Librarians providing innovative resources for faculty, students

On-site research, teaching services benefit doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs

Embedded librarian-physicians
Biomedical librarian Debra Werner (second from right) provides research support to faculty physicians (from left) Lolita Alkureishi and Nicola Orlov and medical student Riley Brian (right).
Photo by
Joel Wintermantle
Andrew Bauld
News Officer for Arts and HumanitiesNews Office

For faculty, residents and medical students making their rounds at UChicago Medicine’s Center for Care and Discovery, the key is focusing on patient care. Although it may surprise some in the age of Google, one of the medical team’s new initiatives involves bringing a long-established source of knowledge on rounds: the librarian.

UChicago librarians are providing customized and innovative on-site research and teaching services at a variety of locations across campus, including the classroom, legal clinics and business incubators. They offer expertise in locating up-to-date, peer-reviewed and highly specialized information using a wide range of digital resources—all outside the library walls.

Debra Werner, a biomedical reference librarian, joins an internal medicine team at the Center for Care and Discovery once a week to help answer the array of clinical questions that arise where doctors see patients—from the efficacy of a new type of medication to the trajectory of a particular form of therapy.

“A typical day usually starts in the workroom with the residents and attending physician discussing the new patients,” Werner said. “Everyone gets on the same page. Sometimes questions come up at that point, and I have my iPad with me so I can answer questions before going around to the patients.”

Werner, who holds an undergraduate degree in biology and a master’s in information sciences, said her specialty is knowing where to go to online to find the information to help doctors better care for patients.

“A lot of my job is introducing myself and letting the residents and medical students know I’m there and how I can help them,” Werner said. 

Vineet Arora, AM’03, associate professor and assistant dean for scholarship and discovery at UChicago Medicine, is one of the attending physicians who works with Werner on rounds. She said having Werner available has provided needed extra support to residents, and that in turn has improved the quality of patient care.   

“We know that this has an impact on patient rounds,” Arora said. “One of the issues is there is an explosion of medical literature online, so it’s becoming an important skill to find good resources. The key is finding that unbiased, rigorous evidence, and being able to bring that evidence to the patients.” 

Extending the reach of the library

Librarians at UChicago now can be found in a number of settings. In each environment, they tailor their services to support the particular needs of faculty members and students.

“As the information environment becomes more complex, the role of the Library is growing. We have become a hub that connects people and ideas through a dynamic exchange of information that takes place wherever faculty and students are working, teaching and learning,” said Brenda Johnson, director of the University of Chicago Library and University Librarian. “And that extends well beyond the walls of the Library.” 

This past summer, Emily Treptow, a business and economics librarian, began working with UChicago’s Polsky Exchange. Once a month she advises faculty, students, staff and neighborhood entrepreneurs on how to access resources to help develop their business plans.

“Before I started offering office hours, there was no one to turn to at Polsky for research mentoring,” Treptow said. But now she has been able to provide advice to a range of entrepreneurs—from those developing ideas to those with companies looking to grow.

Second-year Calvin Chu, an economics and statistics double major, turned to Treptow for advice on his emerging venture, MycroChange, a company seeking to help individuals invest in local nonprofits. Chu, who is also a member of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, said that Treptow was able to point him toward several databases he hadn’t realized could help.

“We wanted to better understand how nonprofits fund themselves, so by getting access to this data we were able to learn how an organization uses crowdfunding versus donations,” Chu said.

For Werner, the biomedical reference librarian, the customized, on-site services address a common misconception of the digital age. Werner said since so much information is available electronically, fewer people are coming to the science libraries for help, believing they can find what they need online without training. 

“Finding relevant, high-quality information is not as easy as just putting a few key words into a search engine,” Werner said. “The need is out there for expertise in finding information, so the onus is on us to go out into the world.”