Stella Seal, Associate Director of the Welch Services Center, sat down with me for an interview a little while back. Stella has been at Welch Library for 24 years, and has seen many a change come and go. Stella has seen her children (daughter and son) grow up and finish college since she’s been at Welch. And, while I’m sure the “adventure” of raising a family has produced it’s share of roller coaster rides, Stella has also witnessed some Welch peaks and valleys as the nature of libraries and librarianship has evolved right before her eyes.


Q)       What the biggest change you’ve seen in your daily responsibilities since the library committed to become a more virtual experience?

A)        I think I’m spending more time with the mechanics of searching. There’s so much out there, and there’s often an assumption that by the time people get to graduate school they know how to search databases. And to the extent that these are digital natives----of course they know how to search using Google tools and things of that nature, yes. But not everything they need is in Google and sometimes they need to be reminded of that. I spend a lot of time showing people what’s out there, and showing them how to think about finding it.

Google doesn’t really do critical thinking justice. And you need a measure of critical thinking when you’re searching. You need to ask yourself “what is it I really need, and what’s the best way to try and find it”. Also, as a Supervisor I spend a lot of time thinking about the roles of my staff who are largely public service-book-oriented folks, and what their place is in a more digital environment, and how I can help them expand their skills so they can transition over to that environment. I’ve been making strides with that, and for most of staff they spend about half their time doing tasks that require other skills, in addition to being at the desk.

The goal is to find other things that support the library’s mission, tasks that don’t require them to sit behind a desk. Our circulation numbers suggest that, for the foreseeable future, we’ll still need to have people involved with the physical act of checking books in and out, and helping patrons find the physical copies of our books. There was an article several years ago that asked, “is Google making us stupid?” And to an extent I agree with that. However, for everyday information needs there’s nothing wrong with going  right to Google----I do it myselfQ) How did you start out at Welch, and what were your initial impressions of working in a medical environment?


A)        I’ve always loved working in a library. I’m a library geek. When I was in parochial elementary school, I volunteered to work in the library. I volunteered to work in the library throughout high school. I went to Patterson High, I earned my high school “letter” for my service to the school by working in the library. I would come in over the summer and get double hours. I’ve always been interested in books. Connecting people to books.

My first job after college was working in a bookstore. Not a library, but pretty darn close. I went from the bookstore to department stores and ultimately found myself at the Hecht Company. Periodically, I tried getting to the Welch Library. A friend of mine, Melissa Horn was working at Welch as a document delivery clerk. She was photocopying and delivering items by hand. At the time, that’s what we did. As positions would open, she’d tell me about them----I applied----didn’t get a job right away, but I kept at it. Finally I was accepted as a circulation clerk. We had very distinct staff----daytime staff, along with evening and weekend staff.  Valerie Florence was an Associate Director. There’s an article by Florance and Davidoff that started the concept and the need for “Informationists”

(In their 2000 Annals of Internal Medicine editorial, Davidoff and Florance called for a new role on the clinical care team: the informationist [1]. This role was needed, they believed, to bring evidence to clinical practices facing continued growth of published literature, patient safety concerns, and general lack of time available to health care professionals. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) also noted that training and encouraging clinicians to identify and apply evidence was not the complete solution to improving practice [2]. They too suggested that an informationist be part of the clinical team. Davidoff and Florance and the IOM thought clinical knowledge and experience, as well as strong information science and related technology skills, were required to perform this function)

The Welch Library has had a number of people who’ve had an effect on the library world. Nancy Roderer’s vision of the Welch Library is actually a logical extension of Nina’s Matheson’s “Matheson-Cooper Report”.

(October 2007 marked the 25th anniversary of a special report published as a supplement of the Journal of Medical Education with the formal title Academic Information in the Academic Health Sciences Center: Roles for the Library in Information Management [1]. The report has become known as the Matheson-Cooper Report or the Matheson Report after its authors, Nina W. Matheson and John A.D. Cooper. The report defined a future role and changed paradigm for the academic library operating within the complex information environment of the academic health center (AHC).


The “Matheson-Cooper Report” had a profound effect on how librarians approach their profession. Nina describes this change as “the dimension of librarianship up to now has been basically service...[but] in the service dimension there is no real future...what's needed is not facilitators...[but] tool builders and...system developers...and solving information problems...[to] go beyond presentation and get involved in the application of that information that we're trying to say we manage.” She adds that this “isn't anything...we learn in library school.”



The work was immediately applauded in the health sciences library community and described as "The appearance of a truly seminal work in the literature of librarianship…" and brilliant in forcefully stating the challenges of information technology to libraries [2]. The report's lasting significance and timeless value for libraries and other information stakeholders in the academic health center is not based solely on a description of a future library role or library changed paradigm, but on the challenges of thinking strategically and holistically about the critical importance of effective information management and the seamless integration of information resources across the AHC continuum in support of the various missions of the AHC.)



Q)        What do you see as the greatest transition students will face in terms of using the library?


A)        That’s a little hard because they’re already using so many materials electronically. Actually, they don’t even realize they’re using the library. I talk to students and they say, “well I never use the library,” and you say “but did you download an article from the American Journal of Nursing? (if I’m talking to a nursing student). I tell people that the library spends over 3 million dollars a year providing resources. Last year we spent more on resources than we did on salaries. Actually, I was helping a nursing student who went through the trouble to PAY FOR AN ARTICLE. She didn’t need to pay for it, we owned it. She didn’t see that we had it. There’s constant turn-around of the student population, they have access to these resources and they don’t know about it.



Part of the problem may be our website, it’s not intuitive to some people, and the Internet Service Committee is working hard on this----to make----to allow them to be pointed in the direction they need to go. The hardest part of any information professional is getting to the students at the point when they know they have this information need. If you try too early, their response could be “I don’t need that, or I already know that”. It’s really hard to get them. You can’t do that during orientation, we have them for such a short-short time with them. It’s an ongoing problem. The question is really this: “when can we get them when we’ll have the greatest impact”. And then, finding a way to measure what impact we’ve had. This is truly difficult. What we don’t know is how much of what we’re teaching has made a change.


Q) What is the element that you most look forward to in your daily routine?


A)  Dealing with people. Any kind of people. I don’t have a routine, actually. I don’t have a “typical” day, I may have a day filled with meetings, or I could have a day dealing with patrons, or I have appointments, maybe something last minute.  I still get a charge sitting down with somebody and helping them find what they need. And I get an even greater charge when someone goes “oh my God, I didn’t realize that this was there!” Those “ah-ha!” moments. You open a new window, you say “well have you tried it this way”. I’m not a big puzzle person, but it’s like figuring out a puzzle, it’s detective work. Coming to work and seeing the staff who----well they realize what we provide and they’re committed to doing the best they can, and giving the best that they can----ultimately, it’s about providing our users with the very best effort we can give.



Alonzo LaMont

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