Kelsa Bartley, MSI
Education & Outreach Librarian
Learning, Research, and Clinical Information Services
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
Editor’s note: This article is under copyright and used with the permission of BMJ. It was published in the BMJ Insider’s Newsletter in December 2020.
“Everything seems so interesting!”
Similar to librarians we’ve previously interviewed, Kelsa Bartley, MSI, did not envision becoming a librarian. “Being a librarian was not even on my radar of initial job possibilities!” she explained.
Serving now as a faculty librarian at the University of Miami, she opens up to us about the journey to find this career that she both enjoys and in which she excels. Spoiler alert: Taking the time to find and develop her natural strengths and talents has helped.
Read more about her journey in this delightful interview that explores various important topics, such as DEI, supporting research, librarian involvement opportunities, and, of course, COVID-19.
Read more below.
Congratulations on recently celebrating your first full year as a faculty librarian at UM. What sparked your interest in a library science career?
Thank you! The first year has flown by.
Being a librarian was not even on my radar of initial job possibilities! My first job interview at UM was actually for a photography position in the Biomedical Communications department 10 years ago, fresh out of undergrad with my photography degree. At the interview, the director suggested I put the customer service skills I had honed previously as a flight attendant and other customer service jobs to good use – in another open position in the library. It was during the recession when jobs in photography were very hard to come by, and the promise of benefits and a great salary at a university was too good to turn down.
I began my library career as Manager, Library Services – Days in the Access Services department. I cataloged photography for two years in a government media library in Trinidad and Tobago – my country of origin. I then came back to UM as library staff in my current department. When I was offered opportunities to teach and to create content for classes, and to use my creative talents to lead in developing social media management and marketing library resources; I realized that my skills were needed in libraries. I was encouraged by my colleagues and supervisors to pursue librarianship.
Following up on the previous question, what are you most proud of accomplishing during this first year?
Surviving the pandemic? (Joke!!) Seriously, I’m most proud of just being able to transition into being a librarian and faculty. Although I’ve worked in the department for a while, changing my mindset from library professional to medical librarian faculty was a bit more challenging than I expected.
Some of my job responsibilities remain the same, like providing support for citation management for example, but I do a lot more teaching, assisting with research, and writing than I’ve ever done previously. Part of the challenge for me is that I want to do all of the things! Everything seems so interesting! I’m slowly learning to prioritize, find my niche, and choose opportunities that will enhance my job function, my career and the library’s goals.
As the Education & Outreach librarian, what are your main priorities and responsibilities?
My main focus has been collaborating with my colleagues on orientation and instruction to students and residents, training patrons on various resources, as well as helping to promote our resources to our campus during the pandemic.
I serve as an instruction librarian, curating resources to support teaching and learning. I develop and deliver engaging, outcomes‐focused classroom and online instruction. I also create research guides, tutorials, class materials, and other resources to promote and support student learning using library materials and services.
I provide research assistance to students, residents, and faculty, and provide reference and information services. A lot of that takes the form of EndNote training and support, a role I started in my previous position at the library.
My outreach role also consists of engaging with students, faculty, staff, and community organizations on initiatives related to diversity and inclusiveness. I work collaboratively with library faculty and staff to support the development of inclusive and representative programming and services that are accessible and meet the needs of all Miller School of Medicine students.
What have you found to be the best channels for introducing new resources to medical students, residents, and UM faculty?
I think the best way to reach them with new resources is to make clear connections to how the resource can directly impact or improve their work and research. I see it a lot when I show someone how to use citation managers for example. Learning how a citation management tool can help them easily collect, organize, cite, and create reference lists and make their work easier definitely helps promote the chosen resource.
Peer-to-peer promotion or word of mouth is also a powerful channel for promoting resources. I usually have people come to the library to learn about something their principal investigator (PI), colleague, or classmate recommended they learn to use.
I am also responsible for library marketing and social media and work closely with other departments and student groups to develop effective campus‐wide outreach activities and partnerships.
UM Miller School of Medicine is a “research powerhouse,” internationally known for advancing knowledge of diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. Do you support medical students and faculty in their research, and/or their pursuit to get their work published?
Helping support students, faculty, and residents get published is a major part of our work as librarians at the university. Students at UM Miller School begin participating in scholarly research and publishing very early on in their med school careers. Residents are expected to do research along with their rounding, and clinicians and researchers are constantly winning awards for their work in healthcare.
I’ve helped many at the beginning with basic searches, at the end when they are getting ready to use citation management for writing, and anywhere in between. This past year I got my first acknowledgement for assisting an anesthesiology fellow with publishing a paper on his research comparing electrical neuromodulation techniques for focal neuropathic pain. Last fall, I helped four nurses in the MSN program with their research. The first nurse came several times and was so happy with the level of assistance she received that three of her classmates also showed up for help! It feels gratifying to know that I’m helping in some small way support the “research powerhouse” reputation of the university.
You are passionate about expanding diversity and inclusion in the library community. How did your experience as an ALA Spectrum Scholar help shape this passion and prepare you for your career?
I got my degree at Florida State University (FSU) in December 2018. I became a Spectrum Scholar in the 2016-2017 cohort, just as I got accepted at FSU in May 2016. The Spectrum Scholarship helps students from underrepresented populations fund library school. Funds do not have to be used for tuition exclusively – they can also be used for books, fees, and supplies. Many library schools match the scholarship with tuition waivers or additional scholarships, which I benefited from at FSU. In addition to scholarship money, scholars get free membership to ALA for a year and to any of the associated organizations such as ACRL and other ALA round tables/groups they would like to join.
Scholars also get a lot of opportunities for professional development during the year they are scholars, and beyond. There is a mentoring program, the ACRL Dr. E. J. Josey Spectrum Scholar Mentor Program, that pairs scholars with mentors if they would like one. I participated in the mentorship program as well. I was encouraged to apply for MLA’s Scholarship for library school students, which I also got. That has led to my increasing professional involvement in MLA today.
My experience in the Spectrum Scholarship program has been very positive. I made lifelong connections with so many diverse librarians, and it literally opened doors of opportunity for me. I still get opportunities for jobs, webinars, writing and publishing opportunities, and networking events every week through the alumni listserv. I would not have been able to afford library school without it, and it would have taken a longer time for me to adjust and progress as a new librarian without those connections and experiences.
Are you involved in any diversity efforts at UM Libraries, or within the librarian community?
I am actively involved in several initiatives, committees, and other activities on campus and off campus. At UM Libraries I’m involved in our Diversity Equity and Inclusion Interest Group, and just began working on a recently formed Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) Taskforce for researching new ways to improve recruitment and retention.
I recently participated as a facilitator for an instructor reading group session on Ijeoma Oluo’s book, So You Want to Talk About Race, which is a part of the university’s One Book, One U program. The One Book, One U program offers an opportunity for the UM community to explore issues of diversity and inclusion through the reading of a selected book. On the medical campus, I am also one of the medical library’s representatives on the Dean’s Diversity Council through the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement.
At the Medical Library Association, I was a member of a three-year Diversity and Inclusion Task Force that looked at the organization and presented recommendations for improving DEI initiatives. A newly formed MLA DEI Committee evolved from this taskforce this year and I continue to serve as a member. I’m currently the chair of the African American Librarians Alliance (AAMLA) Caucus, working on a number of initiatives to increase involvement of African American librarians in MLA and the profession as a whole. I’m also a member of the planning team and facilitator for the MLA Reads Book Discussion Group, discussing books on the topics of implicit bias, racism, and other related topics. The virtual book discussion group recently started reading Black Man in A White Coat by Dr. Damon Tweedy, with over 200 librarians from across the country.
You recently completed the MLA Rising Stars leadership program. What are your professional goals and areas of interest? How would you like to personally influence the industry?
One of the great takeaways from the Rising Stars leadership program for me was access to the CliftonStrengths assessment from the Strengthfinder 2.0 book and website by Gallup. The philosophy of the CliftonStrengths is that to be successful in work and life, we should spend more time finding and developing our natural strengths and talents, instead of wasting time and energy trying to fix our weaknesses. Instead of trying to make ourselves into a certain type of leader, we should learn our own strengths and weaknesses and gather a team of people to collaborate with who can balance the things we are not so good at, freeing everyone to shine at the things in which they excel. This really resonated with me. It was refreshing to see that my top five strengths (Maximizer, Communication, Input, Positivity and Woo) are very much aligned with areas I have naturally gravitated toward in libraries.
My areas of interest include creative aspects such as graphics, LibGuides, and writing, as well as education and teaching. I feel particularly drawn to instruction and instructional design, library marketing and promotion, social media and communication, as well as DEI work. I can be a leader in each of these areas, using my personality, creative abilities, and people skills. I think these are the areas that I can have the most impact and influence in the industry. I’m starting to see now what that library director saw in me 10 years ago!
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work? Has it resulted in additional content needs for UM faculty or students?
COVID-19 has definitely affected the physical, in-person aspects of my work. My colleagues and I have been working from home since March. I have been back to the office a few times since to use the quiet of the library and my dual monitors to host classes on Zoom. But at this time, we have no idea when we will officially return to a fully physical library presence.
For me, it required quickly adapting to doing research and training consultations via Zoom, learning how to use the technology to suit my environment at home. Balancing increased online meetings and other work commitments in a small apartment with my spouse and household chores was challenging at first. The main challenge for me has been and continues to be sustaining work-life balance; now that everything is at home, the lines are even more blurry.
Calder Medical Library had most of its resources online for quite some before the pandemic hit, but continuing to provide easier ways for the campus community to get to the resources and help they need, with less initial interaction from us, has been a challenge. We started a chat service a few years ago that has been very helpful in bridging the communication gap, not just for my department, but for Access Services as well. I think the fear was that we would not be seen as valuable if things were too easy to find. But the pandemic has made more people realize just how important we are, and how flexible we had to become even before COVID-19. That flexibility is how we have been able to keep providing resources and services to our patrons during this time.
Was the Miller School able to involve its medical students or residents in the University of Miami Health System’s COVID-19 response?
As Miami-Dade County quickly became a hot spot early in the pandemic, the health system needed as much help as they could get. Residents have been an integral part of the UM/Jackson COVID-19 response teams. There were also many third- and fourth-year student volunteers since many of them had been doing clinical rounds as part of their course work.
While the number of new medical students this year has not increased, the Master of Public Health program’s incoming class for 2020 has doubled. Our team has had an increased number of orientations and classes this fall semester due to increased enrollment. The program switched to an online format that allowed many international students to participate in the program as well. As the effects of the pandemic continue, interest and research in medicine, public health, and the effects of health inequity are likely to increase.
Tell us something fun about yourself!
I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book, it’s still on my bucket list. I have fond memories of reading fairy tales at my grandparents’ house while playing on my grandfather’s old typewriter that he used as a former journalist. I definitely think that has influenced my career in libraries and my renewed interest in writing. I’ve been growing my writing skills by collaborating on book chapters, case studies, reports, and articles.
In 2018, I received MLA’s Rittenhouse Award for the best, unpublished library student paper with a paper I wrote on telehealth. Publications on the horizon include collaborative book chapter contributions in two upcoming publications; Borders & Belonging: Critical examinations of LIS approaches toward immigrants and Implementing Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: A Handbook for Academic Libraries. I should also publish a case study in Planning and Promoting Library Events: Success Stories and Best Practices. I’m actively working on a few collaborative articles, thinking about submitting proposals for other chapters, and working on a book cover design for one of the books I did a chapter for.
What are your hobbies?
As a photographer in a former life, photography continues to be a lifelong obsession. However, these days most of my photography is created via iPhone. It’s so easy to use, I have it on me all the time! It is my dream when I retire to travel the world doing travel and nature photography for blogs and coffee table books.
I’m a plant (crazy?) lady! I started my patio garden a few years ago when a co-worker gave me a couple of bougainvillea plants that I nursed back to health. I’ve been hooked ever since. My plants are the usual subjects of my photography. I grow herbs, flowers and I have a few house plants too.
I’m currently doing a self-paced yoga teacher training certificate program online with My Vinyasa Practice, a studio based out of Houston, Texas. Yoga has been a major part of my self-care and stress management since I discovered it during a very stressful time pursuing my undergraduate degree. I want to deepen my own practice and knowledge of yoga, and to share the benefits I get from practicing with others in my community.