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Dragonfly October 23rd, 2020
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National Medical Librarians Month: Sara Mannheimer

Posted by on October 7th, 2019 Posted in: Blog, Data Science, News from Network Members, News From NNLM PNR, Public Health
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In honor of National Medical Librarians Month in October, we are featuring librarians in the PNR region who are medical/health sciences librarians as well as those who provide health information to their communities.  This week of October 7th, 2019 we are featuring Montana State University’s Sara Mannheimer who is a Data Librarian.  Welcome Sara, to the PNR Dragonfly blog!


  • Name: Sara Mannheimer
  • Position: Data Librarian
  • Working organization: Montana State University
  • Education history
    • BA in Literature from Bard College
    • MS in Information Science from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Personal Background
    • Sara takes ballet and modern dance classes and she performed in a local dance showcase last month. She also plays piano and guitar (but she only performs for her partner and her cat!). Before becoming a librarian, Sara worked as a sea kayak guide in Alaska and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and she still loves being outside—bike commuting, backpacking, camping, and cross-country skiing. She is also an enthusiastic extrovert and a believer in the power of community, so spending time with friends is one of her biggest sources of joy.


Q1: It’s an honor to have you with us on the Dragonfly Blog -welcome Sara! My first question is related to the theme of medical librarianship as October is National Medical Librarians month.  So, what inspired you to work with medical data?

Thank you! It’s a pleasure to be featured! My work with data began in graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill, where I studied archives and records management. I got into the world of data archiving through an independent study developing a digital preservation policy for Dryad Digital Repository. During the project, I had invaluable mentorship from Ayoung Yoon (who is now on the iSchool faculty at IUPUI) and Jane Greenberg (now on the iSchool faculty at Drexel). Ayoung was a PhD student at the time, and she collaborated with me on a poster that we presented at the ASIS&T annual meeting. Jane instilled in me a love for metadata and encouraged me to apply to be the Senior Curator at Dryad after I finished my master’s degree. Jane and Ayoung also mentored me by co-authoring a paper describing our digital preservation policy development process. Building on the work I did at Dryad, I decided to move to a tenure track faculty position as Data Librarian at Montana State University (MSU). At MSU, I help with data management planning, coordinate data science workshops, build data-related tools, and conduct research exploring data curation and data ethics.

Working with NNLM-PNR has been a great entrance into medical data. For example, NNLM-PNR just funded a project that will allow me and my colleagues Jason Clark and Jim Espeland to work with a research center on campus to make their restricted health sciences data available to community partners.

Q2:  Tell me, how did you get into data science?

I’m still getting into it! I began my learning process through a couple of Data Carpentries workshops—one at the Research Data Access and Preservation (RDAP) Summit in 2015, and one at the National Data Integrity Conference in 2017, and then I trained to be a certified Carpentries instructor last year. But most of the data science instruction in the library is the result of collaborations across campus. I’m partnering with Allison Theobold, a graduate student in the statistics program who teaches workshops as part of her dissertation project. She and her advisor, Stacey Hancock, have helped create a thriving R workshop series in the library that includes introductory and intermediate R concepts, as well as sessions on data wrangling and data visualization. This year, we’ve extended the partnership to include graduate students from MSU’s Statistical Consulting and Research Services in order to continue to sustain the workshops. These statistics graduate students have strong coding skills, and they are amazing teachers for their peers.

In addition to teaching practical coding skills, I have an interest in big data ethics, and I have done some writing and thinking about the ramifications of data science using social media data. And I have also begun to pursue projects that support “collections as data”—that is, computational analysis for digital collections. This work includes initiatives like making the text of our digital archival collections available for download, and mentoring students to create digital scholarship projects using archival collections. This interactive map created by former MSU student Dillon Monday is a good example of a collections as data project.

Q3:  In your time as Montana State University’s Data Librarian, what has been your most favorite project to date?

I think my favorite project is actually the first grant I was awarded from NNLM-PNR in 2017! The project took an evidence-based approach to creating a data management planning toolkit aimed at health sciences researchers. After identifying a need to improve the data management planning resources that the library provides to the campus community, I proposed a grant to analyze data management plans from grant proposals at MSU, and then to interview principal investigators about their data management practices.

The research I conducted (with fantastic student research assistant Wangmo Tenzing) showed that most investigators practice internal data management in order to prevent data loss, to facilitate sharing within the research team, and to seamlessly continue their research during personnel turnover. However, it also showed that investigators still have room to grow in understanding specialized concepts like metadata and policies for reuse. I used the research results to inform a data management planning toolkit that includes guidance on facilitating findable, reusable, accessible, and reusable data—for example, using metadata standards, assigning licenses to their data, and publishing in data repositories. If you want to read more, I’ve published a talk  and a paper about the project.

Q4:  Are you working on anything new and exciting that you would like to share with us?

I’m getting my PhD right now from Humboldt University in Berlin (with advisor Vivien Petras), and my dissertation is a comparative study of qualitative secondary analysis and social media research. I’m still early in the process, but I’m loving the opportunity to take a deep dive into the topic of qualitative and social media data sharing.

Q5:  To date, what is your favorite data tool?

I’m really enjoying becoming more literate in R. We use RStudio Cloud in our workshops, and it simplifies the setup process for learners. I’m also keeping an eye on the development of Annotation for Transparent Inquiry (ATI), an annotation tool for qualitative research that’s being developed at the Qualitative Data Repository.

Q6:  If you could give one piece of advice/words of wisdom to anyone interested in medical librarianship/data science what would that be?

Collaborate. Our library and academic communities are vibrant and varied, and I’ve done my most impactful work when partnering with colleagues and students. Data librarianship overlaps and connects with many fields, and it’s impossible to have expertise in everything. Working with collaborators allows me to extend my own knowledge, develop better ideas, and provide stronger data services on campus.

Image of the author ABOUT Nancy Shin
I received my Bachelor of Science in the Integrated Sciences majoring in medical genetics and animal biology from the University of British Columbia (UBC). I also graduated from UBC's esteemed MLIS program with a focus on health librarianship. In 2018, I was the Research Data Management Sewell Fund Fellow for the Technology Incubator at Washington State University. Currently, I'm the NNLM PNR Research and Data Coordinator for the University of Washington's Health Sciences Library. In my spare time, I enjoy photography, drawing, cooking and baking, and travelling the world!!!

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Developed resources reported in this program are supported by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health (NIH) under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012343 with the University of Washington.

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