Thursday, April 14, 2011

Interview with Stephanie Kerns

Stephanie Kerns is the Outreach/Curriculum Librarian at Galter Health Sciences Library, of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Illinois, and the subject of this week's interview! She works with her department to plan educational activities for the library, such as orientations, integrated curriculum, and information management training.

What is your educational/professional background?

I went Indiana University, where my majors were English and Women’s Studies. My MLS is also from IU. I ended up getting a job at the Georgetown University Medical Library when I graduated because at the time I wanted a job anywhere but in the Midwest! I have mainly been a medical librarian since then, though I have had two jobs where I was a science librarian. I’ve been at Northwestern University for the past 10 years, in the health sciences library, but with evolving positions.

When you graduated college/graduate school what were your career goals/have they changed since?

I had planned on becoming an academic librarian, doing research and instruction and focusing on either humanities or social sciences of some sort. The last thing I ever imagined I’d be doing was anything in the sciences. When I graduated the job market was quite bad, so I looked at any reference positions, including the one in the medical library. While I was in grad school, I had a job in the Oral History Research Center where I worked on a project transcribing interviews about the history of Indiana medicine. Because of that I learned a lot of medical terminology--that helped me get the job at Georgetown. It was the best thing that ever happened to my career. I love working in medicine.

The first job I took was the reference position, but my career has shifted more into teaching and management. That wasn’t anything that was a goal change, though—more of a natural progression.

When/how did you decide the LIS career path was for you?

I decided when I was still in college. While I was in high school I had a part time job in the public library, working in the genealogy department. I was around a lot of researchers there. This was before anything was on the Internet, so people had to come into the library to research their family history. I really enjoyed helping people find the elusive relative from way back, and I loved seeing how excited they got when they found the records for that person. In college I worked in the libraries at IU, so by the time I was getting closer to graduation and really having to decide what I wanted to do, it wasn’t a stretch for me to realize I liked working in a library. Plus the librarians with whom I worked had mentored me, so I understood what a career in librarianship was all about.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

There isn’t really a typical day. Because I work in academia, my job is in large part dependent on the academic calendar. Because the workings of the med school happen year-round, we don’t have a summer like undergraduate campuses.

As part of my liaison responsibilities, I support medical education (the MD program), orthotics and prosthetics program, the physician assistant (PA) masters program, and the MPH and MSEB programs. The first year students in the MD program start up in August. I teach medical information literacy skills in a course for them called Medical Decision Making. I also teach more clinical information management topics in a course called Introduction to Clinical Clerkships in the third year. I teach similar skills in the PA program, though in different courses. The MD curriculum is undergoing a complete renewal, and I’m on the steering committee and other task forces for that. For the past year and for the upcoming few years this will take up a significant amount of my time. I also do a lot of faculty development for information management skills in these curricula.

Things like managing my department, providing support to my clinical liaison departments, teaching library classes, writing reports, answering emails, and covering the reference desk take up the rest of my time. I also have quite a few meetings—sometimes with library-related groups, sometimes with university-related groups.

What is your favorite/least favorite thing about your job?

My favorite part of my job is working with the faculty and students in the medical school, and my colleagues at the library. I’ve built some great relationships over the years, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I also love the teaching in the curriculum. When I started this career, that wasn’t even on the radar.

My least favorite part of the job is probably all the report-writing and meetings. They are very necessary parts of the job, but sometimes the “documenting” feels like it keeps me from “doing”.

What is your salary range/What can students interested in working in your type of LIS profession look to make as far as salary (both starting out and over time)?

There is such a large range for salaries, depending on what you are going into. The advice I can give for anyone applying for a job is to always negotiate professionally when you are offered a position. Do your research so you know what a reasonable salary is for the type of position, the area of the country, and the level of experience. Also, do your research about the institution—do they have a ranking system? If so, what is it, and how does it affect salaries? When the offer is made, you can always negotiate. The institution may not have much room to move, but you can always try to get a higher salary than the one initially offered or to get something like moving expenses or other benefits.

How do you think your education prepared you/didn't prepare you for your current career?

My education gave me a good foundation for being a librarian, but what I learned then bears little resemblance to what I do now. I think a lot of this is because libraries have changed and are changing so much. Library school was a good overview, but I since didn’t really know what I was going to eventually do, so I took a variety of classes. I’m glad I did that. Much of what I use in my job I learned after school, both on the job and in classes after I started working.

What advice do you have for current/graduating library and information science students?

Know that what you are learning right now is a good foundation, but always be ready and accepting of change.

Always be ready to learn. Continuing education and professional development are important for our field.

Actively seek a mentor. In any profession, you will want to grow. In many library organizations there are official ways to link up with mentors. In the Medical Library Association, there is a mentor network link on their homepage.

Start building networks with your fellow students now. You’ll always be in touch with them throughout your career, as friends and as colleagues.

Take advantage of student memberships for professional organizations now so you can see what they can offer you and how they are different.

If you are exploring different career options, I encourage you to go on informational interviews. I never hesitate to talk to a library student who is interested in medical libraries.

What changes do you foresee for the field of Library and Information Science in the next five to ten years?

In health care, teamwork is essential. Collaboration will continue to be an important part of education in general as more disciplines do their work in teams. Providing facilities and technology to support this environment will be crucial. In academic libraries, I think our collections and presence will continue to shift to an online environment, so our efforts have to shift there as well. They have been moving there, but they will continue in that direction.

For my specific field, liaison and education, we are already shifting support to our website for users who prefer to find and learn things through video and live chat. Also, more of our students are going to be distance learners, so we have to support them remotely. But I think the personal relationship is still important, so we have to maintain that--whether it’s face-to-face or facilitated by technology. Like the rest of academia, we will continue to face budget issues, so we will have to be strategic with our spending and our allocations, aligning what we do to the institution’s goals.

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