From birds to books. That’s Erin Eldermire’s career trajectory summed up in four words, and she couldn’t be happier with where she’s wound up. Erin has a background in bird biology, graduated from SU’s MSLIS program in 2014, and has been working at Cornell’s Flower-Sprecher Veterinary Library ever since. When she first saw the job posting for an ‘Outreach and Scholarly Services Librarian’ at Cornell’s veterinary library, she began to question her own qualifications. Luckily, a colleague urged, “Are you kidding me, Erin? That job was made for you!” And that colleague was absolutely right.
Transitioning from Outreach and Scholarly Services librarian to Head of the veterinary library, helping facilitate the library’s big move to a different physical space nearby the modular resource center, bouncing from researcher to researcher to aid in the beginning stages of research endeavors—it’s safe to say that Erin is accustomed to change, and thoroughly enjoys it.
What is your job like day-to-day?
My job is Head of the veterinary library at Cornell. It’s a relatively new role for me…I took it on six months ago and the change was pretty unexpected. Before working as the Head of the vet library, I was the Veterinary Outreach and Scholarly Services librarian, and when my supervisor moved on to a different position at a different university, I was promoted to this new position.
When I was doing outreach, I was interacting a lot with faculty, staff, and students. Anything from orienting new faculty to Cornell’s library services, to teaching a class of students enrolled in the course, ‘Introduction to Professional Veterinary Literature.’ In that class, I teach students how to find information, look at a paper, and assess its credibility.
I’m employed by the Cornell University Library, but we are embedded in the College of Veterinary Medicine. So I have these dual roles where I’m integrated into the library, as well as the vet community. It’s an interesting mix, and every day I’m doing some of this and some of that. It makes for a very varied day and I love that.
One thing that I learned about myself is that I don’t have a long attention span for working on one thing in isolation. I like to dabble in several things, and librarianship lends itself to that.
In my new position as Head of the Flower-Sprecher Library, I’m doing my best to think strategically. The big question is, How can we—the library—partner with the vet college to help it excel as a world-class institution?
I love when I hear that academic libraries are integrating learning spaces into or close to the library! How does the library’s physical location on campus help to promote library services/increase traffic?
Well, the College of Veterinary Medicine is currently in the midst of an expansion project. The College wants to increase its student body from 80 students per cohort to 120. Larger classes would overwhelm the college’s infrastructure, so the decision was made to undergo a large renovation of the college, and as a part of that, to move the vet library to a new location altogether.
The library will soon share space with the modular resource center, where students use 3D models to employ the concepts they’ve learned in animal biology courses. Students will be able to borrow books from the library on the first floor to take up to the modular resource center on the second floor.
One thing that I’m looking forward to doing in my new position is thinking about what technologies could assist students, and how the library can better accommodate them. Do they need a 3D printer? Or another technology that helps them explore systems of different animals? are some questions I’ve already started to think about.
What is one thing you learned at SU in the MSLIS program that you use in your daily work?
That’s a really good question. I thoroughly enjoyed IST 617: Motivational Aspects of Information Use taught by Ruth Small. What motivates people? What is the reasoning behind the decisions people make? These are the types of questions we asked ourselves throughout the semester.
There’s such a human component to librarianship. Working with people isn’t a tangible skill that you can learn by reading a textbook. I was so inspired by this course and it really helped me learn about the different personality types that are out there, and how to work with others.
I would encourage students to take advantage of the electives that cover how to work with people. Prior to taking the course, I considered myself to be pretty good with people… but there’s always room for improvement. You never know what a class is going to be like going into it, and this one turned out to be so enjoyable.
I would encourage students to take advantage of the electives that cover how to work with people. Working with people isn’t a tangible skill that you can learn by reading a textbook.
I saw that you call yourself a “social research butterfly” in your faculty profile on the library website (love it!) Can you elaborate on this?
My previous career was as a biologist. I thought I wanted a Ph.D. and that I’d go on to be a professor. But like I said before, I learned that I don’t have the personality to devote myself to one thing for so long. I quickly realized that I needed to find a different profession and librarianship kind of fell into my lap.
One thing that I love about librarianship is learning about all of the different things people are researching. I like dipping my toes, but not going too deep. I experience a little bit of the discovery aspect of them, without going too far into the ‘swamp.’
Partnering with researchers on systematic reviews helps me to be that social research butterfly. Systematic reviews originated in human medicine as a way to collect all information on a specific topic, then come to a bigger conclusion. For example, researchers may ask themselves, Does this particular medicine decrease the incidence of high blood pressure in men ages 35-60? To find the answer, said researchers gather all of the information they possibly can on the topic—maybe there are 150 clinical trials and a certain percentage says it works, and a certain percentage say the medicine is ineffective. Then they step back and ask, What are the data really saying? The practice is becoming more prevalent in non-medical fields.
We started a systematic review service at Cornell and librarians are partnering with researchers on topics in nutrition, public policy, and more. That’s one area where I’ve been able to walk pretty far down the road with researchers. My job as a librarian is to generate a very thorough search; every piece of evidence. Afterward, researchers go through that evidence and draw conclusions. Overall, I let the students, faculty, and staff drive research needs. I facilitate, rather than take over.
I keep my CV as a word document and I am always adding to it. I keep track of those research endeavors where my role was big enough to put it on a resume.
How does your passion for animal biology combine with your passion for research/library science? What is your advice for library students who have multiple passions?
I feel very lucky that I was able to quickly find a position that was a combination of my two professional interests: animal science and library science. I didn’t expect to find something this good. I graduated from SU in 2014 and a few days later, this position opened at Cornell—where I was already working. I knew I wanted to stay in the Ithaca area for a little while. I remember thinking “Oh no, I could never get that job” and a colleague said, “Are you kidding me, Erin? That job was made for you!”
It’s been so much fun. In my previous life as a bird biologist, I spent time at the Alaska Sealife Center. They have a couple captive bird populations that they maintain. We caught these ducks called steller’s eider and brought them to the Center; they were so playful and beautiful. Excitingly, I was talking with a student last year and she was wearing an Alaska Sealife Center shirt. We got to talking and it turns out she was working with the same ducks that I had caught and sent to the center! So it was so cool to hear that my work as a bird biologist impacted her, and now here she was in the library seeking assistance.
People may have to be a little bit patient in their job searches. It’s a really interesting time in the library sciences right now. There are a lot of people who have been in the profession for years and are retiring, and countless organizations are restructuring themselves.
There’s nothing wrong with taking the first job you are offered. But you need to keep your radar open, and if there’s a job that seems like a “more perfect” fit, jump on it. At least that’s my perspective. I think you have to be opportunistic.