Laptop Librarians provide tailored services to your inbox

By Karolina Wilk, staff writer
three people sit around a table with laptops

The Laptop Librarian team during the National Library Week celebration in April 2019. Left to right: Matt Stirling, Tracie Frederick, and Alan Doss. Photo taken by Susie Culler.

Since the world went virtual in March 2020, the ‘Laptop’ in the Scientific Library’s Laptop Librarian Program has taken on a layered meaning.

For 14 years, the program has taken resources outside the Library’s walls and helped National Cancer Institute at Frederick and Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research scientists where they work. A librarian would bring a laptop to a specified location during regular times to answer questions about Scientific Library resources and services, making research support even easier to access.

The program structured time frames for these visits so they wouldn’t need to be arranged in advance.

“The Laptop Librarian program scheduled visits to specific locations at specific times, in addition to the on-demand service,” said Tracie Frederick, the Library’s director.

When the pandemic began, the Library staff, traditionally available to help researchers on-site in offices or laboratories, couldn’t do it anymore.

So, they instead turned their laptops to a different approach, capitalizing on the Library’s many electronic resources that are available as a convenience to scientists. The service transitioned to a virtual format, with librarians sending weekly or monthly emails tailored to a particular laboratory or directorate’s research.

Virtual Laptop Librarians Curate Research-Focused Newsletters

Now, the laptop librarians have successfully pivoted their already convenient services to be pandemic-friendly, something that will continue to be a vital resource in a future hybrid work environment.

Alan Doss, a chemical sciences informationist who has served groups through the Laptop Librarian Program since the beginning of the service, used to provide information services in various locations, the most popular of which was on Tuesday afternoons in Building 539. Since the pandemic began, he has been in weekly contact with staff from the Molecular Histopathology Laboratory and Center for Advanced Preclinical Research via email.

In recent years, the Library team established virtual connections with two additional groups: the Clinical Monitoring Research Program Directorate (CMRPD) and the Vaccine, Immunity, and Cancer Directorate (VICD).

“We met with leaders in each group to learn more about their research and to find out the types of information and resources they needed most and how it would be best to communicate with them,” Frederick said.

Frederick was the Laptop Librarian for VICD until May 2022, and Doss now continues this service. VICD receives monthly emails with links to recent relevant research items and highlights of Library services and classes. Frederick has also presented an overview of Library resources in two of VICD’s monthly all-team meetings and helped some of their staff with specific information needs.

Matt Stirling, a biosciences informationist with prior experience at a contract research organization, has compiled a monthly email for CMRPD with links to pertinent literature and key industry articles, as well as information about other Library services and training classes, since July 2021.

I routinely cherry-pick items [from a broad literature search] to send them … and [relevant articles from] a handful of industry publications from the last month or so ... I then augment with items like links to free relevant clinical research webinars, the Library’s new instructional agenda, and any new resources available through us or through the NIH that members of this group might typically utilize,” Stirling said.

The newsletters are custom-made.

Brooke Georgetti, a quality control manager in the VICD, echoed the sentiment that the resource is always relevant. She said, “The Laptop Librarian Program gives you resources and tools … tailored to a directorates’ specific interests. It encourages participation and connections across [the organization].”

Positive Reviews and Plans to Grow

Stirling has also presented to CMRPD’s management team and medical writers on how they can effectively leverage the Library’s resources and services. Since establishing this email service, the newsletter’s reach has grown.

When I started, they would only send my communications to CMRPD managers and supervisors, but now this communication goes out to their entire group. We’ve had some CMRPD folks register for our Advanced EndNote classes recently because I provided the agenda in a recent communication, so this has been paying off for both sides!” Stirling said.

He’s looking forward to offering a similar service to other interested groups.

Since going virtual, “we have received appreciative messages from all the groups,” Frederick said.

Kathleen Igo, a clinical project manager in CMRPD and user of the Laptop Librarian services, said, “The monthly communications have been very informative and have helped to increase awareness about the services and offerings available through the Scientific Library, particularly for staff members who work outside of Frederick. The content shared by the laptop librarian is always relevant to the work we do in CMRPD.”

The switch to a virtual format is just a continuation of the program’s long history of success. A past assessment that the Library conducted, published in 2010, found that a majority of users believed the service “saved them time … was convenient” and that they “gained information.”

Frederick added, “It would be great to provide this type of tailored service to more groups in the future.”


Contact the Library for more information.

A figure showing evaluation respondents’ perceived benefits from the Laptop Librarian Program. Image created by Marci Brandenburg, Alan Doss, and Tracie Frederick for their paper published in Medical Reference Services Quarterly.