For the past decade, Suzie Allard has worked to build a specialty in science information and science data management. In the process, she has expanded the range of jobs available for the new librarians graduating from her programs. Allard, associate professor and associate director of the School of Information Sciences (SIS) in the College of Communication and Information (CCI) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK), now has been named the winner of the 2013 LJ Teaching Award, sponsored by ProQuest.
In addition to working with traditional library and information science (LIS) allies such as the UTK library and the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Allard partnered with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other libraries and science agencies to create connections between the students’ coursework and the ongoing scientific and professional work in the fields in which they intern and will ultimately serve.
“In the changing landscape of libraries, especially those on the campuses of research universities, Dr. Allard continues to push the boundaries of LIS education. She leads efforts at UTK SIS to build a suite of courses and a series of research projects dedicated to the flow of information in the scientific communities,” says Christopher Eaker, now data curation librarian at the UTK Libraries, who cites Allard as a mentor as well as instructor. “This effort, and the DCERC (Data Curation Education in Research Centers) project, provided the training for me to become a successful librarian with a focus in data curation.”
Speaker to scientists
“The million dollar question is, how much expertise in specific disciplines do we need to do information jobs? People have succeeded with bachelor’s degrees and expertise in the sciences, but others who came in only with an interest in science have succeeded, too,” says Allard. “You have to have a strong interest to be successful, you have to want to learn the language. Even though you will never be as expert as the scientist with a PhD, you will be able to help that expert integrate data and information from other disciplines and sources into the research or experiment.”
To develop that expertise, Allard has introduced new courses at SIS, especially in the integration of science information and cross-cultural communication. Among Allard’s new courses: Digital Libraries; Communication and Information in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics); Social Media; and Environmental Informatics.
Allard has also focused on building bridges between the classroom and the workplace, leading SIS collaborations with science agencies and gaining assistantships for students, creating a true practice-classroom partnership that enriches both. She includes service learning experiences that pair students with practicing professionals and introduces students to the environment of professional practice.
“A lot of my work is about building relationships with the scientists. They have to trust us, and they have to trust our students,” Allard explains. “When you put a student in that kind of environment, the partners become part of the teaching. It takes time out of their day. So we need to find ways to make that work for them as well as for us.”
Allard’s students have worked with a wide range of agencies on projects in a variety of subject areas including collection development, digital collections, and website testing using usability principles. Partner agencies include the Getty Museum, Vanderbilt University, Memphis University, Roane State Community College, Camp Wesley Woods (an environmental education agency), Habitat for Humanity, and Bushy Mountain State Prison. In addition, students worked on similar types of projects with on-campus agencies, including the Commission for Women, the McClung Museum, the classics department, the Digital Library Center, and the Howard Baker Center.
Research and (professional) development
In addition to supporting others’ research, Allard produces a crop of her own, and recent publications demonstrate her focus and enthusiasms. “Closing the Gap: Identifying Needs in Continuing Education for Managing Cultural Heritage Data” (2013) was written in cooperation with coprincipal investigators Charles J. Henry (Council on Library & Information Resources), Cal Lee (Univ. of North Carolina), and Nancy McGovern (MIT). Both this work and “Cybersecurity for Science Information (CSI): Developing Workforce Proficiency” (2012), with Allard as principal investigator, were sponsored by IMLS. With coprincipal investigators Carol Tenopir, a former LJ columnist, Chancellor’s Professor at SIS, and director of research and the Center for Information and Communication Studies at CCI, and Kenneth Levine of the Alfred P. Sloane Foundation, Allard reported on “Trust and authority in scholarly communications in the light of the digital transition” in 2012. (Tenopir nominated Allard for this award.) Allard’s 2011 report as principal investigator with Tenopir, “SciData: Science Data and Information Professionals for the Future,” was also sponsored by a $546,472 IMLS grant. In 2010, Allard reported her work with Carole Palmer (Univ. of Illinois) and Mary Marlino (Natl. Ctr. for Atmospheric Research) in “Developing a Model for Data Curation Field Experiences in Science Data Centers,” under an IMLS grant of $951,803, a third of which went to UTK.
Mentor and recruiter
Beyond building courses and partnerships, Allard has nurtured one-on-one relationships with her students: recruiting them, mentoring them in many ways, and helping them to get jobs as science librarians and data librarians and as other science information positions.
“I am deeply involved in mentoring, and for our science information students it is an emerging area, so everything is not yet in coursework. To me, this involvement and mentoring is a crucial form of teaching, it just takes place outside the classroom, and it is essential to the process. I need to place students in locations where they can get practice or work experience,” Allard says.
This year, two universities selected recent UTK graduates guided by Allard as their first data management librarians, a tribute to the many hours of individual attention Allard gives to her students. She creates small group and social activities, hosts an annual picnic at her home, incorporates blogs and wikis to facilitate communication with and among students. In her distance education courses, she arranges social/professional meet-and-greet sessions; is accessible via email, Skype, or her open office door; and keeps in touch with students following graduation.
Students’ reactions to Allard’s guidance rings true with her contribution to their understanding and career development.
“It is what you dream every college class will be: informative without overloading, never-dragging without moving too fast; discussions that had substance, not just a chance to brown-nose the professor,” reads a student evaluation of a course taught by Allard.
“It addressed concepts that were new to me, and then the connections between the new concepts and my current framework were awesome,” says another evaluation.
“There is no way to improve this class, but I suggest cloning Professor Allard so she can lead more classes,” recommends another student.
Professional colleagues, too, are enthusiastic. “Dr. Allard effectively infuses real-life librarianship in her curriculum, which integrates theory, practice, and research. Her courses introduce students to the theory behind librarianship and provide them with knowledge of research and how it informs practice.… Students are matched with library systems planning or creating new digital libraries…. Students meet in small groups to develop solutions to problems studied, then present their solutions in class and engage other students in discussing them,” writes Ed Cortez, director and professor at SIS. For example, Allard added a simulation where students take the role of library directors to discuss strategies to cover specific “hot” topics in collection management.
Meeting the challenge to libraries
“The part of the traditional library that is going to survive is the part that understands the environment and change and is changing with it,” Allard says.
“There is a great future for libraries and librarians as long as they remain agile. Whether our goal changes to becoming information coaches or information providers in new ways, finding new ways to deliver information to people who need it is what we will do as we have always done,” she continues.
Allard pointed to LJ’s 2013 Placements & Salaries Survey (“The Emerging Databrarian,” LJ 10/15/13, p. 26–33) as proof that “we are good at looking ahead. Right now anybody who knows anything about data has an easy time finding a job because so many enterprises are trying to deal with the current flood of data. Our program and others have done a great job looking ahead.”
As libraries are rising to meet that challenge, however, an outstanding issue, Allard says, is managing perceptions, keeping the university community informed about what libraries are doing to produce the services that are so seamless they may seem disintermediated.
“The challenge is that people still don’t understand that to have desktop delivery means someone has to license the database that has the information and someone [has to create] the network over which it is delivered,” Allard says. “People don’t see or know about all the services we provide, but if we can make sure that they understand what we do so we can get the funding, libraries will have a secure place for quite a while.”
Another challenge comes from outside of academia altogether. As Allard points out, in the Placements & Salaries Survey, “there are new job titles our students and others may not think of when seeking careers. We have to make sure that the employers who write those job descriptions know that we provide that kind of education so that they will consider our graduates.” It’s what the best teachers do.