Author: Kellie Laguerre

Working toward More Diversity among Medical Librarians

In 2022, Shannon Jones will become president of the Medical Library Association, the second African American to head up the organization in 123 years. Jones is director of libraries at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. The school is a standalone academic medical center that confers degrees in medicine, pharmacy, nursing, dentistry, public health, and an array of other health professions such as physical therapy and health administration. The Medical University of South Carolina Libraries serves all six colleges. Jones also serves as director of the Regional Medical Library for Region 2 of the Network of the National Library of Medicine serving members in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The majority of librarians, including health sciences librarians, are white women. Jones has made it a priority to hire and retain employees who are diverse across many dimensions and to mentor librarians of color across the country.

Q: How successful have the efforts been to increase diversity in the profession?

 A: In recent years, there has been significant investment in this. All of our professional associations have had diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as goals for a very long time. I think the reasons you don’t see more diversity are complex. My understanding of the reasons is largely based on anecdote — specifically my conversations with African American librarians. I think people go to library school, but then they have difficulty getting hired. And if they get hired, it becomes a retention issue. If they’re not treated well or the library was not prepared for a diverse voice or to include someone who is different from the majority, then they end up leaving the profession. It’s troubling that we haven’t moved the needle much on this.

Q: How are you trying to address DEI at your library?

 A: We try to take a whole-systems approach to diversity — not just when it comes to race and ethnicity, but also skillset and background. I have a librarian who used to be a basic science researcher and two who have master’s degrees in public health. We also employ other professionals with advanced degrees in areas such as social work and IT. I didn’t realize how many Muslim students were on our campus until we hired a librarian who is Muslim and our Muslim students gravitate towards her. You don’t know some of the skills that people bring to the table until you allow that diversity to flourish.

Q: Can you talk about your recruitment approach?

A: First, we make sure that the search committee is trained in issues of diversity. For example, they receive training on implicit bias because all of us have biases that impact our decisions. I also make sure the committee has demographic data on our current staff as well as an awareness of the racial and ethnic demographic. I look at where we have gaps. For instance, in 2017, all of our male librarians retired or left, so that was an opportunity to try to recruit a male librarian. For an IT position, I’m conscious about finding good female candidates. But the bottom line is that we are going to hire the best of the best. I also like to cast a wide net for candidates.

Q: How do you do that?

A: I post the openings in all the usual places — ALA, MLA, SLA. But I also contact people I have met at conferences who are doing exciting work. I search LinkedIn profiles and then reach out to people — cold calling, so to speak. And I’ll look through papers or posters from conferences I’ve attended. I keep a running list of people doing interesting work with the idea that if someday I have [an open] position, I can connect with them.

Q: What’s your approach to retaining people?

 A: Retention starts the moment that we offer somebody a job. It could be something as simple as paying their relocation expenses. We also need to offer them a fair and competitive salary. I don’t ever want to be in the situation where an employee realizes that the person sitting next to them doing the same job is making $20,000 more than they are.

And then we invest in them. I encourage my librarians to do career development plans so that they are thinking about where they want to see their career going and then I try to help get them there. We invest financially in making sure that their skillset and knowledge are always top-notch and that they’re able to present at conferences and to publish. I want them to feel like they’re getting value out of their career and adding value to the campus.

I try to be flexible with people in terms of letting them set the tone for their work and how they accomplish it. I ask them what they need to be successful. We haven’t had a whole lot of turnover in our librarian ranks.

Q: Have you been successful in recruiting and retaining a diverse staff?

A: Yes. We’re diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, gender, discipline, and [the] type of work our employees do. Take a look at our staff profiles.

Q: What work do you do outside your library to support health sciences librarians of color?

A: I do a lot of mentoring work. One example is a Chat and Chew weekly meeting, which I started early in the pandemic. A group of us — usually about 20 people — meet virtually every Friday just to check-in, decompress, and support each other. Some of my Black counterparts are working in environments where they’re the only one and it can be hard. So sometimes you need to be among people who share that experience. In our group, there’s a lot of emphasis on wellness. For example, several of our members introduced a few of us to plant therapy.

I’m also proud of the virtual book club [MLA Reads], open to anyone across the country, that I created in 2018 and co-lead. Since 2018, 33 discussion group leaders have facilitated nearly 350 participants in discussing three books. We meet in groups of between nine and 11 people, and we all read the same book — once a year. The group evolved out of an implicit bias training that we held at the 2018 Medical Library Association meeting. After the training, people wanted to process the implications of biases on their work, in their libraries, and in their personal lives.

The first book we discussed was Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald. We also read The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias by Dolly Chugh. We just read Damon Tweedy’s Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine and in the fall we’re reading Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson.

We discuss each book over four sessions, including some supplemental programming. For example, we had a supplemental session on how to engage in critical conversations and one on implicit bias, microaggressions, and stereotypes. And it’s not just about race. Regardless of whether you are red, black, blue, or green, you’ve probably had an instance where you felt like you were not supposed to be at the table or in a certain space. Maybe you are a female in a male-dominated profession. The books I mentioned earlier have pushed people to really think about what privilege means to them. What does oppression mean to them and what does it look like every day in the workplace?

The book groups have also been a good networking opportunity for people because members are not just health sciences librarians. We have community college librarians, academic librarians, and public librarians, for example. Participants get MLA continuing education credits. Some of our members have been inspired by our group and started similar book groups in their own institutions.

Q: Tell us about your work with the African American Medical Librarians Alliance (AAMLA), which I understand is a caucus within the MLA.

A: There was a period when African Americans did not have seats at the MLA’s decision-making tables and weren’t serving on committees nor receiving the highest awards. AAMLA began as a social group in the 1980s, when members gathered for dinner at MLA’s annual meeting. In 2000, it became an official special interest group of MLA to strategically address this. Things have changed a lot thanks to the AAMLA. In 2016, we had our first black president. The librarian who is delivering the prestigious annual Janet Doe Lecture this year is African American. And we have the first African American woman getting the association’s highest honor, the Marcia C. Noyes award. One of my colleagues at Morehouse School of Medicine was elected to the board and we had three African Americans elected to our nominating committee.

The AAMLA is also working on documenting the history of African Americans within the MLA. Additionally, we try to connect with new African American members early so that they know that the AAMLA exists to support them in becoming the best librarians possible.

Q: Do you have any other advice for other librarians who would like to increase diversity at their libraries?

A: One piece of advice is from one of my mentors who told me that you should always be lifting as you climb. The other is that we need to normalize self-care. I’m trying to get better at this myself.  Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is tiring because you’re constantly getting pushed back, you’re constantly hitting walls. You might have some successes but you’re going to have some challenges and so you have to take care of yourself.


If you’d like to learn more about Chat and Chew or the MLA virtual book group, contact Shannon Jones at





New Journal Coming Soon from NEJM Group

NEJM Group, the publisher of the New England Journal of Medicine, is excited to introduce a new monthly digital journal, NEJM Evidence. Led by former NEJM Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey M. Drazen, MD, this new peer-reviewed journal challenges physicians to engage in a more meaningful way with clinical evidence, clinical trial design, and clinical decision-making.
With NEJM Evidence, your patrons will learn how to evaluate evidence more effectively — and to transform the best new research ideas into sound clinical practice.
NEJM Evidence will launch in early 2022. Please visit this page to learn more.

VisualDx’s Project IMPACT Addresses Racism and Implicit Bias in Medicine

Project IMPACT (IMPACT stands for Improving Medicine’s Power to Address Care and Treatment) is a global effort to reduce disparities in medicine and highlight ways to bridge gaps of knowledge and improve healthcare outcomes for patients of color. NEJM Group is collaborating with the Skin of Color Society (SOCS) and VisualDx to highlight information gaps and knowledge resource solutions designed to improve diagnosis and care for patients of color.

Dark skin is significantly underrepresented in medical literature and curricula, comprising an average of just 4.5% of images in medical textbooks. Consequently, clinicians of all licensures and specialties are often insufficiently trained to recognize disease patterns in patients of color.

“Lack of sufficient medical education on darker skin has had direct implications on health disparities in patients of color,” said Nada Elbuluk, MD, MSc, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and Director of Clinical Impact at VisualDx. “Project IMPACT was created with the understanding that a far-reaching, collaborative effort is needed to eliminate systemic racism in healthcare. I’m honored to lead this charge and help build a global community dedicated to transforming medicine for the good of all patients.”


Recognizing how diseases present on all skin types is key in reducing diagnostic error and improving patient care. For more than 20 years VisualDx ( has worked with board-certified physicians across the globe to collect hundreds of thousands of professional medical images displaying the full spectrum of disease presentations across skin types. Project IMPACT includes a gallery of images comparing disease presentation in different skin colors.

Lyme disease depicted in dark skin and light skin. Images provided by VisualDx.

To further honor its commitment to reducing healthcare bias in the skin of color through education, information, and shared resources, Project IMPACT has created a free, comprehensive resource library comprised of articles and books on healthcare disparities, dermatological conditions in people of color, as well as resources for professionals and consumers.

Take the Pledge and Join the #ProjectIMPACT Community

Improving health equity is a goal that will take a collaborative and dedicated effort. There are many ways to be part of #ProjectIMPACT and help make a difference. Students, educators, clinicians, librarians, and patients working toward greater health equity are encouraged to take the pledge to make an impact and to share their stories on social media using the hashtag #ProjectIMPACT.

To learn more and join Project IMPACT, visit


NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery Doubles Publication Frequency

The mission of NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery is to accelerate the transformation of how health care is delivered. In its first year of publication, the peer-reviewed publication has become a must-read for many.

Starting with the January 2021 issue, the online journal has doubled its publication frequency. “We’re doing this in response to audience interest and to accommodate the large volume of high-quality manuscripts we’ve been receiving,” says Editorial Director Edward Prewitt.

NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery spotlights the most promising ideas for transforming health care delivery from experts around the world. Its audience includes clinicians, clinical leaders, health care executives, and researchers. From the start, the NEJM Catalyst journal has attracted many renowned authors. “We’re the second journal launched by NEJM Group in more than 200 years,” explains Prewitt. “But that halo effect lasts for only so long. Our emphasis on practical innovations resonates with readers and authors.”

Much of the focus during the last year has been on Covid-19, Prewitt says. “The pandemic has been like an earthquake for care delivery, so it’s been the backdrop of a lot of our articles, even if an article is not directly about Covid-19,” he says. Topics have ranged from the economic and clinical devastation suffered by provider organizations to lessons learned from the transition to telemedicine to best practices for getting patients with chronic illnesses back on track. A sampling of popular Covid-19–related NEJM Catalyst content includes;

NEJM Catalyst has maintained its focus on non-pandemic topics as well. Some of the most-read articles include:

“This assortment of articles shows the breadth of Catalyst content — everything from leadership to payment models to health care technology. They are emblematic of our focus on practical, how-to content,” says Prewitt.

The NEJM Catalyst Insights Council, a group of executives, clinical leaders, and clinicians who monitor the pulse of health care delivery by participating in monthly surveys, has increased from 12,000 to over 16,000 members, with growing international participation from members in over 69 countries. “We have a large international readership because so many of our topics are global, such as patient engagement, improved outcomes, health care technology, and value-based care,” says Prewitt. Recent Insights Council reports have revealed that the majority of Council members do not believe the pandemic will be a tipping point for value-based care and that Covid-19 has exacerbated the longstanding problem of burnout among physicians and nurses.

NEJM Catalyst events will relaunch in 2021, after a hiatus due to the pandemic. Through keynote talks and moderated panels, the quarterly virtual events will address a common theme: Health Care in 2030. “We’ll be exploring which changes brought on by the pandemic and other disruptors will last, which won’t, and what health care delivery will look like in the coming years,” says Prewitt.

Thomas H. Lee, MD, MSc, editor-in-chief of NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery, says that the past year has been a very mixed one for the health care industry. “The good news is that health care workers have really risen to the occasion and done an amazing job meeting the needs of patients and dealing with threats that were not completely understood. And they’ve done it with compassion — not worrying about the immediate financial consequences,” he says. “The bad news is that this has been financially catastrophic for virtually every health care organization, with the exception of the insurers, and the pandemic has revealed the weaknesses in the fee-for-service funding mechanism.”

Whatever the future holds, NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery will continue to present the very best ideas to improve care delivery around the world. Many institutions are already benefiting from full access to this new journal. If you haven’t spoken to us about purchasing a site license, we hope that you will consider doing so here. To find out how to gain access for your patrons, please contact us at





NEWS: NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery Is Now Monthly

The current pandemic has initiated permanent changes to health care delivery, and new challenges require the most innovative ideas from around the world.

The quality and volume of our submissions have never been higher, and in response, NEJM Catalyst Innovations in Care Delivery will be transitioning from 6 to 12 issues per year beginning with the January 2021 issue. You’ll receive even more of the following:

• Expert articles
• Case studies
• Podcast interviews
• Insights reports

Encourage your patrons to follow NEJM Catalyst on social media and create a free user account to sign up for content alerts including two e-newsletters:

Catalyst Connect, which includes the table of contents for each new issue, plus a weekly review of the most current actionable ideas and innovations from NEJM Catalyst
Editors’ Picks, which showcases content selected by our editorial team

Looking for ideas to promote NEJM Catalyst to your community? Go to the librarian resources section on NEJM LibraryHub to download marketing tools.

Running a Library during a Pandemic

Lieuwe Kool, director of the medical library at Amsterdam UMC, and Keir Reavie, director of library services at the Lee Graff Medical and Scientific Library, City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center, recently spoke to NEJM LibraryHub from their homes in Amsterdam and Southern California, respectively, where they’ve been working since March. They talked about the new normal for their libraries and some of the challenges they’ve faced.

Q: Are both of your libraries’ physical plants closed, and are you operating completely remotely?

LK: Our library is still open on a very limited basis. Normally, we have space for about 300 people, and now we’ve reduced that to 30 workspaces to accommodate social distancing. We have three members of our administrative staff working on-site, but all of the information specialists are working from home. I’m working from home as well. I go in about once a week to check on things.

Since 2006, we have focused on digital resources only. In normal times, our statistics show that our usage is the highest on Sundays when the actual library is closed. Doctors have dinner with their families, and then they start accessing our resources in the evening, getting ready to see their patients the following week.

KR: We’ve been completely closed since March, and the entire staff is working from home. Our patients have cancer, and they may have other immune-deficiency conditions as well. Our services have always been mostly online, except for a small print collection, which is not accessible right now. But that hasn’t been a major issue.


Q: Have users’ informational needs changed? Are you getting a lot of coronavirus-related requests?

 KR: Our users’ needs haven’t changed a lot because we’re not treating COVID patients, although we have had questions about how to keep updated on the latest COVID-19 information. We encourage people to go to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which has all kinds of great information. Our cancer center is developing a vaccine, so we have had some requests for information on vaccine development.

LK: We’ve had a lot of queries from users about where they can find COVID-related datasets from around the world, related to questions like what treatments work best for which patients. Users also ask how they can share their own data. People want to contribute to the knowledge base. It has made us realize how scattered the landscape is in terms of COVID-19 information. There are websites that are beginning to collect patient data. The next step for us is for our research and IT departments to create the infrastructure to help with this information need. One of the good things that have come out of the pandemic is that the usual competition among hospitals is gone, and there’s a lot more collaboration.


What have been your biggest challenges as directors since staff began working from home?

LK: One of the challenges for us has been getting the word out about our services without being able to meet in person with doctors, which we used to do regularly. For our information specialists who have worked here for years, they have established networks. But we had a new specialist who specializes in neurology start in August, and he was not getting many requests, while his colleagues have been overloaded. Normally he would be meeting with doctors and developing relationships. It’s much harder to do this networking virtually.

Most of our information specialists have been very busy. When the lockdown began, a lot of researchers were stuck at home, and they were focusing on writing. We had a lot of library requests then. After a couple of months, laboratories opened again, so those types of requests were reduced.

KR: Access for certain users has been one of our challenges — and the problem is a mixture of technology, institutional policy, way publishers provide access to their resources. Some users who don’t have access to our network remotely will be blocked. These are people who normally would come into the library to use our computers and now they can’t. We’re looking into solutions like federated authentication.


Q: Has it been hard to manage your staff remotely — keeping people engaged and feeling like part of a team?

KR: Yes. Initially, we thought we were going to be away for only a month, maybe two, and that it would be a nice break. But as time went on, it became more challenging to keep the staff engaged and working together as a team to keep everyone moving forward. We’ve gotten a lot better at working together in this environment. But we’re living through very unsettling times, between the pandemic and global politics, so people are distracted.

LK: Keeping the team together has been a big issue for us. One of my favorite daily routines used to be going past all my employees’ desks and checking in with them, asking them how they were doing, how their kids were doing. European librarians are often loners, so the office is very important to them as a place to meet people and socialize. I think that working at home alone is not good for the mental health of any of us, and I do think it affects our productivity too.


Q: What have you done to boost morale and preserve a sense of cohesiveness?

 KR: We meet a lot on Microsoft Teams, and I check in with everyone individually on a daily basis. We’ve done some late afternoon virtual happy hours, and on Mondays, a couple of staff members create a variety of puzzles and send them out. We get together as a group later on in the week to work on the puzzles together.

LK: We have done happy hours, too, with mixed success. We had a WhatsApp group text for a while where we exchanged puzzles and pictures and things, but we stopped that because it irritated some of our staff who keep different hours and would be awakened by the texts.  I like to call my staff on the phone to check in, as opposed to a video chat. It feels more natural, and they don’t have to worry about whether they’ve shaved that day or combed their hair.

Two of my staff members have young children, so I’ve been checking in with them a lot to make sure they’re OK. They have been upfront about not being able to work as much because of their childcare responsibilities. I offered my 16-year-old daughter as a babysitter, and she did end up babysitting for one of the families.

KR: I also have staff members with kids going to school remotely. The cancer center has been very supportive of people with kids, subsidizing expenses like childcare and tutoring.


Q: Many health care organizations have had to reduce their revenue-generating activities and increase spending on personal protective equipment and other COVID-related expenses. Have tight budgets led to any library layoffs?

KR: No layoffs, but going into this fiscal year, our budget is a bit uncertain. That’s not unique: everybody’s budget is a little unsure in this environment. So adding new services is difficult. Pre-pandemic, we planned to renovate the library to create more space for people to gather for small symposiums, read, and collaborate on projects. We had developed a plan, but now that will have to be rethought, with things like social distancing and traffic flow in mind.

LK: So far, we have survived financially. But I’m concerned. Part of my concern is about coronavirus, but we’re also facing a lot of unpredictability in the world of politics. Brexit could be traumatic for our economy, and we’re also very concerned about the American presidential election.


Q: Let’s end the interview with something more personal. What sorts of activities have you been doing to keep sane during the pandemic?

LK: Playing double bass and learning French.

KR: I used to travel a lot and take photos — in the pre-digital days. I’ve been scanning and editing my large collection of slides and negatives. I’m also getting a massive amount of reading done.

Fundamentals of U.S. Health Policy — A Basic Training Perspective Series

Health policy — the choices made by those who govern, manage, deliver, and pay for health care — shapes how health care is delivered in the United States every day. Medical professionals, therefore, play an important role in influencing future health policy outcomes.

The six-part NEJM Perspective article series provides a primer on U.S. health policy fundamentals and covers the following:

  • Policy context for the delivery of affordable, high-quality care
  • Three key challenges of quality, equity, and cost
  • Governmental and market-based solutions for reform

Authored by leading experts, this brief series will help new and experienced clinicians understand the main challenges and key policy solutions facing the U.S. health care system today.

Learn more at

NEJM Working Overtime to Keep Up with the Deluge of Covid-19 Knowledge

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has been busy.

In April, the volume of Covid-19-related articles and correspondence passing over the transom of the New England Journal of Medicine was fast and furious — about 200 a day. As of the beginning of July, NEJM had received nearly 13,000 submissions related to the novel coronavirus, and more than one-third of those were research articles. It was all hands on deck: reviewers and editorial staff who regularly work on content related to other specialties were now pitching in to handle the deluge — remotely, of course. And the process of review and editing has now been telescoped to about 20 days for a Covid-19-related research article to get information out as quickly as possible, according to Editor-in-Chief Eric Rubin, M.D., Ph.D. He is working from his dining room table with his black and white mutt Chester by his side.

“I wish this pandemic had never happened, of course, but it’s been an incredible privilege to be at the center of the research that’s taking place,” said Dr. Rubin, a renowned infectious disease specialist whose career has focused on tuberculosis. “I get to see every major and minor study and people’s thoughts on every aspect of the virus. It’s been an incredible experience.” NEJM has made all its pandemic-related content available free to anyone.

Dr. Rubin pointed to five of the most critical studies NEJM has published that advance our understanding of the novel coronavirus. Specifically:

• February 27: Importation and Human-to-Human Transmission of a Novel Coronavirus in Vietnam: “This was the first report showing how common person-to-person transmission is,” said Dr. Rubin. “Prior to that, Chinese authorities had been saying that most transmissions was occurring from animals to people.”

• March 5: Transmission of 2019-nCoV Infection from an Asymptomatic Contact in Germany: Viruses are generally believed to be transmitted only by symptomatic people. This letter to the editor detailed the case of an asymptomatic Chinese woman who infected several colleagues during a business trip in Germany.

• May 22: Remdesivir for the Treatment of Covid-19— Preliminary Report: Hospitalized patients who received the antiviral drug recovered 31 percent faster than those who received a placebo — an average of 11 days compared to 15.

• July 14: An mRNA Vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 — Preliminary Report: Moderna Therapeutic’s Covid-19 vaccine provoked an immune response in volunteers during its Phase 1 trial.

• July 17: Dexamethasone in Hospitalized Patients with Covid-19 — Preliminary Report: The mortality rates of Covid-19 patients on ventilators or requiring oxygen was reduced when treated with the steroid Dexamethasone.

“Our understanding of the virus is pretty good right now, but our understanding of what to do about it is still limited. We still don’t know how to treat the disease optimally and how to prevent people from getting it once exposed,” said Dr. Rubin. “I do want to emphasize we know what public measures work, but we’re just not taking them. We should be wearing masks and social distancing. And we should build into our institutions — our businesses, our schools — all of the components that allow social distancing and masking. That strategy, along with testing, has worked in lots of places.”

NEJM made headlines in May when it retracted a study affirming that certain blood pressure drugs did not increase mortality rates in Covid-19 patients, as some research had suggested. The extensive hospital database used in the NEJM study (and another study ultimately retracted by The Lancet) was called into question, and the database owner refused to make the raw data available to auditors for validation. “The retraction was a big blow for us,” conceded Dr. Rubin. “We had outstanding reviewers for this study, and they didn’t cut any corners. But unfortunately, we’re not very good at spotting deliberate fraud, which it has been alleged that this was.”

“It could take several people, many months to re-do the analysis of raw data, even if it were accessible. NEJM will do a better job of evaluating things like the method of data collection and the reputations of the individuals and companies behind the data”, according to Dr. Rubin. “We’re also taking other actions, including trying to better understand the roles and responsibilities of the authors in the development of their studies. We’re very invested in the quality of what we do and in trying to learn lessons when we have issues.”

In the meantime, the flow of Covid-19 related articles and correspondence has slowed to about 35 to 50 a day, and staff and reviewers are catching up on the backlog of submissions that have nothing to do with a virus that has wreaked havoc on the world. If you’re interested in keeping up with the latest Covid-relevant content from across NEJM Group, be sure to sign up here for the weekly email alert.

Easy remote access to

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) offers an institutional remote-access feature that provides more convenient and more flexible access to an organization’s institutional site license beyond the physical library or institutional IP range.

With a seamless and simple pairing of a free account with an institutional site license, remote access is paired for 180 days and easily monitored from the My Account tab on Using any device, every time your patrons sign in to their account while within the institution’s IP range, their remote access to your institutional site license holdings automatically reauthenticates and pairs for an additional 180 days.

Visit the NEJM LibraryHub Resource Toolkit to learn more and request ready-to-use materials for use in your organization’s communications.


Supporting Researchers through Library Data Services

As the director of the Samuel J. Wood and C.V. Starr Biomedical Information Center, Terrie Wheeler believes that one important role for a medial library is to lessen the administrative burden on researchers so they can “move the science forward,” as she puts it. NEJM LibraryHub spoke to her recently about some of the ways her library does this.

Q: Tell us about the Weill Cornell Medicine Data Core, which the library helped develop and now administers.

A: Data Core is a secure computing and storage environment where our researchers and their collaborators can put patient data they want to analyze. Researchers are granted access to the data if they are permitted by the data use agreements, which the library manages, and are approved by our Institutional Review Board. Initially, the Data Core data sets were available only to the Department of Population Health Sciences, but now they’re available to the entire college. The Data Core is a Windows environment, in the cloud, which is accessed from a custom app. Inside the Data Core, we install all the statistical analysis tools researchers may need — RStudio, SAS, Stata, GraphPad, etc. The data cannot be exported from the Core without HITRUST-certified librarians reviewing it to make sure it is de-identified.

Other schools have data cores; however, I don’t know of any other school where the library administers it. We try to put ourselves in the shoes of researchers. Their deadlines are short and they need their data fast, so we need to be responsive.

We also are seeking approval to host New York state Medicaid data in our Data Core. This required filling out over 100 pages of security and systems questionnaires, and it took 14 months to complete! We have now submitted it to New York State and are awaiting approval. Once approved, the library will be able to submit additional requests on behalf of other researchers, with a much faster approval time. In a similar manner, the Data Core has successfully negotiated access to other valuable data, allowing researchers to focus on data analysis, instead of acquisition and paperwork. We like to think of our facilitation of access to these patient data sets as “interlibrary loans”.

The Data Core became an invaluable asset during the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Within days a COVID-19 research data repository was set up in the Data Core by researchers on the Research Informatics Team. As the Data Core team must ensure access and availability of computational resources, requests for access or support skyrocketed, increasing by 100 percent over our pre-COVID rate.

Q: Can you talk to us about the library’s grant writing service? How did this come about?

A: When I first interviewed for the director’s job, I was told by our research dean that the library should start a grant-writing service. When I got the job and started asking my staff about what was important to them and what types of skills they wanted to grow, I discovered that one of our staff members had been an editor in New Zealand and he was actually quite good at scientific writing. So he now heads up our editing service. Another grant editor works at our front desk and is also a professor at a community college.

The team, which has about four people doing editing part-time, does light to medium editing. We’ll help with grammar and structure. We’ll make sure the researcher is meeting all the NIH requirements. Maybe the scientist hasn’t put the punch at the top. Maybe he or she has gotten muddled in the details of the science and lost the bigger picture, so the editor will help re-fabricate that bigger picture. A couple of our librarians are excellent statisticians, so they can do a quick review of the statistics if needed. But we will not touch the science because that’s the scientist’s bailiwick.

And we’re making a difference in a big way. Since the grant editing service began about four years ago, we have helped bring in $41 million in grant funding. We usually target junior researchers with this service, for whom English may be their second language, although a recent success was a senior researcher who needed help with a multi-consortium resubmission. The NIH gives you two chances, so the second time around he worked closely with us and got the grant.

Q: Are there other ways that the library tries to reduce the administrative burden for researchers?

The library has developed, maintains, and oversees Weill Cornell’s installation of VIVO, an open-source researcher profiling system. VIVO has about 86,000 views a month and pulls information from multiple authoritative systems, ensuring that researchers have a rich and accurate web presence.

We also focus on providing high-quality bibliometrics to our users. With our publications reporting system, VIVO Dashboard, we take each article that a researcher has written and benchmark it against 200 other articles that are written in the same year in the same research area and are the same article type — research articles to research articles, review articles to review articles.

Administrators can access a dashboard that shows researchers’ citation impact — where it falls in the percentile ranking for its discipline. The dashboard also allows the school to see the return on investment in different research areas over time. We can track return on investment for individuals, divisions, departments, and the entire school. I write the promotion and tenure letters that go before the Board of Overseers, and we include the research impact information from VIVO Dashboard. Of course, it’s just one number, and you’re looking at it in context with other things.

In the next year, we will deploy ReCiter, a homegrown open-source publication management system, which uses machine learning and available identity data to allow administrators to easily maintain publication lists for thousands of scholars.


Q: This last question doesn’t fit into the category of reducing administrative burden, but we know it’s something you’re very proud of. Can you tell us about SMARTFest?

Terrie Wheeler (left) with Susan Haering and Mike Tavares of NEJM Group at SMARTFest 2020

 A: It began the year before I arrived at the library as a modest event — an opportunity for students, faculty, researchers, and others to meet with ITS [Information Technologies and Services] and library staff, view demos of services and learn about significant IT projects planned for the upcoming year. Now in its seventh year, SMARTFest has grown into a campus-wide event with library, IT and educational vendors targeting every kind of user, demonstrations, high-end food, and raffle prizes. A critical part of SMARTFest is keeping our users informed about library and IT services available to them. This year we had over 1,600 people attend; 25 vendors and we pulled in about $24,000. The library and ITS, which co-sponsors SMARTFest with us, had 27 booths, too. The event gets bigger every year. We have four different levels of sponsorship for vendors. The event takes place in the middle of February when it’s snowy and cold, so it’s our big mid-winter celebration.

SMARTFest’s biggest takeaway is that it empowers our library team and ITS — who bear the brunt of everybody’s complaining when IT equipment doesn’t work. SMARTFest is the one day a year when library and ITS expertise can shine. It’s just incredible to see everyone so proud of what they do. Last year, I had people attend from other universities to see how we do it. Even the vice provost of administration is a big fan. After it’s over, my staff and ITS toast each other and celebrate with champagne, stories, and a will to make this event even bigger and better the following year.