Librarian Sally Gore G’04 never thought she would walk into a room full of medical researchers at University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS) and be announced as the expert in the room.

“I never thought that as someone with the information science background, I would be the expert,” she said to a room full of library science graduate students and professors at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool). “We need to be seen as a peer. That’s the challenge for librarians working in some sort of research or academic field.”

In the midst of what she jokingly dubbed on Twitter as #datatour2010, Gore stopped at the iSchool on October, 7, 2010, to talk to students and faculty about the challenges of remaining relevant to scientific libraries in the Internet Age, before heading off to meet with science librarians at Cornell University.

“How do you talk to people doing research in genetics if you don’t have any background in biochemistry or even biology?” she asked. “You can’t send people back to school. It doesn’t work in the real world.”

The solution was to create a “boot camp” educational program for librarians working in scientific librarians. The first series of workshops for librarians held over the course of two and a half days in June 2009 covered topics like biochemistry and bioinformatics. In addition to the boot camp, Gore and her colleagues organized a now annual one-day symposium on eScience in April and a professional development day at UMASS Amherst in May that focuses specifically on one area of scientific interest.

Combating a lack of scientific knowledge is also not the only problem with which Gore and other science librarians struggle against working in a medical library. At UMMS, the library administration and staff decided they needed to completely rework how they served the research community as the library grew in prominence with a new administration.

One of the first changes was to build and promote an institutional repository housing all student dissertations in electronic format, amounting to more than 8,000 full text papers. In three years, 130,000 full text papers were downloaded from the repository.

The repository also opened the school up to additional funding for the National Institute of Health, which recently required all NIH-funded papers to be published in the NIH online database. The NIH funds 75 percent of UMMS research, and Gore said the library was ahead of the curve in instituting and promoting the digitization and storage of student papers, finishing it before the requirement was passed by the national legislature.

“Here, we had the opportunity to do an educational program about this [for the students at UMMS],” Gore said. “All of a sudden, we had something of interest to the researchers. They invited us to department meetings on molecular pharmacology to talk about a class we were offering. Just fifteen minutes of time in a department meeting to say ‘I’m your librarian’ and I slowly reached out to all these people.”

The repository was one part of an effort to restructure the library in such a way that the librarians could emphasize their value to the overall institution as the university started to emphasize medial research over instruction.

“My boss, the head of reference thought it was a good time to restructure the whole library and get rid of the reference desk because it was a waste of time,” she said. “Basically, they told us to get out of the library. The people I was assigned to work for, the researchers and PhD. Students, were the last people who ever came to the library. They had no reason to. Physically, I had to leave and get out and start talking to them.”

Figuring out how to reduce research redundancy is one of Gore’s overall goals as she visits Syracuse and Cornell universities during the Data Tour 2010. Though she says young researchers have no problem setting up a web portal and sharing their information, that activity isn’t natural to many other researchers who aren’t “digital natives.”

“What do you do with raw data that isn’t published that can be used without having to do that research again?” asked Gisella Stalloch G’12. “Organizing that raw data and putting in a format someone else can use is a challenge—getting new eyes on the data without stepping on someone’s toes or violating copyright.”

Gore agreed and shared a technique implemented at UMMS where lab technicians created video instructions, and made them available to students. This way, instructors wouldn’t have to waste time by reiterating the same lessons over and over and students could go back to the videos if they forgot some of the instruction.

“We have to make the science available so people don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel,” Gore said. “The younger set of researchers just coming in are really into sharing. They contract out and get their own web sites, and while people in their field know to go there, they aren’t integrating with other areas and disciplines because they don’t know the resources are there.”

This is where, Gore says, librarians can be most useful.

“We need to all be seen as experts at researching information,” she said to the students. “I came here to tell you what we’re doing from the front lines and what you do when you’re out there… are the things you should learn in library school. I came into my career much, much better prepared in terms of technology than many of my colleagues, and the information school part was a better part of that.”

Gore is a 2004 graduate of the Library and Information Science program at the iSchool and also holds a B.S. in exercise physiology from the University of Southern Maine. She currently works as an Information Education Librarian at UMMS.