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Q&A with Shannon Sheridan, NLM Associate Fellow

February 1, 2019

Last fall, the Drexel University Libraries welcomed Shannon Sheridan, a second-year National Library of Medicine (NLM) Associate Fellow to the staff. During her year-long appointment at the Libraries, Ms. Sheridan will work as a liaison and data librarian with a focus on research data management for health sciences researchers and clinical and research information literacy for 3rd- and 4th-year medical students.

This month, we sat down with Shannon to learn more about her work as an NLM Fellow and the work she’s been doing at Drexel.

Tell me about the first year of your NLM Associate Fellowship compared to what you’re doing at the Drexel Libraries. What were you doing in year one and what are you doing here? It sounds like you weren’t in a library at first.

The first year of the Fellowship is always done down at the National Library of Medicine (NLM), on the NIH campus is Bethesda, MD. Year one is split in two major parts: fall curriculum and spring projects. For the first few months, we met with staff from every division of the Library and learned about the work their divisions do, the resources they offer the public and how those services work (and how we as future librarians can use them). headshot of a woman, Shannon Sheridan

During the second half of the year, each Fellow selects two projects to work on that have been proposed by NLM staff members. Fellows are expected to take the lead on these projects, and they can be as diverse as the library is. Plus, there are also a lot of other opportunities sprinkled throughout the year, like visiting other libraries, giving tours of the library, and different workshops on the softer skills of librarianship, like negotiating or leadership.

While I was there, I was doing all those things! The work I was doing at NLM isn’t what you would think of when you think of traditional library work. They have an incredibly robust collection of materials, but in addition to that collection, the NLM staff are more the librarians behind the curtain—they create the resources and products that researchers and other librarians use all around the world, which is incredibly cool!

My two big projects looked at MeSH trends (a controlled vocabulary) for medical procedures and comparing that to data from Medicaid. It was a proof of concept to see if it could be done, and what it might look like. I also had the opportunity to work on legislative tracking, closely following and researching bills and policies that could affect NLM and medical libraries around the country.

Now that I’m at Drexel, I’m getting more experience serving the patrons of an academic health science library. I do this through teaching classes, working reference, and creating or promoting resources for our users. I am still working on projects too, so it’s the best of both worlds!

What led you to pursue the NLM Fellowship opportunity at the Drexel Libraries?

The second (and optional) year of the NLM Associate Fellowship Program takes place at a host institution. Going to graduate school, I knew I wanted to be an academic librarian. I had taken a year off after undergrad to teach, and I had taught a few library classes while I was in school, so I knew how much I enjoyed that. And the librarians at my undergrad really inspired me to first consider a career in librarianship, so academic librarianship has always been in the back of my mind.

My interest in health sciences really didn’t solidify until graduate school (thanks to an internship at a hospital library), which led me to apply to the NLM Fellows program. By the time I completed the first year of the program at NLM, I had experience in a health science library and experience in academic libraries, but no experience in an academic health science library. The second year seemed like a great opportunity to do just that, and Drexel seemed like a perfect fit for what I wanted to learn.

Based on what I know of your work at Drexel and what you’ve done in “past lives,” it sounds like you like data! What got you interested in this area?

I first got interested in data in graduate school, thanks to one professor. I couldn’t quite remember why I signed up for that particular elective when classes rolled around, but I found the problem of data and its management incredibly interesting. I even enrolled in the follow-up to the course.

One of the biggest eye-openers for me was a visit to a renal lab to conduct data interviews. The graduate student I was interviewing was taking hundreds of images a day and examining test results. When I asked her where she backed up her data, she patted her laptop and said, “Here.” Assuming I hadn’t been clear enough, I asked where she kept her back-up copy. She replied, “Well, nowhere.” This was just her personal laptop, and I suddenly had visions of it being dropped, left behind on a bus, crashing, and this student losing all her hard-earned data. It was the first moment I realized, “Geez, this is actually a real problem.”

I finally got my first real taste of working with data during my spring project at NLM while working with the MeSH data. I learned R, and really got to practice research data management for myself. It certainly makes me feel more comfortable talking about the process now. Really though, it’s amazing how broad the term “data” can be. Anything from your articles in Endnote, to photos of letters from an archive, to spreadsheets, can all be considered data. It’s everywhere, and the need to manage it won’t go away any time soon.

What projects are you most looking forward to working on during your time at Drexel? What have you worked on so far?

So far, I’ve converted an in-person, evidence-based medicine class to online modules, performed a statistical evaluation of the print collection at Queen Lane, and helped restructure and add more content to the Research Data Management Library Guide. That, with teaching some classes and doing reference, has led to a really interesting and well-rounded year so far.

The next big project I’m hoping to work on is a survey of the data landscape here at Drexel. The scope and details haven’t been all hammered out yet, but I’m already doing the background research and am rather excited for it.

What’s next after you finish up your Fellowship at Drexel?

Hopefully a permanent-full time job somewhere! I’d really like to stay in an academic health sciences library, and work with data services. But I think staying flexible is a great skill for any librarian, so we’ll just have to see what next fall brings!