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M. J. Tooey

Executive Director, Health Sciences and Human Services Library, University of Maryland, Baltimore

M. J. Tooey First, tell us a bit about yourself (hometown, current locale, family, hobbies, community involvement?). What is your current job?

My life to date has consisted of a tour of the rust belt. I was born in Cleveland where I spent my early years in the bosom of a very loving, creative, gregarious, occasionally dysfunctional (aren’t they all) Irish, Polish and German family. Around the time I was thirteen we moved to Pittsburgh where I spent my teenage and twenties years. I loved it there and grew up as diehard Steelers fan attending Clarion State College and the University of Pittsburgh (Hail to Pitt!). After I got married, we moved to Baltimore and have lived here for 24 years. Actually I live in the suburbs – Ellicott City to be exact. About five years ago, the Baltimore area finally wore me down and I decided I really liked it here. It is really a very unique, quirky, lovable place that can be so charming. How can you not love a place that John Waters calls home and where there is an annual “Hon” contest that celebrates big hair?

I’ve been married for 25 years to Ron, who is a very patient, kind, stable man. He thinks I was raised by wolves. My daughter Greer is a sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park majoring in sorority and fun, as best as we can tell. I am proud of her because she heads to MedlinePlus first for self diagnosis whenever she has any ailment. She’s a hypochondriac like her mother.

In addition to being a hypochondriac, my other hobbies include travel, gardening (ask me about my new bog garden – what a challenge!), music (I am eclectic in my tastes), trend watching, learning, reading, embracing ambiguity, and thinking about how the world would be a better place if I ran it. My aspirational goals are to lead a healthy, well-grounded life, to be a good friend, and to become a Master gardener. My community involvement seems to focus on homelessness, health disparities, the environment, and issues surrounding children. My volunteer life is closely intertwined with the Medical Library Association and the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries.

I love my job as the executive director of the Health Sciences Library. I’ve been here about 23 years and I tell everyone I clawed my way to the top but the reality is that I have not held the same job in the library for more than five years. Of course, I just passed my fifth anniversary as executive director. I am not exactly sure what that means.

Describe some of your responsibilities, and how you or your organization fit into the scholarly communications web.

As the executive director of the library I consider myself the ultimate resource person for the staff of the library. By that I mean that it is my job to make sure the staff have the resources they need to do their jobs. My job requires a visionary component as I set strategic direction for the library. I am frequently the public face of the library and I try to wins friends and influence people on behalf of the library. I serve on a lot of diverse campus committees and task forces. I work closely with colleagues locally and across the country on all sorts of library-related projects. Our library has a five year contract with the National Library of Medicine for the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Southeastern/Atlantic region. This responsibility affords me opportunities to visit and learn from medical libraries across ten southeastern states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC. What a great way to learn about issues, concerns, etc in medical libraries from hospitals to academic health centers.

I guess libraries are all part of the great scholarly communication “circle of life.” Some of the most rewarding work I have done over the last few years has been with my colleagues in the publishing industry. I am not an extremist and tend to be suspicious of anyone who is. I rarely see things in black and white and have found there is more to be gained through conversation than confrontation. When I was president of the Medical Library Association I had opportunities to bring librarians and publishers together and found we frequently had similar goals when it came to scholarly communications. I love my participation in the FASEB Library Advisory Committee. I have had a great time participating in SSP programs. And I am finishing up a very enlightening term on the New England Journal of Medicine’s Library Advisory Board. I serve on the Board of Directors of the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL) and I am very proud of its support for, and participation in the Chicago Collaborative which brings together academic librarians and STM publishers to discuss issues of mutual interest. With every contact and every question there are opportunities to understand and overturn misconceptions.

What career path led to your current position?

Musical Theater. Seriously. I had a great high school librarian who directed the school plays. I wanted to go into theater. My parents wanted me to have a fallback position. I wound up becoming a librarian with a degree in education and communications. I acted when I had time. And the benefits from having performance experience have been extremely helpful in my career! Additionally, a very young age I wanted to be a doctor and was discouraged from doing that. In library school I discovered that medical libraries and librarians were really on the forefront of the use of technology and that the information they provided supported really worthwhile things like patient care and research. So that’s where I went. My career path has included hospital librarianship, establishing an education program, serving as the client project manager for the construction of the library, fund raising and development, head of services, head of technology, manager of major projects – great opportunities and learning experiences every one. And right now I think I spend a lot of time being a politician and promoter and in some cases, a darn fine actress!

Where do you see scholarly communications heading, and what new directions interest you most?

This may be my shortest answer. I look at trends. I read the literature. First I would say that for health sciences libraries, it is not about the resources. Our survival will depend on who provides the best service and value. For some of our users that will still mean using us in traditional ways. For others, it will mean they don’t care where the information comes from, they want it when they want it. Our job is to provide the seamless access with as few impediments as possible. Service is what we are about—we aren’t the resources. We aren’t the building. We are information experts inserting value with that expertise whether it is in an electronic health record, at a community health, at the bench or at the bedside…format to be determined.

The scholarly communications package or container will change. I am not sure articles will continue to be in a “journal” package. Or that chapters will need to be in a book. Users want access directly to what they need. I am beginning to think the day of the big bibliographic databases is coming to an end. I think a lot about mobile devices, personalization, and objects. Scholarly information will be delivered on devices that will get smarter and smarter and smaller and smaller. A quote I read recently in the March issue of Fast Company said the iPhone “turned the smartphone concept from a businessperson’s badge into a cool tool for everyone.” Imagine if you will what that could mean for immediate access to scholarly communication. With so much information available, the personal web becomes a necessity. The self-designed organization of online content for individuals using a variety of tools will become reality. This enables self publication and information sharing. What could that mean for scholarly communication? Embedded graphics, data, and objects become extremely important. 

I am also curious what the expectations of the generation of users who grew up on Google will be? Please see this piece from ABC News:
“Copyright Battle Looms for Docs Who ‘Grew Up on Google'”. What will be the impact of current and yet to be developed social networking tools be on scholarly communications? Something else to think about?

What advice would you give to people interested in a career in scholarly communications? What new roles or opportunities do you see emerging in the field?

Okay, this will be my shortest answer with no useful specific recommendations. You need to have passion for what you do and believe that it is important. Be curious. Think ahead. Watch trends in other fields. These trends will drive the opportunities. The scholarly communications field is not for sissies or those who can’t tolerate ambiguity and change. Take your vitamins and get plenty of sleep.

Profiled June 2009