CommComm posted on May 26, 2010 20:42

I sat down with Blair Anton, Associate Director for Clinical Informationist Services here at Welch, and she addressed several questions regarding the role of the Informationist.  Blair managed to reveal not only a very comprehensive list of duties, but she also opened a window into how Informationists develop, in many cases, highly intersecting relationships with a variety of medical personnel.

Q:  The perception of library “Informationists” is that this is just another name for a librarian who goes out to teach some classes. From your perspective, what is a more authentic definition?

A:  “An Informationist is someone who specializes in information, which includes searching, access, retrieval and storage as well as its organization, management and maintenance.   All this is done within the contexts of Nursing, Biomedical and Public Health Research, Education and Clinical Care.  Our practice is to reach our users in their environments---whether it’s a lab, an office or a care unit.  We try to work parallel to our patron’s work flow. In doing so, we get an idea of how they use information, how they access and retrieve it. The early stages are really an investigation into seeing how we can best appropriate information services to their needs. ”

Blair mentioned that Informationists are matched with departments.  They investigate and make contacts with key members, and attend and participate in activities within them.  They conduct information needs assessments (“tell us about yourself and your work”) with departments in the initial stage.  And essentially, rapport and relationships are built into the full equation of Informationist services.   Ultimately, informationists participate in what are often large-scale project and research collaborations.  “We are working with more faculty, post-docs and fellows who are involved in research.  We find that patrons want to know how to search thoroughly and competently, how to effectively store and manage information, and incorporate ways to stay current with the literature in their fields.”  While Blair stressed that Informationists do all the traditional librarian tasks, including teaching classes and lectures on library services, “we’re often working on a grant, a research project, a study---and frequently we’re working on complex, multiple database searches that can often take hours over several months.”


Q:  Given their scope of duties, what are the challenges most Informationists are faced with, particularly from the speed-of-light-pace that is the medical community?” 


A:  (Blair smiled at this one) “We need more people to do what we do. There are lots of project meetings to attend, and we’re not sitting in as an outside observer, but as a team member.  Informationists have to manage time well, prioritize and multi-task. Working with multi-disciplinary teams and collaborators can be time-consuming because you’re not there just to do a search. We’re there to find and facilitate the flow of information, to assist in organizing and managing it.  As public service providers, we’re on our patron’s time, and are incorporated into their schedules.”

 ---Alonzo LaMont


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