|Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship||Spring 2000|
The School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has operated a library for the United States Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park, NC for more than 25 years. The unique contract partnership provides the opportunity for master's level students to acquire practical experience working in a science library while taking classes. More than 280 former student interns have continued onto careers in academic, corporate/special, public, and school libraries, or have taken information science-oriented positions with different companies across the country. This network of former interns speaks to the value of providing the opportunity for practical experience during the master's degree process, and demonstrates that privatization or outsourcing of services can be a "win-win" situation for those involved.
The major focus of the scientific investigation that has taken place in Research Triangle Park over the years has been air pollution. EPA laboratories study the health effects of various air pollutants on animals and plants, look for ways to track and model air pollution, and engineer methods of controlling and containing pollutant emissions. There is a group of scientists working to ensure research quality oversight, as well as a group of people actually writing the regulations that govern industry and states. While almost all work relates to air pollution in one way or another, the materials required by researchers and used by library staff vary widely. The collection includes a great number of resources devoted to biomedical and toxicological topics. There are also materials that cover basic chemistry, physics, and engineering, as well as a large body of regulatory and government documents.
The breadth of exposure to the variety of resources has made the internship program quite valuable. Students interested in health sciences are able to gain by working with the biomedical and toxicological titles, while students more interested in government regulations and documents have equal opportunity to become familiar with those resources. The result is a well-rounded intern who has been exposed to a wide variety of scientific and governmental information.
The student interns make a commitment to work half-time in the Library for one year, and have the opportunity to rotate through three library departments on a semester-long basis. Interns participate in all phases of the work that takes place within the Library, and gain experience utilizing a wide variety of tools and techniques. Additionally, the nature of the program ensures that the student is able to see how the departments within the Library work together and affect one another. Because the EPA Library is often the first "library" job that a student has, much time and effort are devoted to training and performance oversight.
Interlibrary loan (ILL) is frequently the first stop for new student interns because it provides an overview of library resources and tools, and of the varied research being conducted in the laboratories across the EPA-RTP campus. Students receive guidance on the procedures undertaken to perform each task associated with the rotation; the supervisor demonstrates each procedure and is available for consultation as questions arise. The students become facile with many different ILL tools, including OCLC, Docline, the EPA Online Library System, and various databases used for citation verification; the interns also gain experience interacting with the ILL departments of other organizations, with ILL record keeping, and with the process of tracking down ephemeral materials. Upon completing the interlibrary loan rotation, interns are able to process an incoming request from start to finish; the result is that the researcher receives his or her request in a timely manner, library statistics are recorded as appropriate, and a student intern is capable of functioning at a highly proficient level within the realm of document delivery.
Depending upon a student's preference for technical versus public service, the next stop on the intern's tour of the EPA Library is usually either cataloging or reference services.
The cataloging intern generally is someone who is interested in technical service, and has completed the introduction to cataloging class offered at SILS UNC-CH. Again, training involves an overview of all processes utilized by the EPA Library, as well as direct interaction with the departmental supervisor. Students utilize OCLC's cataloging module to perform both copy cataloging and original cataloging of EPA and other government documents; interns are responsible for ensuring that the records are accurate and mistake-free. Once cataloged, new material is barcoded and assigned call numbers before being integrated into the EPA Online Library System as well as the Library's stand-alone circulation system. Upon completing one month in the cataloging rotation, one EPA intern commented, "I think that my skills as an OCLC searcher are getting stronger every day. I'm having better luck with authority file searches for companies and names, and am finally getting the knack of exploiting the possibilities inherent in each field of the MARC record."
Students more interested in direct public service opportunities often elect to do a rotation through the Reference Department. As the first point of contact for Library clients, the reference intern is responsible for providing information in person, via telephone, fax, e-mail, and traditional correspondence. Because of the highly specialized nature of the research taking place in the EPA's Environmental Research Center, the training for the reference internship is extensive. Interns are given an overview of the role of the Library within the EPA research community and the EPA network of libraries. Typical types of reference requests are discussed, along with strategies and tools commonly used to provide answers. Detailed consideration is given to systems such as the EPA's Online Library System and the Agency's web site, so that interns are aware of techniques that might help them track down an elusive piece of information. The regulatory process is discussed in depth, as are the publications used for the documentation of regulations. As is standard practice in all rotations, interns are provided with extensive guidance, are given lists of contacts, and are instructed that because of the brief nature of their experience, they should always double-check with a supervisor before giving a final negative answer. Supervisors review "Inquiry Tracking Forms" each month to monitor the accuracy and exhaustiveness of the research being provided by the reference intern staff.
The online searching intern usually is someone who has completed the reference rotation, and has a good idea of ongoing projects and research at the Environmental Research Center. Regardless of the level of experience of the intern, the Library supervisor spends a great deal of time working one-on-one with the student. Basic guidelines as to standard policy regarding number of prints, format, post-processing, etc. are given, as well as step-by-step directions for some of the regular duties such as tracking incoming current awareness searches and mail statistics, obtaining results offline, and creating new alerts. Search request clarification, search strategy formulation, database selection, and search execution and evaluation are conducted in close consultation with the department supervisor; as interns gain experience and confidence, they become able to handle most search requests in an independent manner. The primary tool utilized for online searching is Dialog; some of the more commonly used databases include Medline, Toxline, Embase, Biosis, EI Compendex, NTIS, Applied Science and Technology, Energy Science and Technology, Pollution Abstracts, Environmental Bibliography, and CA Search.
Most often, serving as the solo librarian of a small satellite library is an intern's final rotation. At that point, the intern is familiar with day-to-day operations in the main library, and can handle the variety of incoming requests. The solo librarian provides reference service to a group of researchers working off-site. The intern also manages the collection of books and documents, tracks and orders serials, updates the intranet web page, and oversees the publication and distribution process of a series of EPA documents. This intern has access to many of the same tools that are available in the main library, and is instructed to utilize the services of the main library as back-up when necessary. Processes and responsibilities associated with the position are provided in great detail, and the intern works in close communication with his or her supervisors. The benefit of the solo librarian rotation is summed up by one of the former interns: ". . .I am gaining insight into collection development, budgeting, and some library administrative work. . .To me this is a prime example of why the EPA internship is extremely good preparation and experience for future jobs."
At any one time, there are additional library projects to which all interns contribute. Recent projects have included retrospective cataloging of portions of the collection, a collection use study, and the creation of training materials. Since 1985, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Library (also located in Research Triangle Park, NC) has utilized hours on the EPA/UNC-CH SILS contract, and employs student interns as well.
Robertson, W.D. 1976. UNC-EPA Internship Presents Opportunity for Students. Special Libraries 67: 353-357.