Informationist SIG

“What is an informationist and how does it differ from a clinical librarian”?

This was the question I asked and seemed to be an underlying theme of the SIG.  The 12-15 attendees was wide-ranging in experience, from brand-new or investigating the informationist role to those with 10 years of experience.

An informationist is an embedded information consultant with a combination of a rich/expert knowledge of content and research process in the area they are serving and traditional librarian knowledge of conducting a reference interview, resources in all forms (print and electronic, reference and original literature), indexing etc. Their roles or services is defined by the science/discipline they serve. So, what one informationist does for one group will not necessarily be the same in all aspects to another serving another group.

It was noted that the bioinformationists (non-librarian trained) lacked the librarian knowledge, such as key skills of conducting a reference interview and understanding issues around information access. One participant’s organization, with some non-librarian trained informationists, is struggling with how to train the librarian skills they require. For the librarian as informationist, the opposite is the issue: how to get the necessary content and bioscience training. Opportunities for training is difficult for individual libraries as they are in a time of growing and shifting. The onus seems to be falling on the individual to identify what training they need and then look for courses within their organization or outside.

Due to the embedded nature of the informationist, there was mention of feeling isolated: because they are often “the only one of their kind” serving a particular group/clinical area and not often in the library, the chance to share knowledge and experiences can be limited. This can serve as a barrier especially when getting started as an new informationist in a culture unfamiliar with what a informationist does. Some tips to new informationists included: attend poster sessions and talk to the presenters; attend journal clubs; note the resources they are using and why; find out their “beefs” about the resources they don’t have access to e.g. journals. Once an informationist becomes established, the challenge then becomes one of managing workload.

Marketing is always a challenge, informationist or no, with the proverbial question “how does one get the word out to researchers who don’t necessarily recognize (or want to recognize) that they could get help to do their work better, more efficiently?” Again, embededness and the title of “informationist” offers some advantage. Embededness means being right there at the “aha” moments of realization of a deficiency that could be addressed by an informationist. The title is an conversation-starter that does not have the stereotypical burden that perhaps the “L” word has for some researchers. Most importantly, the informationist needs to be an entrepreneur, creating opportunities such as gently recommending literature to augment areas not adequately covered in a paper or grant.

Two growth areas for informationists are topics that are part of this year’s MLA: improving “data literacy” among their researchers, and providing data support services. Data literacy covers the spectrum from knowledge and use of bibliometrics in reporting their research activities, encouraging researchers to be critical about their metric choices, to moving grad students to look beyond the lab notebook by incorporating data best practices. Data support also covers vast territory including consultation on managing, archiving, curating the data to being the translator between the data analyst and researcher.

Many challenges facing informationists are what’s facing librarians, clinical and otherwise. What is the difference between an informationist and a clinical librarian? Like much in life, it’s all context.