Interviewing Allison Howard

A brief interview with a USF Medical Librarian

Allison Howard, a Reference Librarian at the University of South Florida Shimberg Health Sciences Library

I decided to interview USF medical librarian Allison Howard. Howard has a small list of combined responsibilities at the Shimberg Library, where she is operates the reference desk, catalogs, and acts as a liaison to the USF College of Public Health. Howard was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about her line of work, the library's goals and objectives, and some anecdotal evidence about the typical day in the life of a reference medical librarian.

What services do you provide?

Overall, Howard stated the primary focus of her line of work is to profile informative answers, if not pathways to answers, for students, faculty, and sometimes the general public. Since the Shimberg is the main library and resource for USF Health, the aggregate collection of medical colleges available at USF, the primary objective of the facility is to assist USF Health students. Faculty are also welcome at the library, but within the confines of meeting the library's goal of providing medical resources to improve a students education while studying for a degree in any USF Health college.

Howard also continued to describe the general types of services the Shimberg library provides as well. She provides general reference inquiries, provides study rooms, electronic journal access (Howard mentioned how nearly every subscribed medical journal is now electronic), and acting as a liaison to the College of Public Health.

What do you think makes for high quality reference?

Howard began by noting that, obviously, the desired impact of any medical reference question depends on the situation and the patron. If a student is looking for a specific book, she can simply lead them to it. However, the conversation quickly turned to the educational side of medical librarianship. Medical librarians at USF generally avoid answering a student's inquiry outright. Howard will lead a student to the material but she won't provide any specific information, or more importantly, do everything for the student. The goal is to assist the student is such a way that they can go back to those same resources by themselves in the future.

How do you think the Internet has effected information seeking behavior?

"People don't know what they don't know," Howard said with a chuckle. Howard began by stating the incredible potential and the immediate benefits of public search engines and open academic databases like Google Scholar, but without the structure and authority of the library's academic resources and the guidance of a librarian, students may likely find themselves finding inferior resources that could impact the quality their research.

What services do you often find yourself providing the most in a typical workday?

Given my own library experience, I wasn't too surprised by the answer. Howard's most frequent job at the library is helping students with homework assignments and preforming specific kinds of searches through library materials.

The USF Health Shimberg Health Sciences Library

The USF Hinks and Elaine Shimberg Library is dedicated to providing health information services to students, faculty, and the general public.