining my two majors by going into website design. When I went to apply, I saw they had a special program for UMSI graduate students to work at the library, so I applied to that and was hired at the U-M Library as a graduate student. My experience there ended up changing my goals for my time at UMSI, and I ended up going into librarianship instead.

What’s the main thing you want participants to take away from your session?

AD: There are some research support units you may not be familiar with, but learning about what they do and sharing your expertise may lead to connections and collaborations that benefit researchers and also add to your own knowledge of the research environment.

EO: Many campus partners are very willing to work with the library to support research on campus, and librarians have professional skills that can contribute meaningfully to the research process. These partnerships provide opportunities for networking that can lead to more meaningful collaborations and offer a highly visible platform for librarians to demonstrate their impact.

SG: To have success in this work, it’s important to pay attention to the landscape (past, present, and future) and always look for opportunities where your skills and expertise (or the skills and expertise of your team) can meet a need, fill a void, or create a new relationship. You cannot sit and wait for things to happen.

SS: I would love for each person to come away having identified one very small and easily-accomplished action item to help them expand their network on campus. Like taking the time to just look up the information about a specific person who they want to try to connect with. Or subscribing to their research unit’s newsletter if they aren’t already getting it. Or reviewing the work they are already doing and identify how one of their projects could be connected to any campus-wide values or initiatives. The more easily accomplished, the better! Once that action item is done, it could help lead to more small actions that can build up over time into a successful collaboration.

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