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Q&A with Janice Masud-Paul, Librarian for Health Sciences Research

The newest librarian on the staff at Drexel, Janice Masud-Paul joined the Libraries in December 2013. Since then, she’s hit the ground running growing the Libraries collaborations and support for research in the College of Nursing and Health Professions. She’s championed the Faculty Portfolios initiative with the college and is quickly becoming known on campus for her expertise.

What is does your job at the Libraries entail?
My title is Librarian for Health Sciences Research. I share liaison responsibilities for the College of Nursing and Health Professions with my colleague Gary Childs. Officially I’m now the liaison for Nutrition, Physical Therapy, Health Sciences, Couples and Family therapy, Behavioral Therapy and Doctoral Nursing, so I provide research instruction and collection development in those areas, but all of the health sciences librarians provide reference assistance to students and faculty. My position was created to offer more support for the growing research emphasis in the College of Nursing and Health Professions so I expect to offer more support in managing and organizing research data in the future.

How did you come to be a Librarian?
Circuitously. When I graduated from college I was slated for a fifteen-month corporate system’s analyst training program- but then the economy hit a minor recession and I was waitlisted. I took a class in systems analysis at the I-school while I waited for my corporate classes to start. When Drexel offered me a scholarship I decided to delay working fulltime and continue with graduate school. I interned with the economics department to help with Business research and found that I really liked being a librarian. When I graduated from the I-school, my first job was working as a corporate librarian for the marketing department of a software startup. I did research on their competition and to find new clients. I also participated in product testing. After a few years I began working as an academic librarian for the business college at Old Dominion University. But I’ve spent most of my career as a system’s librarian- managing the technology and technical staff that are needed to run today’s libraries.

What motivated your decision to join Drexel’s Libraries?
There were several reasons. At the time I had just completed my exams to become a registered dietitian and I thought this position description included an intriguing mix of my education and job skills. But I was excited about working for Drexel because I attended Drexel for both my undergraduate and graduate education and I always respected their cooperative education mission. I think that the students here are focused and take education seriously. Since I attended Drexel the college has gone through a rapid expansion and I was really impressed with their strategic plan and how they want to contribute to Philadelphia as a city. I’m a Philly native so that’s very important to me. Ironically, I think the thing that put Drexel back on my radar was their Witnesses to Hunger initiative. I was listening to NPR one day and heard about a program involving women taking pictures of their environment and daily lives to let the public know what it was like to be food insecure. I felt very proud that the program was connected with my alma mater because food insecurity and healthcare disparities are issues of concern for me and where I’ve chosen to invest free time. I was very impressed with the library staff during my interview and the way they approach librarianship. When the librarians spoke about their relationship with Drexel it was clear they were passionate about collaborating with faculty and students. New ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit seemed to be encouraged.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy librarianship in general because I have an insatiable curiosity and this profession enables you to investigate and learn about many different things --it keeps you on your toes and you never get bored. It can be like doing detective work. I enjoy learning about the many areas of research that our Drexel faculty pursue and appreciate the opportunity to work with our faculty and students. I love watching students when they comprehend a research concept and are actually able to find the information they’re seeking.

You have a strong background in nutrition, what motivated you to pursue nutrition?
It was the first career I considered out of high school but I didn’t pursue it because I was afraid of taking organic chemistry. As I watched folks in my community suffer from chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and other issues that are exacerbated by poor diets and I knew I wanted to do something to be part of the solution and possibly work in nutrition counseling. So after 25 years of working with libraries and technology I thought if I was going to change careers it was now or never. But when I did my dietetic rotations I found myself fascinated with intersection of technology, nutrition, data management and research. So rather than move away from my previous profession, I found myself looking for positions that combined my experience with my new profession. As a health sciences research librarian I work with faculty, staff and students to help them at all levels of research- from data collection, (finding information on their topic), helping them organize and cite data once it has been identified and hopefully allow others to reuse this data. My future will probably involve taking some additional courses in statistics but I’ve only been here for 8 months so I’m putting that idea on hold for a term or two.

What advice do you have for those of us who are always looking to eat a little healthier?
Well, I think everyone should learn to cook at least a little bit because it gives you more control over your choices. Recently, my mantra has been from Michaels Pollan’s book Food Rules: an eater’s manual. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” That advice helps to keep us away from processed foods, and reminds us not to eat when we’re not hungry (as a nervous eater that is particularly hard for me). Although I’m not a vegetarian, I try to eat vegan at least twice a week and eat fish a few times a week because those choices help to balance my diet. I’m physically active every day because it gives me energy and it’s more fun than dieting. I know that’s not rocket science but it’s easy to remember and focuses more on all the fabulous foods that are available to you rather than what you shouldn’t eat.

What are some of your favorite resources to recommend to those doing research in nursing or health fields?
As a dietitian I really like the Evidence Analysis Llibrary (EAL) by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The EAL literature reviews are written by dietitians for dietitians or other researchers interested in nutrition. Subject experts review the methodology used in nutrition studies and grade the study conclusions based on the strength of their evidence. Nutrition science has developed an undeserved reputation of changing its recommendations every five minutes, but part of the problem is that the media dumbs down study results or don’t put the conclusions of one trial in context with other studies. I also really like DYNAMED as a point of care tool. This is a new database for me; I didn’t use it as a nutritionist or in my previous life as a reference librarian. The studies included are filtered for specific clinical applications and since it’s designed to be used at the point of care you keep your searches simple and drill down to your topic. It offers thorough summaries on conditions, multiple evidence quality rankings for studies, and provides clear criteria for measuring evidence strength.

What changes have you noticed in the field of librarianship and where do you see it headed? How has it already changed what you do?
When I graduated from library school (now the College of Computing and Informatics) the emphasis was just beginning to shift from print to electronic resources, but the systems side of librarianship was always where I was most comfortable. Now most of our journals and the tools we use are in an electronic format. Many are more designed for the end-user rather than using the information professional as an intermediary. In addition, in the past 25 years, the volume and type of data available to the general public has exploded. So I think our role is gradually shifting from teaching end- users the mechanics of using certain resources for finding information to helping them make decisions on what data is relevant, and valid especially on the Internet. They need to know how to discern possible conflicts of interest in the authors of studies and websites. Librarians are collaborating directly with faculty to design series of courses that build this knowledge into the curriculum. The growing number of hybrid and online courses also nudges librarians to package more instruction and tutorials in video and other formats that can be used remotely and accessed when and where the students/faculty need it. As a research librarian I personally see my role growing in areas of data organization and helping researchers store raw data in ways that make it easier to re-purpose. 

Photo by Jaci Downs Photography

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