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An Interview with Kasia Gonnerman

Early last year, Kasia Gonnerman joined us as the new Dean of UAB Libraries. Here in Huntsville, I have gotten to know Kasia through Zoom meetings and I know I am not the only UAB librarian who is excited about the far-reaching vision and plans that she has for our library system. Her arrival has been described to me as a “breath of fresh air.” The depth of interest that she has shown in not only the overarching mission of the libraries but also the daily minutiae of our work makes it apparent that we are in good hands.

As the new editor of the ALHeLA blog, I thought an interview with her would be a good way to start my tenure, as well as an opportunity for all of the members of our conference to see what our plans are at UAB. Initially I was going to select quotes from the interview and place them in a column-style post. However, the interview that we had proved to be enlightening to the extent that I thought posting it verbatim would be the best way to give her answers justice.

What is your background?

Prior to becoming an academic librarian, I taught linguistics for five years, first at a college in the city of Poznan, Poland, then at a university in Olsztyn, Poland. (My original graduate degree, which I earned in 1990, is in Linguistics and American Literature.) 

What drew you to librarianship?

In my teaching days, I always assumed that I would continue serving in that role until the day I retire. I loved working with students and deeply enjoyed the positive energy and stimulation of the classroom environment. And yet, moving to the US in the mid-1990s made me curious about other professional paths, especially those that would allow me to continue to teach and to work closely with students. 

The more I learned about the work of academic librarians, the more appealing it seemed. I liked the fact that it offered a prospect of working with a broader diversity of students and a wider variation of topics as opposed to a narrower focus of the discipline of linguistics.

What are your favorite aspects of the profession?

Mentoring and encouraging early-career library faculty and staff to pursue their dreams and develop professionally. I find it extremely rewarding to support them as they strive to accomplish their goals and to help them succeed. And I feel that I learn as much from them as they learn from me.

Has your experience at UAB so far been different from ones you have had at previous libraries?

Each institution comes with its own culture, climate, and priorities, creating a unique microcosm of human interactions and work environment, so the experience tends to be unique, too. One significant difference is that all my previous library career occurred in private institutions of higher ed, and UAB is a public university, which means I’ve had to learn a lot about different funding structures and budget models. Overall, my experience so far has been unequivocally positive. I love the optimistic, can-do attitude of library employees and the wider campus community. UAB thrums with good energy that has been palpable even during the demanding times of the pandemic. 

What is your vision for UAB libraries and librarians and our role within the greater UAB academic community?

I have myriad ideas, but will confine myself to just a few for the sake of brevity. My short- and mid-range vision comprises several goals, enumerated below, and all of them impact our UAB academic community.

  1. Expand scholarly communication services

My vision is to offer robust scholarly communication services to our constituents. We have just formed a Scholarly Communication Office at the UAB Libraries, which is charged with assisting with data management plans and manuscript deposits, and working with other units such as the UAB Office of Research to offer workshops relating to federal compliance, exploring data storage and management options, supporting faculty and staff in all areas of the copyright management process, and supporting the development and teaching of online or hybrid classes by partnering with the Center of Teaching and Learning, UAB eLearning, UAB course designers, and individual faculty and staff, and advancing awareness and use of Open Education Resources and Affordable Instructional Materials (AIM) through workshops and individual consultations.

2.  Strengthen collections in the areas of weaknesses and work toward data-driven collection development decisions

Just like any academic library out there, we’re facing challenges of providing resources in support of a wide spectrum of needs in terms of disciplinary areas and a wide gamut of end users. In this very complex scenario, it’s critical that we apply a data-informed approach to collection development, work very closely with the disciplinary faculty to identify critical resources for teaching and research, and work collaboratively within the UA System to strategically redistribute subscriptions to large and expensive packages.

Another area where I envision moving forward with the collections is entering into transformational agreements with publishers to facilitate Open Access (OA) publishing for authors affiliated with UAB. We have just signed a “Read & Publish” agreement with Cambridge University Press, which removes the Article Processing Charges (APC) to publish their work — at no charge — in Cambridge OA and hybrid journals. 

                3. Grow instructional program

We are very fortunate to have a team of talented, highly skilled, and dedicated librarians who run a strong library instruction program. That said, our instructional reach is uneven and our teaching engagement could be much stronger in some disciplines, especially in the humanities. Another area of focus is working more deliberately with vulnerable student populations, such as transfer students or those struggling academically. I hope we can develop a plan to capture and support those student populations to help them succeed academically. 

4. Build and strengthen collaborations with our constituents and external partners

There’s probably not an entity on campus that doesn’t have some natural intersection with the libraries, and there’s always room to grow. We’ve been working with multiple partners on campus in order to serve the campus community better. Some of the key players include the Office of Research, Center for Teaching and Learning, e-learning, University Writing Center, UAB National Alumni Society, and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It’s also important for us to be part of the larger professional scene, such as ASERL, NAAL, MLA, AAHSL, and our partner libraries at the UA System.

5. Cultivate and promote special collections and digitization

I envision expanding and strengthening the pool of our supporters for historical collections (Reynolds-Finley Historical Library, Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences, and University Archives) and producing more virtual interactive exhibits to showcase our collections and honor our donors. I’m also committed to championing large-scale digitization and preservation projects, such as the UAB COVID Stories project we’re currently developing to document UAB’s experience at the time of pandemic for historical and research purposes.

6. Develop innovative programs with emerging technologies

I’d like to see us develop more programming on digital humanities projects for teaching and research and expanding teaching and collaborative opportunities with emerging technologies, such as AI, VR and 3D printing. I think that the possibilities in this area are vast and exciting.

In addition to these outward-facing goals, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to me to encourage and reward professional development across the board and to work on promoting and implementing principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. With the newly formed DEI Library Task Force, I envision that we’ll be able to make great strides in this area.

Any plans regarding new services/workshops/resources/partnerships or updates to current ones?

We’re constantly looking for new ways to enhance our services and offerings. Recently, we have launched the UAB Libraries Office of Scholarly Communication, whose mission is to support UAB faculty, staff, and students in navigating and understanding scholarly communication principles, including copyright, long-term preservation of digital assets, data management, research dissemination, scholarly impact, and public access. We plan to partner closely with the UAB Center for Teaching and Learning, UAB eLearning, UAB course designers, the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, the Office of Research, and individual faculty and staff regarding scholarly communication needs and issues.

We are currently offering a number of workshops in tandem with the UAB National Alumni Society, such as AI and Libraries, Health Literacy: Finding Information You Can Trust., and UAB’s Oral History Collection​. 

We were also selected by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) to host a series of Library Carpentry workshops to support the development of data science and computational skills. The Carpentry workshops are offered this spring in a fully virtual format.

Recently, we held an exciting virtual introduction to a digital exhibit, “Narrations of ENT,” showcasing unique and rare donations from Dr. Pappas, a long-standing supporter of the Reynolds-Finley Historical Library and the Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences. Presently, in collaboration with The University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association and the UAB School of Medicine, we’re gearing up for the annual Reynolds-Finley Historical Lecture scheduled for February 26. The guest speaker this year is Jeanne Marrazzo, MD, MPH, FACP, C. Glenn Cobbs Professor in Infectious Diseases and Director of the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases. Dr. Marrazzo’s lecture is titled “The COVID Pandemic in 2021: Where Have We Been, and What Can We Expect?”

What would you like to say to medical librarians who are striving to make a tangible difference for the School of Medicine faculty and students?

First and foremost: Thank you! Your hard work and dedication are making a real difference. 

Organizing a Virtual Meeting

When Alan asked if I would be willing to write about organizing our virtual annual meeting last November, I was concerned that I didn’t know enough about the arcane best practices of virtual meeting craft to be useful. Additionally, in spite of its success, I sincerely hope that it will be our last one online for some time. (This year’s meeting is far enough away that we can still hope to be all vaccinated and operating under some semblance of normalcy by then…right?) Yet agreeing to write this column did give me the opportunity to address the one thing I do want to get off my chest: my profound appreciation for the generosity of spirit that each member showed as we planned and shared that time together. I want to thank everyone who attended and learned and contributed and asked questions and voted. It means so much to feel like part of a community, and never more so than when we are as separated as we are today. 

I’ve served on Program Committees and Local Arrangements Committees for MLA and SCMLA, and it turns out that whether you are meeting in person or online, many of the concerns are the same. Members want the programming to be fresh and relevant. They want there to be ample time to visit and rest. They want the technology to work so well that it is invisible. And you want to wear comfortable pants the day of the meeting. 

In this case, since the meeting was abbreviated, I was concerned about having enough content for it to feel like a special event, instead of another online quarterly business meeting for the officers. Even with a CE presentation and a speaker, I felt like including a social session in the program was important to making the day feel like we had connected as a group. My Powerpoint Party may have been a bit of a flop thematically. (There’s a real tip! Make sure you have buy-in for your strange online social events!) Still, it was anything but a disappointment when it came to real connections. We told stories, took video tours of crafts and sewing rooms, shared pet pictures, and learned about our lives outside of the library in the same way you do when you share a taxi to the airport or walk to a local diner in a new city with your frolleagues.1 Better yet, we didn’t suffer the feeling of loss when you end up too far down the long dining table to catch up with someone you really wanted to see.

One of the advantages of having the meeting online was that we were joined by some cherished retired members who probably wouldn’t have traveled out of town for a meeting. Current professionals experiencing tightening travel budgets surely also benefited. Additionally, we found ourselves free from the tyranny of the frigid conference center, and many of us could replace our layering conference cardigans with fluffy house shoes. On the other hand, in a normal format I wouldn’t have had to worry about hordes of nude trolls invading the meeting rooms, a real concern in the Zoom setting (See Tips to Avoid Zoom Bombing). We knew to use password protected links and only send the meeting links privately to those who registered instead of using a public page, but I was also on the fence about whether to use the same room all day or to have fresh rooms ready for every event, which would be helpful in case we had to abandon one. In the end, I hope the choice to stay in a single room was more convenient and fostered conversation between sessions. 

We are a small, close knit group in which it’s easy to feel like you already know everyone and their needs, and as a result I overlooked some important areas of responsibility that should be considered in the future. Our libraries and public meetings spaces are required to be physically accessible, and it’s important that technologically-mediated meetings are, too. It would be better practice to include information about who to contact about accommodations in the registration materials and be prepared to provide meeting captioning or other services. ALHeLA also doesn’t have a code of conduct for meetings, and while I hope we’ll never need to refer to one, it’s much better to have an existing process in place if someone feels threatened than to scramble to figure out what to do when and if the time arrives.

Thank you all again for being such excellent advisors, supporters, and participants for the meeting. Thanks especially to Becca Billings, who arranged for the CE course and to Errica Evans, who capped off her presidency with an excellent business meeting! I’m very excited about this year and hope to “see” you all (in whatever medium I’m able) soon.

1Frolleague– noun, a friend who is a colleagues (all of the MLA Presidents use this portmanteau in their annual speeches, but no one ever has to spell it)

ALHeLA Executive Committee Joins Library Associations in Condemning Violence, Calling for Advocacy


The Executive Committee of the Alabama Health Libraries Association (ALHeLA) affirms the values expressed in statements by the Medical Library Association and American Library Association as they condemn the recent attacks on government employees and elected officials carrying out essential democratic functions. Free expression and information access are foundational components of the professional ethics of librarians, paired with a responsibility to support reasoned inquiry and evidence-based decision making. Acts of violence are irreconcilable with these ethics, as well as with the principles of democratic societies and efforts to build and sustain equitable, ideal living conditions in our communities. Violent actions, such as those we witnessed in the US Capitol on January 6th, are acts of terror, and not ever to be misconstrued as part of the free expression of a healthy society.

Libraries remain a crucial resource for trusted, reliable information in a time when the information landscape has become particularly difficult for many to navigate. Librarians excel in providing information and media literacy education to students and community members throughout the state of Alabama and beyond. We believe that a well-informed citizenry is crucial to democracy, civility, public health, and the overall quality of life. We hope that you will join us in advocating for libraries to receive the essential funding and support that makes it possible for librarians and library staff to connect the electorate with credible, accurate information. We invite anyone who seeks reliable, relevant information, regardless of topic, to contact and work with a librarian to find authoritative information resources.

2020 Meeting Registration Now Open

woman on phone
woman on phone

Registration is now open for the 2020 Annual meeting to be held online via Zoom on November 10, 2020! Come learn about the new PubMed interface and misinformation and disinformation during a Pandemic, and then enjoy catching up with medical librarians around the state between sessions, at the business meeting, and during the PowerPoint Party to follow. Read all about it on the meeting page, register, and then feel free to join us from wherever you are on November 10!

ALHeLA would like to thank Wolters Kluwer / Ovid for sponsoring the speaker presentation!

Online Membership Form and Dues Now Available

online payment
online payment

You asked for it and we delivered.  Online membership form and payment now available.

To pay your membership fees online:

  • Go to the Membership Page
  • Scroll to bottom of the page
  • Select one of the options:
    • Online membership form and payment is for regular members, which is anyone who is not a library student.
    • Student Online membership form and payment is for library students
    • Paper membership form is for those who would like to continue to mail in a paper membership form and check to the ALHeLA treasurer
  • Follow the online form instructions
  • Submit your electronic payment via either PayPal or Venmo

If you have questions contact either Megan Bell, ALHeLA treasurer, or Andrea Wright, ALHeLA website manager.

UAB to Host Library Carpentry Workshop Series

Library Carpentry Logo

UAB Libraries’ application to host the Library Carpentry workshop series sponsored by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) has been approved by NNLM. This online training provides an introduction to core concepts in data science and software development to help prepare librarians, researchers, and academic faculty to interact effectively with data as an evolving information resource. Individuals with no prior programming or data-related experience are highly encouraged to consider attending. The virtual workshops are scheduled for January 22, February 26, March 26, and April 23 of 2021 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (Attendance at all sessions is not required, attendees may select specific workshops to attend.) In partnership with ALHeLA, we are opening registration to Alabama health science librarians. Please visit the workshop registration page to receive updated information and registration links as we get closer to the workshop dates. Please note that attendance is capped at 20 registrants, and it is likely we will not be allowed to record the session – so, register early!

Questions about the Library Carpentries workshops at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Libraries may be directed to Kay Smith ( or Dorothy Ogdon (

For more information on Library Carpentry please visit the Library Carpentry Lessons webpage.

Geneva Bush Staggs Retires

Geneva Staggs

Submitted by Rachel Fenske
University of South Alabama Biomedical Library

Geneva Staggs
Geneva Staggs

After more than 40 years of service at the University of South Alabama, Geneva Bush Staggs is retiring from her current position as Director of the Charles M. Baugh Biomedical Library. Staggs began her career as the cataloging librarian at Mobile College. In 1979 she joined the library staff at the Medical Center site of the Biomedical library. After five years she accepted the challenge of setting up library services for the University’s newly developing Baldwin County campus in Fairhope and Bay Minette. Since returning to the Biomedical Library, Staggs has held several increasingly responsible positions including Head of Public Services and Assistant Director for Hospital Library Service and has been involved in developing and implementing library services in reference, education and consumer health.

Awards received include being named the Southern Chapter Medical Library Association’s Hospital Librarian of the Year in 2012 and received the Medical Library Association’s prestigious Lois Ann Colaianni Award for Excellence and Achievement in Hospital Librarianship in 2015. Staggs has been a member of the Academy of Health Information Professionals for 20 years, the last ten as a distinguished member. The Academy recognizes accomplishments in professional development and service.

Staggs has multiple publications, as well as, many presentations at professional meetings and conferences.  Her writing career began with coauthoring “Finding the Source of Medical Information: A Thesaurus-Index to the Reference Collection” in 1985 and her first presentation was at the Alabama Academy of Family Physicians in 1982. Her resume includes an additional 69 publications and presentations directed at either health information professionals or consumers.

Staggs has served locally, state-wide, regionally and nationally. Locally on many University, USA Health System and community committees including the Southwest Alabama Health Literacy Council. State-wide appointments include the LSTA Advisory Council of the Alabama Public Library Service, multiple committees and leadership positions of the Alabama Health Libraries Association and as Secretary of the Judson College Alumnae Association. Staggs served regionally as the Secretary of the Consortium of Southern Biomedical Libraries, several committees of the Southern Chapter of the Medical Library Association and on ten visiting committees for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Her latest national involvement was with the Association of Academic Health Science Libraries and Medical Library Association Joint Task Force on Legislative Development.

Staggs graduated from Judson College in 1975 with a degree in education and school librarianship and from the University of Kentucky with an MS in library science in 1977.

Teaching Citation Managers & Screening Tools at UAB Libraries

Practical Planning for Managing Research Materials slide

Submitted by Becca Billings, MLIS
University of Alabama at Birmingham Lister Hill Library

Greetings, wonderful folks of ALHeLA!  As librarians, we are always expanding our knowledge of our many and varied resources and tools in order to share them with our students and faculty as they attain their research endeavors.  Many universities purchase an array of great tools for specific parts of a project, like EndNote or Mendeley to create and manage their library of references for writing a paper, or Covidence and DistillerSR to help researchers fulfill their screening steps when conducting a systematic review.  Most faculty have a favorite tool that they ask students to use as well, and in many instances, these faculty call on the librarians to cover the training. 

Practical Planning for Managing Research Materials slide
An image from PPT slide used in the PhD instruction session

No matter how many times I schedule a class or consultation on EndNote or another tool, I feel like it will never end!  Part of me feels like I could do something differently to save time and energy.  I believe as librarians, and I don’t think I’m the only one, many of us think it’s our responsibility to learn how to use all of our tools in order to better serve our patrons.  During my most recent instruction session with the UAB School of Nursing, I found myself needing to cover a variety of different reference manager tools and screening tools for students in the PhD program, but instead of attempting to teach the students how to use each possible library tool, I, along with my colleague, Dorothy Ogdon, developed an instruction session called “Practical Planning for Managing Research Materials.”  I found it to be a somewhat liberating experience to focus on such a different angle of library resources, not how to use each one, but choose each one, and wanted to share a few things.

I think that it was a good experience to teach students on how to plan for their research projects before they actually start them, which encourages students to really think about what tools they are already comfortable with, what each tool is made to do, and how to incorporate a tool appropriately into their work at the right time.  By focusing more on the planning part of a research project workflow, rather than focusing so much on how to use every possible tool that they could use within the process, I think it helped put resources into a different perspective for students, and helped them understand that they have options!  If they don’t feel comfortable with a specific resource or database, there is something else available for them to try instead.  It also allows them to ask the right questions like, “Is this tool useful for my group that has members outside of my university?” or “Will I have access to this screening tool when I leave my university, or am I confortable with purchasing an individual subscription when I graduate in order to still have access to my work?”

During the instruction session, Dorothy and I first talked about the importance of planning a workflow and how to document your project so losing your work is less likely.  Steps for the planning, implementation, & end-of-project stages were all discussed.  We also focused on research steps that might occur in various projects and how to work with group members and how to select the best tools in each stage to use.  We broke up this part by focusing on what to ask before selecting citation management tools with specific attention given to EndNote, F1000 Workspace, & Mendeley, & later focused on considerations to make for screening tools like Covidence, DistillerSR, & Rayyan.  Each of these databases, while not instructed on how to use, were given a pros and cons list based on our experiences with using the technology.  More resources were provided as well to give students a chance to make their own decisions.

Once the presentation portion was covered, we allowed students to get hands-on experience with both F1000 Workspace, a citation manager, and Rayyan, a free screening tool.  We created a practice project so that students could get a better idea on how to use the tools and what limitations they had.  We got some good feedback and the students really seemed to appreciate a different approach to library instruction that wasn’t black and white but gave them options to make their own decisions.  It is the librarian’s job to provide our students and faculty with the resources to make their own decisions, and I think teaching this session reminded me of that purpose rather than knowing absolutely everything myself.  If you’re interested in seeing the PPT slides and the activity handout, please let me know!

rayyan project image
An image from PhD Project in Rayyan as part of the students’ hands-on activity
F1000 workspace
An image from PhD Project in F1000 Workspace as part of the students’ hands-on activity

Systematic Reviews at UAB Lister Hill Library

UAB Systematic Reviews LibGuide Screenshot

Submitted by Kay Hogan Smith, MLS, MPH
UAB Libraries – Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences

Like most health sciences libraries, particularly in academic medical science libraries, we’ve received an increasing number of requests for help with systematic reviews from our users at UAB Lister Hill Library over the past few years. Around 2015, we started a systematic review journal club for our librarians to learn more in order to assist our users better, and we formalized our systematic review service policies and procedures under the direction of the head of the Lister Hill reference department at the time, Lee Vucovich. I myself (Kay Smith) took leadership of the systematic review journal club around the same time.

UAB Systematic Reviews LibGuide Screenshot

Lee has retired since, but our systematic review service has grown and matured in some ways. The majority of reference librarians at Lister Hill work on at least one or two reviews a month, and consult with review teams on that many more. We provide tips on systematic reviews as well as details about our library services in our Systematic Reviews LibGuide. The guide spells out recommendations for things like librarian co-authorship and lead time on searching. We also try to give review teams a realistic idea of the time and effort it takes to produce a good systematic review. Too many of our users have the notion that this is a quick and easy route to publication. We disabuse them of that notion! One policy we’ve recently implemented requires would-be systematic reviewers to complete a protocol, or at least a protocol template, before we’ll continue to help them with the project.

Although we piloted Distiller SR over the past year as a systematic review support software program for the UAB community, it turned out to be fairly cumbersome to implement, both for us and our users. We have recently licensed Covidence for the UAB systematic reviewers, which we’re currently in the process of rolling out to users.

As for the librarians ourselves, we’ve often found it useful to divide up databases to search for the more laborious reviews. One librarian acts as “lead librarian” on the review and provides the collected results to the review team. Sometimes we’ll conduct all the searches for a review, especially if we’re particularly interested in co-authorship, and we have the time to devote to it.

Our journal club continues to meet monthly, with members taking turns identifying promising articles or book chapters to cover and leading the discussions. Sometimes librarians who’ve attended a particularly enlightening CE or presentation at a professional meeting will channel the learning to the group at a meeting. It’s really interesting to learn about the fresh approaches librarians in different settings take toward certain systematic review issues!

What about you? Have you been participating in more systematic reviews at your institution? What’s your experience?

Grandview’s Print Collection: Rearranged

Grandview Book Collection

Submitted by Alanna Cole
UA MLIS graduate student

Grandview Book Collection
The final result after rearranging all books within the print collection to be in call number order.]

The Kahn-Sibley Medical Library at the Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham, AL recently underwent a huge change.  All books in the library’s collection were originally alphabetized by subject and then by call number under each “subject.”  The library’s print collection followed this organizational system for some time, but the McMahon-Sibley Medical Library at Princeton Baptist Medical Center, a sister library, already followed the National Library of Medicine classification system.  Emily Harris, solo librarian at Kahn-Sibley, felt all collections within the Brookwood Baptist Health hospital libraries should follow the same classification system to help create a consistent user experience.  Harris, along with MLIS intern, Alanna Cole, reorganized and shifted the entire print collection.

After two days of shifting and going through the print collection at Kahn-Sibley, the monograph materials were successfully arranged by the NLM call number order.  The tremendous task of shifting allowed the collection to be thoroughly inspected for out of date and miscataloged materials.  Book shelf labels were updated to better represent the “subjects” of the newly-ordered books.  New signs clarified the NLM subject classifications to help patrons find books after the completion of the project. Harris stated, “I believe residents, doctors, and medical students are going to have an easier time finding the exact book they need thanks to this shifting project.  The goal is to allow materials to be found as quickly as possible – with a little help from new signs and labels!”

Surgery titles with blue labels
Surgery titles with blue labels

For instance, blue labels were added to all surgery books and signs were made to note these changes. This labeling system was to ease the transition for surgery residents as they most frequently use the physical books in an eBook era. There have had frantic questions about why cardiothoracic atlases, for example, are no longer shelved with ALL other surgery texts.

Any medical librarian intimidated by the thought of undertaking a massive reordering of materials within the library can rest assured that the project will have ample benefits in terms of collection development and collection knowledge.  Do not hesitate to reach out for help by seeking out other librarians, volunteers, or interns to help expedite the project as well.