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The Accidental Health Sciences Librarian
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The Accidental Health Sciences Librarian
By Lisa A. Ennis and Nicole Mitchell
Foreword by Jean Shipman

About the Authors

Lisa A. Ennis
In 1994, I accidentally got my first library job. I was adjuncting in the history department at Georgia College. Since adjunct positions didn’t come with benefits, I was on the prowl for something that would both allow me to keep teaching and give me health insurance. I didn’t actually apply for a library job at all, but someone in human resources sent my application to the library. Much to my surprise, I was invited to interview for an interlibrary loan assistant position—and I was even more surprised when I was offered the job. I figured this was a perfect situation. I’d get to teach history and learn the ins and outs of the library while I decided how and where I wanted to pursue my PhD in history. The weird thing was, the more I learned about the library, the more I liked it. The more I thought about that history PhD, the less appealing it became. It wasn’t long before the librarians picked up on this and began to encourage me to go to library school.
I succumbed to the pressure and entered the University of Tennessee’s School of Information Sciences with every intention of being a systems librarian in an academic library. I graduated in 1997 and began the search for that elusive position. My first three years out of library school were spent trying to settle in and experimenting with an IT position in a mental health center. I loved the IT work but sorely missed the library environment so began to keep an eye open for library positions. One day while perusing the job ads, I noticed an advertisement for a reference and instruction librarian back at Georgia College. It wasn’t systems, but I knew I would get to do techie stuff there, and I really wanted to be back in a library. As part of the interview I had to do a presentation and decided my topic would be athletic training resources. Apparently I did a good enough job, because I was offered the position. They also asked if, since I did such a good job on the presentation, I would be interested in having the School of Health Sciences as my liaison area. I happily agreed.
Then, when a reference position opened at Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, I decided I was ready for a change and applied. After only about a year in that position, the systems person resigned. I said I’d love to take that on, and they let me! Now I’m a systems librarian at a health sciences library, and I love every minute of it.

Nicole Mitchell
I attended Georgia College & State University (GC&SU) in Milledgeville, Georgia, home to what used to be the world’s largest mental institution, author Flannery O’Connor, and Georgia’s antebellum capital. Because I’d wanted to be a teacher since I could remember (I forced all my cousins to be “students” and used an empty wall in my grandparents’ house for a chalkboard—how was I to know the ink wouldn’t erase?), I decided I wanted to teach high school history. I enrolled in an education course with a practicum component to prepare me for the master of arts in teaching program.  I had been a substitute teacher a few times, so I thought I would be fine. The day I stepped foot into that seventh-grade classroom was the day I knew that I was definitely not cut out to be a teacher. I didn’t know what to do with a history degree at that point, but luckily for me, I was offered a graduate assistantship to pursue my MA in history. After I earned my MA, my mother tried to convince me that I’d be a good librarian, but that was the farthest thing from my mind.
So I applied for the job of assistant archivist for special collections at GC&SU’s Ina Dillard Russell Library. To my surprise I got the job and found that I loved working in the library. But I wanted to do more. I thought about going to library school but wasn’t sure where, since Georgia didn’t have an accredited program at the time. I looked into a couple of distance education programs but finally decided to go to the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama. Beginning in fall 2005, I was excited to receive one of 10 Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Academic Research Library fellowships designed to prepare students for careers in academic libraries. In addition to coursework, I got the chance to conduct original research projects—one of mine was on the graying of the profession.
It seems that I was destined to work in the health care arena. I worked throughout high school and college for a home health agency and even did some medical transcription for a while. I received my MLIS in December 2006 and joined Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham as a reference librarian and liaison to the School of Optometry in January 2007.

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