Inquiring Informationists: A Qualitative Exploration of Our Role

Rex R. Robison, Mary E. Ryan, I. Diane Cooper


Objective – The goal of this study is to explore the impact of an informationist program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Library and to provide a basis for further program assessment. In 2001 the NIH Library began its informationist program, where librarians with training in both biomedicine and information science work alongside researchers. The goal of the program is to facilitate researchers’ access to and usage of information resources.

Methods – The researchers used qualitative interviews with key informants to characterize the current informationist services of user groups. Subjects were selected to capture a variety of activities that would show patterns of how the program assists the researchers of various NIH groups. Following the interviews, the authors extracted recurring and significant themes from the subjects’ comments.

Results – Interview subjects provided their views on the informationists’ skills, impact, and team participation. Research results documented that informationists helped find resources, provided instruction, and worked as part of the research team. The NIH groups currently using this service value their informationists’ knowledge of library resources and their ability to access information needs quickly. The informationists’ skills in finding information save the researchers time, increase the efficiency of the research team, and complement the contributions of other team members. Training by informationists was found useful. Informationist services led to increased self-reported library use, albeit in some cases this use was entirely via the informationist.

Conclusions – Informationists saved researchers time by obtaining requested information, finding esoteric or unfamiliar resources, and providing related training. These activities appeared to be facilitated by the acceptance of the informationist as part of the research team. This exploratory study provides background that should be useful in future, more extensive evaluations.


library services; program evaluation; liaisons; assessment; informationists

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