January 11, 2017

Member Spotlight: J. Michael Lindsay

Every month (with the exception of December, because holiday festivities kept us from our keyboards), we would like to take a moment to learn more about a fellow librarian and SC/MLA member. For January, we interviewed Michael Lindsay, first author of Rethinking Library Education Programs? Ask Users First!, the research poster awarded first place at the 2016 SC/MLA Annual Meeting.

Name: J. Michael Lindsay

SC/MLA Member Since: I first joined in 2003.

Officer/Committee Positions (or if you aren’t involved with committees, let us know what might interest you!):
I’m currently Research Committee Chair.  Although I didn’t seek it out, it has been a very rewarding way to recognize and promote all the amazing projects that Southern Chapter Members are involved in.  It keeps me very busy at the conference!

First Professional Position:
Electronic Resources/Collection Development Librarian at the University of South Alabama Biomedical Library in Mobile. 

Current Position:
Serials/Electronic Resources Librarian at Preston Medical Library at the University of Tennessee Medical Center. 

Education (Include all Degrees):
  • Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in Management from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 
  • Master of Science in Information Sciences, also from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 
Favorite website, blog, or twitter feed:
I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.  It can be an incredible way of keeping in touch with extended groups of friends from all parts of our lives, and give moral support to people that are hurting.  But it can also give people just enough anonymity and distance to enable a great deal of meanness, and the confidence to express sentiments they would never share face to face. 

I also periodically enjoy The Annoyed Librarian blog, but it has been some time since I looked at it regularly.

How did you become interested in medical librarianship?
From the time I first began considering library careers, I’ve been drawn to special libraries.  More broadly, I’ve always been attracted to the idea of applying the skillsets we develop as librarians in other contexts, and I’m fascinated by people that work as freelance researchers, information consultants, etc.  Other professionals, such as physicians and attorneys, often work independent of institutions and I think this has contributed to the reputations of those professions.  It seems clear that there are more opportunities in those areas now than there used to be.  Given my undergraduate background in business, I initially thought to pursue a job in a business library, but at the time I was looking, I didn’t find as many entry-level opportunities as I expected.  In broadening my search, I looked also at law and medical libraries.  All the law library opportunities I saw seemed to require a legal background, which I didn’t have.  I had looked at postings for medical libraries, but I wasn’t sure that I would qualify as I didn’t have a background in the sciences. 

I think it is always important, in searching for a career, to think about all of the skills and experiences you’ve had, as these are what make you unique.  I had a strong interest in technology, and had taken as many courses in the technology track in my graduate program as I could.  I had also worked in insurance, dealing with contracts and sales, and had an undergraduate degree in business.  Together, these things led me to look at library jobs in Acquisitions and Electronic Resources.  I think the great appeal for me with regard to medical libraries is that medicine deals in facts, it deals with finding what works to improve people’s lives.  While I knew that I wanted to work in a special library, I broadened my scope to look at medical library work relatively later in my first job search out of library school.  I saw a job posting for an Electronic Resources and Collection Development Librarian, and the work looked really interesting to me.

What do you love most about your job?
I guess it is cheating a little bit, but I have to say there are two aspects of medical library work that I love most; working with people and the great variety of things that we do.  The most personally gratifying thing about medical library work for me is the reaction that people have when you really help them with a problem they have, whether it is a research project where they might feel a little over their head, or in helping a public patron to learn more about a health issue they are dealing with.  My library works with health care professionals, and you can really feel the relief that a nurse or medical resident feels when they are getting a little more control over a huge project.  That can mean learning a little more about searching in PubMed or CINAHL, learning how to use our databases and journals to find what they need, or getting a little more background on the publication process. 

We also work with patients and the general public.  In working with the public, you are sharing in a struggle that they are working through, and that is very personal and can be very emotional.  In addition to being better informed, if we’re doing it right, our public patrons feel a little less alone in their struggle. 

In medical libraries, we are very lucky in terms of the variety of work that we do.  Most work I’ve done previously had nowhere near the level of variety.  I think this is particularly true in medical libraries; most medical libraries seem to be smaller than general academic or public libraries, at least in terms of staff.  I can answer reference questions, help a user resolve a database access problem, work on an academic paper, process a contract, and fix a printer problem all in the same day.  You have the opportunity to be creative, to learn new and better ways of doing things. 

What has been your biggest professional challenge?
There are a number of challenges that I’ve had to deal with that are a really close second, but for a serials librarian the first time you handle a serials renewal can be very nerve-wracking.  Since my first library job, I have prepared a study of journal use each year, producing cost per use figures on all titles, then making recommendations for renewal or cancellation, and finally processing a renewal.  All of these details take a bit of time to gather together and analyze.  I think that learning how to responsibly delegate projects has been one of the most helpful things I have ever learned.  By getting help from student workers and other staff, I’ve been able to focus on making sure that the rest of the process runs smoothly.  When I started working in serials and processing contracts, I saw how much of the library’s resources were spent in this area, and I wanted to get it right.  That was the reason this began for me as a really stressful exercise.  I learned over the years that I needed a process, I needed to get help, and I needed to plan ahead.   By doing these things, over time the renewal has become much less stressful.

What do you do to recover from a long work week?
I enjoy spending a lot of time on weekends at home.  I really enjoy video games, it is truly astonishing how much creativity, story, and work go into modern electronic games.  Recently I heard that video games have eclipsed Hollywood in terms of revenue.  I enjoy a good story in any form; I read, I enjoy TV, really anything with a good story.  Getting wrapped up in a good movie is a great escape from the pressures of a challenging week.
Anything our readers might find surprising about you?
Mine is the first generation of my family to go to college, and my grandfather was a coal miner.  It was truly an amazing privilege to be able to attend the University of Tennessee, not having any preconceptions based on the experiences of the rest of my family.  It was also scary, too, at times.  It was sometimes difficult to pick my own path and get the best advice as to what I should do in school.  My undergraduate degree was in business, and I tried to pursue that path.  I worked in the insurance industry for a number of years.  After a while, though, that became unsatisfying and I wanted to try something new.  Most librarians I know knew from very early on that this was what they wanted to do.  I took a long circuitous path to get to where I am now.  I was still in insurance sales when I had an interesting conversation with a consultant who was doing some very heavy-duty spreadsheet analysis for the call center I worked in.  The work sounded interesting, so I asked how she had gotten into it.  She was working on a Master’s in Information Science, and I was surprised to see how versatile the program was, how many different career paths were available.  But, at least initially, I never really intended to become a librarian. It was only after getting further into the program that I began to see the opportunities that existed in libraries.

What genre of books takes up the most space on your bookshelf?
Sci-Fi and Sword and Sorcery fiction.  When I was in the second grade a teacher I didn’t like very much introduced me and the rest of my class to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books by reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to us.  I have to say I was pretty well hooked for life after that point.  I read the Lord of the Rings at the age of 12, and have a number of favorite authors including J.R.R. Tolkein, Robert Jordan,  C.S. Lewis, Terry Goodkind, Katherine Kurtz, Roger Zelazny, Michael Moorcock, and Raymond Feist.

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