Print Page   |   Sign In   |   Register
TL v58n3 Interviews
Share |


Tennessee Libraries 


Volume 58 Number 3



Interviews: Special Librarians

Scott Cohen, Interview Editor

Martha Earl, Reference Coordinator,
UT Preston Medical Library
Martha Earl received her Master of Science in Library and Information Science from the University of Tennessee and has 21 years of experience as a medical librarian. She has worked at the UT Preston Medical Library since 1997 and currently serves as Assistant Director/Assistant Professor. Martha previously helped people to find the answers at both Meharry Medical College and East Tennessee State University College of Medicine Libraries. Since she has been at Preston, she has worked closely with both health professionals and consumers. In 2005 the Preston Medical Library won the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science Blue Ribbon Award for Consumer Health Information. Martha is a Distinguished member of the Academy of Health Information Professionals and winner of the UT School of Information Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award for 2006. Martha has also served TLA in numerous capacities, including her term as President in 1998-99. At present she chairs the Special Libraries Section and is co-chair of the Publications Advisory Board. 
Questions from colleagues
Doug Cross, Library Director at Walters State Community College, Morristown

How have you made the expertise of your position and the resources of the Preston Medical Center Library available to Community Colleges in particular and to individual citizens of Tennessee?
The mission of the Preston Medical Library includes outreach to the community. We are open to the public and assist community college nursing students doing clinical rotations at UT Medical Center. We work with community college librarians in TLA, the East Tennessee Library Association, and the Knoxville Area Health Sciences Libraries Consortium. With our community college colleagues at Walters State and Roane State, we have provided train-the-trainer classes for public librarians and brought in National Network of Libraries of Medicine sponsored classes. To share our print resources, Preston Medical Library participates in Docline and OCLC interlibrary loan systems. We are also TennShare members, participating in recommendation of health sciences resources, such as databases. 
 Rene Jordan, Planning, Research and Projects Coordinator, Knox County Public Library System

How are you working with public libraries to address consumer needs for health  information?

The Preston Medical Library was the first health sciences library in Tennessee to get a TSLA grant to start a consumer and patient health information service. We work with the Knox County Public Library (KCPL) to provide interlibrary loan of Preston print materials. We have enjoyed teaching train-the-trainer classes for staff at the Knox County Public Library, the Oak Ridge Public Library, the Fischer Public Library, the Pigeon Forge Public Library, the Blue Grass Regional Library, and others. We distribute our consumer health information service brochures to public health departments and KCPL branches. KCPL librarians refer patrons to us for more in-depth consumer health information, as do other public librarians in the region. We do presentations at TLA on consumer health resources for public librarians. Currently, we are working with TSLA to bring National Network of Libraries of Medicine consumer health training to more regional library staff. Our director, Sandy Oelschlegel, heads the Tennessee Outreach State Planning Team, which includes representatives from public libraries, to coordinate outreach to consumers, library staff, and health professionals.

 Mary Carpenter, Library Director, University of Tennessee at Martin
 What is the largest challenge(s) facing your particular library in the next year, five years?

Challenges are opportunities. In the next five years, the Preston Medical Library plans to create a separate consumer health information library in the UT Medical Center’s new Heart Hospital, which broke ground on July 24.  Eventually, the library will move to the Heart Hospital section of the campus. Our challenge will be to continue to serve our primary clientele, the Graduate School of Medicine faculty, staff, and students, while expanding services in a higher traffic area of the medical center. We have strong support from both university and hospital administration who have encouraged this expansion. The medical center is also seeking Magnet status for nurses, who will require a deeper level of research support. We have always served the medical center staff and consumers but their needs will grow as the hospital grows. We will grow with them. 

In addition, the costs of electronic resources in the sciences continue to climb. This is a continual challenge in health sciences libraries. We are privileged to maintain a high level of access for our clientele, thanks to the support of the Graduate School of Medicine.
How does the world of special libraries differ from public or academic?  In which ways are they the same?  In other words, why are you so “special”?
Having worked in regular academic libraries, and being a public library user and advocate, I can speak to how health sciences libraries differ. Special libraries serve a highly focused, distinct clientele. We buy resources in that specialty area. We provide an excellent level of personalized service. We are special not only because we specialize but because we go the extra mile to make our clientele feel special. Small public or academic libraries also get to know their clientele personally and can cater to their needs. In large academic or public libraries, it has been my experience that there may not be enough staff to provide that type of service. Of course, larger libraries find creative solutions to counter this challenge.
Nancy Williams, graduate student, University of Tennessee, School of Information Sciences, Knoxville

Does the Preston Library carry information about Eastern medicine (acupuncture, herbal medicine, etc.)?

Yes, we do provide books on alternative and complementary medicine, such as Eastern medicine. We have information at both consumer and health professional levels. One of our physicians at UT Medical Center is using acupuncture to relieve pain for surgical patients. Area practitioners or patients can come to our library to use databases, books, or journals. We will also send information to consumers and area practitioners. Some of the information is found in the nutrition literature since herbal medicines are considered dietary supplements by the FDA. Information, such as that on Chinese herbal medicine formularies, is more difficult to find. Our resources provide scientific evidence on the usefulness of complementary medicines.

Anna Galyon, graduate student, University of Tennessee, School of Information Sciences, Knoxville 

I want to know how involvement in the Special Libraries Association has influenced your careers. Does it keep you in touch with other professionals, or open new opportunities that might otherwise be unavailable? I am interested in learning how this organization helps professionals.

Actually, the majority of medical librarians participate in the Medical Library Association. A few do participate in SLA. My colleagues who do attend SLA tell me that SLA provides outstanding support for special librarians in areas of management, corporate intelligence, and fee-based services. As with other library associations, SLA provides opportunities to network, locate new career options, and to keep current in the profession. I would like some day to attend a national SLA meeting. I am sure I would learn a great deal. I value participation in a variety of library associations. We can learn some much from each other and strengthen the role of libraries.

Scott Cohen, Library Director at Jackson State Community College

How did you get into the special library field?

In library school, I had wanted to be an academic science or social sciences librarian. At that time, I worked as a paraprofessional supervisor in the Reserve department at UTK. My department heads encouraged me in my professional growth. Joe Rader sent me to  Knoxville Area Health Sciences Libraries Consortium meetings. Then Julie Adams, my coworker and fellow SLIS student, brought me a job ad from Meharry Medical College Library. Joe suggested that I call the Preston Medical Library to talk to the staff there. The librarian at Preston told me that her job was fun. I had never heard the word “fun” used in that way. I applied at Meharry and knew immediately that I was in the right place for me. Being a medical librarian was, and still is, fun. 
Have you had occasions where the information you provided to physicians or other health personnel  was for a life and death situation? Or where the information directly affected a patient's care?

As a medical librarian, part of my work is to provide information at the point of care.  Sometimes we do work with physicians who are making life and death decisions based on information that we provide. Usually they are making decisions about which diagnostic tool, or drug, or surgery to use in a certain patient care situation. Part of the reward of our work is that we are partners with the health care professionals. Our annual survey of graduating resident physicians demonstrates that they have used information from the library to influence how they treat their patients. For instance, physicians will sometimes call before the patient’s appointment to find out what the effects of a certain drug or what the newest treatments are. 


Julie Julian photo

Julie Julian, Director of Legal Resources & Research at the Nashville law firm of Boult, Cummings, Conners & Berry, PLC.

Julie is a  Murfreesboro native who received her B.A. at MTSU, moved to Nashville to get an M.L.S. at Vanderbilt, and forgot to go home. Twenty-two years later she moved back to Rutherford County, settling in a small rural community that makes long work days in Nashville all worthwhile. Julie's first position out of library school was as cataloger at Meharry Medical College Library. Her second position was as librarian/research assistant at The Upper Room. Her current career path as a law firm librarian began 24 years ago with the first of two law firm librarian positions. Julie has two children--a daughter who begins her college career at UT Knoxville this Fall, and a son who is pursuing a doctoral degree at Harvard—and an always-interesting contingent of cats, dogs, and horses.

Questions from colleagues

Rene Jordan, Planning, Research, and Projects Coordinator Knox County Public Library System

How are you working with public libraries to address consumer needs for legal information?

Although I am not currently collaborating with public libraries on consumer needs for legal information, public libraries were my first love. I began working at Linebaugh Public Library at the tender age of 14, and public libraries continue to play an important role in my law firm librarian life. Several years ago I gave informal advice on legal reference sources at Nashville Public Library. I also helped collect and place law books donated by Nashville law firms to Clarksville Public Library following the 1999 tornado. Please contact me if you have questions about providing legal information to the public; I would be happy to share what I know in this area with librarians in all types of libraries. 


Sharon Johnson, Associate Professor, Instruction Team, Woodward Library Austin Peay State University

Legal resources and research is one of my most challenging reference areas. What resource(s) would you suggest for one who wants to become familiar with the basics of finding and using general legal resources?

The Internet places so much legal information at our disposal, and the good news is that there are some great sites to turn to for reliable guidance in finding legal information. Many bar associations, such as the Tennessee Bar Association at, provide legal information intended for public use--links to helpful websites and even brief summaries of specific laws, such as the “Lemon Law” ( Working with bar association websites might even boost your opinion of the legal profession in general. Lawyer jokes never mention the dedication to community service that many lawyers exemplify. Zimmerman’s Research Guide ( is an excellent resource when you need additional background on a legal or business term/concept or resource. The Law Library of Congress offers help in finding legal resources (, with a link to Research Help near the bottom of the page. Finally, Cornell University Law School ( provides a wealth of legal information on its well-arranged Legal Information Institute pages. Take a look at the search and browse options available to you under “Law about…” on the left-hand menu. I hope that these sources give you the legal research support you need the next time you get a law-related reference question--

Is there any kind of liability attached to providing legal research or giving legal resources in answer to patron questions?

Legal research inherently involves a degree of risk. Obtaining a good answer to a legal question requires that the most appropriate sources are consulted and that a person has a sufficient understanding of the legal questions and concepts that apply to a particular situation. Additionally, librarians who work with the public must be aware of the difference between supplying legal information and supplying legal advice. Only a licensed attorney may give legal advice, as spelled out in the state laws that prohibit the unauthorized practice of law. The Southern California Chapter of the American Association of Law Libraries provides a useful discussion of “Legal Reference v. Legal Advice,” including a suggested written library policy on legal assistance, at .

 Mary Carpenter, Library Director, University of Tennessee at Martin
What is the largest challenge(s) facing your particular library in the next year, five years?

Our largest short- and long-term challenge is making sure that we provide the research sources and services needed by our attorneys and administrative and support staff to provide the best service to our clients within the increasingly competitive environment of the practice of law.
How does the world of special libraries differ from public or academic? In which ways are they the same? In other words, why are you so “special”?

Special library experts might differ with me, but I think that the distinction that makes special libraries “special” is that they exist to support a group of people whose information needs are more narrow than broad—specialized, if you will—as they work in their given field. One of the ways that my experiences as a librarian are different from the experiences of public, school, and academic librarians is the nature of my patron base. Most of my patron base is composed of the same people over a period of time (turnover is relatively small), and the total number of people who rely on me for research help is smaller than the patron base for most libraries. Being a librarian in a for-profit business whose professionals work in situations where a large amount of money or risk can be involved does differ from working in a more traditional library environment. Having said all that, I really enjoy being a part of organizations like TLA and Tenn-Share that allow me to be learn from and network with librarians in all types of libraries.


Nancy Williams, graduate student, University of Tennessee, School of Information Sciences, Knoxville

What print sources do you most want to see searchable online?

Most legal research tools have taken the fast track to becoming available electronically. However, I occasionally need to access and search superseded Tennessee statutory code sections and the older statutes on which they are based. The combination of the Tennessee General Assembly’s website, Westlaw and Lexis give me electronic access to codified statutes back to 1991 and statutes as they were enacted back to 1990. It would be wonderful to have electronic access to Tennessee codes and statutes that predate the years of coverage currently available. I know that the demand for these materials isn’t frequent, but I do think that this is an important body of information that needs to be digitally preserved.


Anna Galyon, graduate student, University of Tennessee's School of Information Sciences, Knoxville 

I want to know how involvement in the Special Libraries Association has influenced your careers. Does it keep you in touch with other professionals, or open new opportunities that might otherwise be unavailable? I am interested in learning how this organization helps professionals.


Actually, I am a member of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) rather than a member of the Special Libraries Association (SLA). Both of these professional associations provide valuable opportunities for continuing education, networking, and professional growth. I have been very fortunate to have the support of my law firm in belonging to AALL and attending its educational conferences. I benefit from hearing that other law librarians face some of the same challenges that I do, and I learn from the approaches and solutions that they have used. Belonging to AALL gives me a valuable context in which I can develop a better understanding and appreciation of, as well as better working relationships with, my colleagues who work in academic, government, corporate law, and law firm libraries. It doesn’t hurt to have friends who work in out-of-state law libraries that I can call on when I run into a non-Tennessee reference question I’m struggling with, either.

Scott Cohen, Library Director, Jackson State Community College

How did you get into the special library field?

I wish that I had a story of strategic career development to share, but my experience in special libraries has come more from serendipitous openings in the Nashville library job market than from my specific intentions. A couple of common threads that connect my jobs as a medical cataloger, an editorial librarian, and a law firm librarian are my interest in stepping outside the types of libraries I am familiar with and learning and working in new environments. I am grateful that I have had employers who have allowed me to get lots of on-the-job training.
 Does the information you provide to lawyers directly affect particular legal cases?

The information that I provide often helps lawyers decide which approach to addressing a client’s needs would be most prudent. Information I provide is sometimes used in direct support of a client’s position in a dispute. Performing incomplete or inaccurate legal research can, of course, also directly affect a case. I am always mindful of how important it is that I and my colleagues in the firm have the knowledge and the tools needed to perform legal research well.


Membership Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal