Something I learned in my interview with Jean Shipman, Elsevier’s new vice president of global library relations, astonished me. No, it wasn’t related to her move from a leading library position to join Elsevier — in fact, she was pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction of peers and tickled by requests for introductions. It was the fact that by the age of 17 she had already mapped out her career as a medical librarian.
Growing up in a very small town in Pennsylvania, she had two main influences in her career choice: her mother, who worked in a college library, and her eldest sister, a pharmacist. Medical librarianship was a great blend of the two interests, and the lack of opportunity locally meant she could move from their tight-knit community to a bigger city without offending her mother (demonstrating an early inclination toward diplomacy). In her research she also discovered that medical librarianship was a bit more lucrative than some other types of library work (demonstrating an early understanding of funding). But she’s quick to point out she didn’t know everything:
“When I went to the library school interview and they asked what kind of medical librarian I wanted to be, I had no idea about the various roles, so I paused and said, ‘A good one?’”
From a career choice based on practical factors grew a great love for and dedication to the profession. Jean has moved across country taking different jobs to learn and grow, headed the largest medical library association to serve her peer community, and spearheaded library-publisher partnerships to build bridges and close gaps. The latter is the reason her library colleagues were not surprised by her Elsevier role.
Jean the ambassador
How to contact Jean
Jean welcomes emails from librarians and library stakeholders; reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also connect with her on social media:
“When I look back at my career, this is a natural progression,” Jeans says. When she started her career at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore she was near the National Library of Medicine (NLM) in Bethesda, and she eventually took a position with a National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) office in Baltimore, one of eight regional outreach units of the NLM. In this capacity she shared information about NLM resources with librarians in 13 states and represented the Library at conferences and exhibitions. After leaving the NNLM her support of the program continued over the years, mostly recently as the director of the MidContinental Region and the NNLM National Training Office.
She is an active member of the Medical Library Association, having served on numerous committees, and was its president in 2006-07. As president she participated in an International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) meeting in Korea and presented MLA’s health literacy project in Italy several years later. As a library director, she visited libraries in Ireland and Japan to share her knowledge and broaden her perspective. These experiences will serve her in good stead at Elsevier, as she plans to spend more than half her time traveling to customer sites, librarian conferences and industry meetings. She is looking forward to serving as a communications conduit between Elsevier and the library community: listening to concerns, building relationships and sharing insights from her 37 years of experience and global vantage.
This won’t be her first foray into the world of publishing. She has been a member of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) since 2007, and in 2008 joined with a group of fellow health sciences library directors (the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries) to form the Chicago Collaborative (CC). One of its key objectives was to improve — some would say begin — the dialogue between librarians and publishers, with an eye toward mutual education. This exposure to publishers came with some revelations. At the CC, she was surprised to hear in private discussions with smaller publishers that they credited Elsevier with R&D advancements within the industry that they all benefited from. This made her pause and reflect.
The other Elsevier
As a library director, Jean gets how Elsevier is an easy scapegoat. “I’m guilty of a little Elsevier bashing in the past,” says Jean. “It’s not so much the pricing, which on a cost-per-usage basis and cost-per-accessible-article basis is low. It’s how much of one’s serials budget goes to Elsevier. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of factors like the quantity and quality of the content, along with all the accompanying innovation, when you are just looking at numbers in a spreadsheet and declining budgets. But when I thought about what my researchers want, it put it into perspective. I’m definitely not saying my upcoming conversations with librarians will be easy; however, I’m not adverse to accepting criticism and being able to rechannel it into a productive discussion.”
When she shared the news about her new role, she heard from colleagues who, again in private, said that when they were having financial difficulties, Elsevier listened and did something to help them. Other companies, not so much. She reports that they are glad to have one of their own on the inside and is quick to note that she’s not the only librarian working at Elsevier.
“There are librarians at Elsevier in product development, research, sales and marketing, so it’s nice to know I’m not the only one representing my library colleagues,” Jean says. “Working alongside researchers, technologists and engineers, we can help ensure the products and platforms are informed by a deep understanding of the research lifecycle, disparate ecosystems and stakeholder challenges, including those of the library director.”
On taking risks and seeking rewards
Libraries need to demonstrate relevancy and value in a world where information is, at least seemingly, easy to obtain. “We need to raise awareness with our administration of where the information is coming from,” Jean says. “Though the access may be transparent, the connection to the library should be concrete.”
As the Executive Director, Knowledge Management and Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library (EHSL) at the University of Utah, she recorded testimonials from library users regarding the role of the library in their outcomes and used them in an electronic annual report. “In practical terms, a library has a better chance of being funded if you frame funding in terms of the success of our students, researchers and educators. The budget is not for the library, it’s for the people served by the library.”
“We also need to separate the library function from the space,” she says. “They are very different and that wasn’t true before.” She envisions that more and more librarians will have dual roles and that many will become embedded in departments, while the functions of the library building will continue to evolve as well. At EHSL, she led such a change by repurposing space as an innovation and discovery center and adding roles like Innovation Librarian and Emerging Technology Librarian to support the innovation and educational transformation of the curriculum as more multi-format, engaging and immersive.
Paraphrasing a Harvard Business Review article title, “not taking risks is the riskiest move of all” sums up not only Jean’s attitude toward the profession, but to librarians as well.
Fair, fun and demanding (in a good way!)
I asked Jean to give me three adjectives to describe herself: “Fair” and “fun” came quickly, but she struggled with the third. She offered up “driven,” but I believe the word she was searching for was:
Demanding (definition from dictionary.com)
requiring or claiming more than is generally felt by others to be due: a demanding teacher
calling for intensive effort or attention; taxing: a demanding job
“Demanding” can have a negative overtone, but if you’ve met Jean I think you’ll see it’s only in the most positive light. She has worked very hard to improve the libraries and support the librarians under her direction. Like her career choice, this too was influenced by her family. Her middle sister has Down syndrome and taught Jean about working to the full extent of her abilities.
“If you are given certain talents and opportunities, it’s an honor to use them and a shame to waste them,” Jeans says. “Like my sister Patty, I want everyone to try hard and be the best they can be.”
For fun Jean plays tennis and accompanies her husband on local adventures in their small plane. He’s the pilot, but she has taken enough lessons to hopefully land the plane if required by an emergency (the Scout motto “Be prepared” comes to mind). Having left the University of Utah as an emerita librarian, she’ll stay engaged with former colleagues in social settings, including book and knitting clubs. As she’s in the process of co-editing two books, maybe her club — if they’re open to reading about health science libraries — will read one of her books soon. And though she claims to lack talent in knitting, she’s certainly not afraid to try something new.