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National Medical Librarians Month Feature: Meet Marlena Barber, MLIS – From Internships to Professional Service to Assistant Director: How to Chart your Course as a Medical Librarian

Posted by on October 22nd, 2018 Posted in: Advocacy

Marlene Barber

Marlena Barber, MLIS
Assistant Director of Collections and Historical Services
Laupus Health Sciences Library
East Carolina University – Greenville, NC

“Volunteer at libraries and archives while still in school. Look into internships, including virtual internships if available.”

Yunting Fu, MLS
Research, Education & Outreach Librarian
School of Nursing Librarian
Health Sciences & Human Services Library
University of Maryland – Baltimore, MD

When I first met Marlena Barber, the Assistant Director of Collections and Historical Services at Laupus Health Sciences Library at East Carolina University in 2013, she had been on board as a Collection Services & Metadata Librarian for a couple months. We started to get familiar with each other by sitting on the same committees and going to various meetings and events. The more I got to know her, the more I was impressed by how much extra work she has taken on besides the job responsibilities, and amazed by how well she was able to manage all of them.

So when I learned that she recently moved up to the position of Assistant Director, I took the chance to interview her with the hope she can share her wisdom of building a successful career, and more importantly, to inspire those who want to follow the path of medical librarianship.

What is your expert area in librarianship, and what are your main job responsibilities?
I believe that cataloging resources would be my specialized area in librarianship (though, there’s always more to learn with evolving technologies!). I provide guidance with collection development, collection management, and material donation management for electronic, print circulating, and historical collections at the Laupus Health Sciences Library. I also currently supervise five direct reports and six indirect reports.

What do you strive to accomplish in your current job?
Currently, I am working toward increasing efficiencies with resource description of the library’s circulating and online materials. I am also completing various courses with the American Association of State and Local History to broaden my knowledge set in managing historical collections. My goal is to complete work that will lead to increased educational opportunities for our students, faculty and staff, and members of the community who use and view our resources.

What is the biggest misconception people may have about your job?
People might think I work a lot with physical books and helping guests of the library, but that’s actually a rarity for me. My work is primarily behind the scenes working with electronic resources, historical items, and the employees at the library.

What does a typical work day involve?
It is a variety. Some items that usually happen daily are me reviewing and responding to emails, attending meetings, reviewing cataloged records from an employee who I have been training, corresponding with our sister library on various technical issues, and planning events, exhibits, and projects with employees. For instance, a research project I am working on for the Charleston Conference spurred a new project today of upgrading a large number of catalog records for electronic resources.

What makes your job unique?
I do such a variety of work, but it is tied together in that I oversee resource description for a variety of material types including the library’s circulating resources, the archival collections, and the artifacts. I supervise three departments at my library: Collection Services, History Collections, and The Country Doctor Museum. I oversee collection development, historical event programming, exhibit development, and I work on promotion of each at the library. My work with the museum is primarily administrative, but I also aid in promoting the collections and events and in staffing needs from the library.

What aspect do you like least of your job?
Delivering negative feedback or news to employees would be the thing I like the least.

What advice would you like to impart to current and future LIS students who are considering a career path similar to yours?
Take coursework both in cataloging and in archives to broaden your knowledge base. Volunteer at libraries and archives while still in school. Look into internships, including virtual internships if available.

After become a librarian, get involved in academic and professional organizations: I am Past Chair of MLA’s Technical Services Section. I have chaired and served on a number of search committees at the library level. I serve on a university committee that works on various issues regarding Faculty Welfare. I also recently completed two years of service as a faculty senator. All of this committee work has helped me get to learn about the different work that is going on all over campus.

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