NNLM Region 2 Executive Director Lorin Jackson interviewed Mary Ellen Sloane about her Fulbright Scholar award.
Mary Ellen Sloane is the User Services Librarian for Basic and Applied Sciences in the Walker Library. She is responsible for library collection development in the sciences, scholarly communications advising, liaison services, and reference and instruction services.
Her undergraduate degree in Philosophy focused on logic, ethics, and epistemology, and her graduate degree in Library and Information Science focused on library administration, organization of information, archives, and library reference and instruction services. She has written and presented on collection development, library consortia, web applications for electronic resources, web site development, library instruction, and distance education. Her research interests are collection development, scholarly communication, electronic resources management, web site usability, and information literacy.
She is an avid hiker and a lifelong horse rider.
Fulbright Project Spotlight:
Mary Ellen Sloane works at Middle Tennessee State University and is a Region 2 Regional Advisory Board Member. She has earned a prestigious Fulbright Scholar award to work as a part of developing a library abroad in Rwanda. We caught up with her to ask about her research, work, and upcoming time abroad.
Lorin: Can you tell us your name, title, and where you work?
Mary Ellen: I’m the User Services Librarian for Basic and Applied Sciences. I work at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). I will have worked there for 17 years in September.
Lorin: Wow! Happy work birthday.
Mary Ellen: Thanks!
Lorin: Okay, we’d love to learn more about your research and work in libraries.
Mary Ellen: Sure. At the very beginning, I started working in libraries at 18 years old in the Circulation department in a university library. After graduate school, I worked as a reference and instruction librarian, then as a web librarian, then moved into electronic resources, and finally became the science librarian. I thought it was important to practice and keep my technical skills sharp in all the positions I held. As the electronic resources librarian, I focused a lot on licensing and collection development. I noticed overlaps with interoperable technologies – like understanding how databases connect to journals, and journals to full text knowledge bases.
When the science librarian position became available, I thought it would be a good transition for me to keep a pulse on public services and keep a connection with users because that was rewarding, or something I loved to do.
I saw that data was going to be undergoing a huge evolution in libraries and in the knowledge ecosystem. I saw opportunities for that to overlap with computer science. Basically, I saw a whole wave coming in the information sciences field in computing intensive research methodologies. Technology was undergoing a huge paradigm shift in libraries for the way research is done and communicated through libraries. Libraries need to have a place at the table. We need to be included in the conversation. Since about 2015, I really started to take advantage of every opportunity for professional development so I could expand my knowledge to have a mental map and understanding of these research methods and tools. It’s a work in progress because I have some gaps in my knowledge that I’m still trying to work on, especially in data science.
Lorin: I agree. Let’s hear more about your Fulbright research project and this wonderful opportunity to work in Rwanda.
Mary Ellen: I saw that the Ellen DeGeneres Fund had donated some money for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (DFGF) to build a new campus and I had been looking for a Fulbright opportunity for a couple of years. The Fulbright program visited our campus and I considered applying. When I saw the new DFGF campus, I thought that would be a good opportunity because there as a lot of research that was done through the center and it had a long and intriguing history.
The program had a highly visible, public profile through the movie about Dian Fossey. She’s kind of a cultural icon. So, I started looking into the research that was done through the center by using library indexes and I wondered what they’re doing with their research and do they need help managing their research data?
When I first approached them, I asked if I could apply to the Fulbright to help them with their research data. Before contacting them I had done a network visualization of their research. Nodes and edges showed the scope and reach of the subject areas of their research.
Lorin: Wow! I’m sure that was compelling for them to see.
Mary Ellen: Yes, I think so. When they saw that they thought, well, that’s a little bit of more of a need for us because with this new center, we want to better assess the impact of our current research programs and develop a way to continue to track the impact and the nature of the research.
What it ultimately boiled down to was a project about scholarly communication from the center. They also want to expand their impact and to try to expand their research network in strategic ways.
In developing the project further, we identified a need to develop a plan for the library space at the new campus. They have a library space in the building and part of the project is going to be using well-established library methodologies to look at collections and services in space.
Lorin: Sounds like an exciting opportunity for them and for you. What are you most looking forward to learning about or to get out of your travels?
Mary Ellen: Well, I’ve never been to Africa, but I’ve been learning a lot more about current events the culture. In the application you have to write about a lot about like cultural sensitivity and so I think that’s something that we could all practice anytime, but having been in such a new environment, completely different culture, I think it will be a good opportunity for me to just have a higher level of awareness of making cultural connections. In the U.S., we can be a bit siloed, so it becomes difficult to see out of our view.
Lorin: Yes. I think that’s helpful because I think with traveling abroad, it really does give you an opportunity, like you said, to build those connections in a different way and sort of learn more about yourself in a different environment. I think it’s great that on top of the type of research that you’ll be doing to support with them, kind of establishing a library that supports an endangered species and researching how to do that is very compelling.
Is there anything else that you want to share about what you’re looking forward to or about the research that you want to do to let people know about?
Mary Ellen: Yes, thanks. I did think of a couple of other things to mention.
I hope to be working with the Carpentries program while I’m there. Hopefully, we can set up a workshop though those connections. Some of those Carpentries lesson plans can just be on GitHub or OpenRefine. I think that software would be accessible to a lot of people, a lot of different learning levels, and would be a really good introduction.
The other thing is, I’m trying to understand more about a lot of these initiatives and efforts around capacity building and scholarly communication in Africa. For example, I’m following the AfricArXiv. There was also a big conference in Rwanda about three weeks ago. The African Protected Areas Conference (APAC) held people from around the continent talking about many different facets and issues related to conservation.
There’s a database called Policy Commons from Coherent Digital, as well. The vendor for Policy Commons also has a database called Africa Commons. They both seem like good opportunities to partner with. I did have a meeting with them and hope to collaborate further going forward if there’s an opportunity to do so, because Policy Commons is an effort to create basically an index of policy documents.
Lorin: These sound like wonderful opportunities to combine your passions in a helpful way.
Mary Ellen: Yes. Wherever they are, they could be public governmental policies. They could be institutional policies. They could be policies from NGOs or other organizations, but anything that’s a policy from an organization, they would want to have in this index. They’re creating an index of African cultural materials and they’re aware that there’s been lots of previous historical issues with appropriation.
Lorin:. Yes, I have heard about repatriation in our field. That it is something that happens after something has been taken and needs to be returned or acknowledged by the communities that it was a part of. And this is, you’re right, a growing movement, I think throughout galleries, libraries, archives, and museums to be more aware and think about ways that they can partner with, the communities where they’ve gotten artifacts or information from. This is all exciting and something that I hope you get to explore during your research there. Please keep us posted and let us know how it goes!