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Reflections from an NLM Fellow

August 1, 2019

In September 2018, the Drexel University Libraries welcomed Shannon Sheridan, a second-year National Library of Medicine (NLM) Associate Fellow, to the staff for a one-year appointment. Shannon wrapped up her fellowship in the Libraries this month, and we sat down to talk about her experience at Drexel, what she learned from her time here, and where she’s going next.

Tell me about some of the insights you’ve gained into working for an academic health science library. Was it challenging to manage providing library support for healthcare, academics, teaching and clinical training? How did you juggle all the different needs and expectations of the Drexel community during your time here?

The biggest insight I’ve gained from my year at Drexel was learning more about the function of an academic library on campus and how library staff work together to support the whole university community. You see, most of my work before this year has been fairly project-specific.

My time at Drexel gave me a great appreciation for the fact that no librarian works in isolation. Projects I worked on this year could—and did—impact other librarians’ work, administrative decisions, and students’ learning in a variety of ways. Being able to draw comparisons across disciplines or areas of work, like teaching and clinical training, made the work more applicable to a larger audience. It also helped me manage the different support roles of a health sciences librarian.

Seeing how so many factors can influence a project or decision was also eye-opening. I really couldn’t have done nearly as much as I did without the help of my fellow librarians. In fact, I collaborated on quite a few projects with Drexel’s health science librarians and those from other disciplines as well. That was a wonderful experience—understanding different communities and managing ways of supporting them.

Asking questions and then listening was one of the best ways I found to juggle those needs and expectations. The more I could learn about the intended audience, the better, as it helped me frame my work. I could put the maximum effort into a product that would be useful to a patron, whether it was a class or tutorial series. That, and good time management!

What was your favorite project you worked on during your fellowship at Drexel?

I really enjoyed the collection weeding project at Queen Lane Library. In fact, I even presented on it for my final fellowship colloquium! Collection development is an integral part of librarianship that I didn’t have a lot of experience with, so working with Abby Adamczyk and taking advantage of her experience with the medical literature was really valuable.

The work also involved a side project of creating a “must-have” list for Drexel medical specialties, and that taught me even more about current medical literature and the kinds of books that are considered important in health science libraries. It also gave me the chance to play around with circulation data, so that was a great chance to sharpen some practical data analytic skills. The fact that the project made space for a refurbishing of the Queen Library is really exciting, and I can’t wait to see what the finished space looks like!

Did you face any unexpected challenges during your time at Drexel? Or maybe – what surprised you the most about this opportunity?

I think the most surprising thing—and in a good way—was the variety of projects I was able to work on this year. I’ve worked on everything from migrating a course to an online format to working on data guidelines and resources. Being at a smaller library like Drexel really afforded me the opportunity to put my finger in lots of pies, and Libraries staff were incredibly open to my working on projects that were not specific to data or health sciences.

Do you have any words of advice for LIS professionals interested in data and/or applying for an NLM fellowship?

If you think you’re at all interested in data or health sciences, then apply to something like the National Library of Medicine Associate Fellowship Program! It is much more satisfying to be able to say “Well, I tried that, but it’s not for me” than to look back and wonder what might have been. It’s all about saying yes, being willing to learn new things, and taking the time to develop the skills. Finally, don’t worry too much about getting locked into one track. In the past three years, I’ve gone from humanities to health science to data. A lot of the skills in librarianship are transferrable, if you keep an open mind.

What’s next for you?  

I’m heading west! I’ve accepted a position as the Data Management Librarian at the University of Wyoming. It’s a new position, which I find really exciting, and there are many opportunities that come with that. I’m excited to start tackling them and see what sort of program I can create. My time at Drexel has really helped round me out as an academic librarian, and a lot of the lessons I’ve learned this year will influence my career moving forward.