I became a librarian in order to help connect people with information that will improve their lives. For one of my first doctoral courses, I submitted a statement of purpose to explain what I want to investigate in order to further this pursuit.
Note: This statement of purpose is closely related to the one I submitted in my doctoral application. In my first doctoral courses, I hope to further develop these fledgling ideas.
In his book Letters to a Young Scientist, entomologist Edward O. Wilson advises students, “The subject for you, as in any true love, is one in which you are interested and that stirs passion and promises pleasure from a lifetime of devotion” (52). This is what library and information science (LIS) has been for me: a fertile environment for new explorations and engaging collaborations. I am interested in the intersections of bioinformatics, scholarly communications, and digital environments and in the application of these within the role of the informationist. I chose Simmons as the place to pursue my doctorate because of the school’s supportive, vibrant intellectual environment. I am particularly interested in research collaborations, both intradepartmental and through external partnerships with area medical organizations. By taking this course, I intend to begin building the basis for future collaborations with my colleagues through finding areas where our research interests intersect.
Invisible work and the informationist
During my first information professional role as a marine science librarian, while performing literature searches for researchers working on federal biomedical grants, I noticed that while there was an abundance of information about marine biomedical research, there was not much available on the role of information professionals in this scholarship. Through my investigations, I clearly identified a lack of documentation on the work performed by information professionals on marine biomedical research projects. During this research, I was introduced to the concept of an informationist (Rankin, Grefsheim, and Canto 2008).
Improved bioinformatics, health informatics, and medical informatics
In more recent scholarship, surprised by the dearth of free medical resources for clinicians and laypeople, I became intrigued by the potential to expand these materials and link quality resources with users. During a biostatistics course, I became intrigued by clinical research study design and reporting, which led to an interest in improving systems for communication between users, such as medical professionals and patients, and in exploring the intersections of bioinformatics with health information, particularly for consumers (Kuznetsov, Lee, Maurer-Stroh, Molnár, Pongor, Eisenhaber, and Eisenhaber 2013). Like most information science problems, bioinformatics issues can be addressed by usability testing. Explosive growth in the bioinformatics field has created interesting challenges; for example, system integrations are not just technological issues, but ones that span sociopolitical factors. Information behavior research can help address these challenges by addressing what information users need, how they seek it, and how they use it (Bartlett and Toms 2005). Focusing on a specific group, such as microbiologists, and describing the tasks and behavior of these individuals, could have long-range benefits for designing improved tools for these subjects, as well as application to users in other disciplines (MacMullen and Denn 2005).
Knowledge representation and the need for improved linkages of literature across sub-disciplines, including creating improved systems for connecting literature and genomic databases, has been explored (Stapley and Benoît 2000; Benoît 2005). Since bioinformation should often be visualized to be useful, more user testing is required to evaluate whether current systems are meeting researcher needs. There are many bioinformatics tools available, some of them open source, meaning there is a wide range of options to study. Studies of users’ information seeking behavior can lead to improved technology (MacMullen and Denn 453).
A significant amount of the research, service, and practice I have conducted during my career thus far has focused on digital initiatives, particularly in the sciences, including using the philosophy of consilience as a basis for combining increasingly siloed roles of librarian and archivist through digitization projects. This research has also included GIS story mapping, rotation curation in social media for science communication, and finding commonality between disciplines for online information literacy instruction. There is a great deal of overlap between digital environments and bioinformatics, as well as digital environments and scholarly communications. Investigating and improving digital environments can impact all information areas, as well as improve scholarly communications.
My interest in scholarly communications is particularly in relation to the “open movements,” including open access and open data. The potential for almost anyone to publish online, as well as the issues behind data management in the open environment, helps link this interest with my investigations into bioinformatics, health informatics, and medical informatics, as well as digital environments. Additionally, I am interested in teaching others about scholarly communications; I have designed and taught semester-long undergraduate courses in scholarly communications, including one where students launched and managed their own peer-reviewed research journal, and another devoted entirely to science communication. I also taught workshops on a variety of research essentials in the digital environment, including mindful technology and metaliteracy, and how to apply these to scholarly communications.
In Letters to a Young Scientist, Dr. Wilson advises scholars to “look for a chance to break away, to find a subject you can make your own” (45). I believe exploring the intersection of bioinformatics, scholarly communications, and digital environments is just that opportunity. From this course, I hope to gain an improved understanding of various LIS research traditions and methodologies and further develop my initial research into something more coherent and applicable. I also hope to discover my role in the cohort and work with my colleagues to develop our ideas, perhaps into a cohesive research project.
Bartlett, Joan C. and Elaine G. Toms. 2005. “Developing a Protocol for Bioinformatics Analysis: An Integrated Information Behavior and Task Analysis Approach.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 56(5):469-482.
Benoît, Gerald. 2005. “Bioinformatics.” Annual Review of Information Science and Technology, 39(1):179-218.
Kuznetsov, Vladimir, Hwee Kuan Lee, Sebastian Maurer-Stroh, Maria Judit Molnár, Sandor Pongor, Birgit Eisenhaber and Frank Eisenhaber. 2013. “How bioinformatics influences health informatics: usage of biomolecular sequences, expression profiles and automated microscopic image analyses for clinical needs and public health.” Health Information Science and Systems 1(2).
MacMullen, W. John and Sheila O. Denn. 2005. “Information Problems in Molecular Biology and Bioinformatics.” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 56(5):447-456.
Rankin, Jocelyn A., Suzanne F. Grefsheim, and Candace C. Canto. 2008. “The emerging informationist specialty: a systematic review of the literature.” Journal of the Medical Library Association 96(3):194-206.
Stapley, Benjamin J. and Gerald Benoît. 2000. “Biobibliometrics: information retrieval and visualization from co-occurrences of gene names in Medline abstracts.” Proceedings of the Pacific Symposium of Biocomputing 5:529-540.
Wilson, Edward O. 2013. Letters to a Young Scientist. New York: Liveright.