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Saving the Past for the Future

The EERC Library and Information Services (LIS) group, one of seven groups in the Administrative Resources (AR) area, may work quietly in the background, but its mission to record, archive, and quickly deliver nearly any information published, housed, or requested by someone at the EERC is crucial to this world-renowned research facility’s success.

“The LIS group covers the Library, it covers all of the EERC’s records functions, it covers the archives, and it covers the Rolodex,” said Deb Haley, Associate Director for Marketing, Outreach, and Administrative Resources. “I am very proud of the caliber of the LIS group and their enthusiasm for record retention.”

“We’ve been trying to reshape our identity, and the perception of it, since I started in 2002, when the Library was a separate entity from the records,” said Rosemary Pleva Flynn, Librarian and Manager of LIS. “The Library has a function that a lot of people understand—paper or electronic access to material—whereas records are not as easily understood but are just as important to an organization.”

Flynn has a staff of two: Clara Chambers, Research Information Associate (RIA), and Lila Christensen, a part-time RIA and Records Management Associate. Christensen is primarily responsible for the EERC research records, and Chambers is responsible for the EERC correspondence records, both maintained through the EERC Records database. Chambers is also responsible for the EERC Rolodex, consisting of contact information including mailing addresses, phone and fax numbers, and e-mail addresses for clients and other contacts. Three University of North Dakota (UND) student assistants also work in the Library: Amy Feller, Hannah Hagen, and Jessica Knutson.

“We are very customer service oriented. Most of our ‘customers’ are researchers who work right alongside us on a daily basis, so we get to know them quite well.” Flynn said. “Our concerns are, are the books accessible, are the reports accessible, are we able to generate the mailing lists that we need to generate? What can we do to improve our efficiency and the services that we have to offer? We have even changed the way we think about the records that are our responsibility. Essentially, we have permanently active archives. It is not uncommon for us to get requests for EERC reports and other products done 10 or 20 years ago. It is important for us to maintain access to all of these records, regardless of when or how they were created.”

To accomplish this, Flynn, Chambers, and Christensen have made a number of improvements and changes in the last few years, including computer hardware changes to deliver requested electronic versions of EERC products more quickly, a totally new EERC Records database to manage and provide access to EERC products and, most recently, scanning EERC correspondence records for electronic retrieval and full-text searching.

“The EERC Library, which is one of three branch libraries at UND, originally was a Bureau of Mines library,” said Flynn. When the Grand Forks Energy Technology Center was defederalized in 1983 and became part of the university, all of the library items came with it and still form the bulk of the EERC Library’s physical book and journal collection. “Newer items come to us as projects are finished,” said Flynn, adding, “We stay current through journal subscriptions, many of which are only available electronically through the Web now.”

Digitization of material has meant that researchers around the world can share information easily, but Flynn warns that researchers who have grown up with electronic records and access might not recognize that many older records are not digitized or that not all records are available through all databases. For example, many of the government publications created by the EERC and its predecessors have been scanned and are now available online through DOE’s Energy Citations Database or Information Bridge. However, for every item scanned, many more have not been. In some cases, the paper copies maintained here may be the only copies that are readily accessible.

Researchers and the LIS staff utilize several electronic databases to which the EERC or other UND campus libraries have subscriptions that provide access to bibliographic information on research articles, conference papers, and reports along with links to the full text when available. Two of the most widely used are Scopus and SciFinder. Other well-used databases at the EERC are GeoRef and OnePetro, which are both used extensively by the PCOR Partnership and oil and gas programs.

Flynn is often asked why some information does not come up in a Google search. Google gets at a lot, she said, but there are many databases in the “deep Web,” like the Energy Citations Database and Information Bridge, that surface Web search engines cannot get into because they were designed not to be searched or they do not interface well enough for a search to be run. OSTI, the Office of Science and Technical Information for DOE, which hosts a number of databases, created the metasearch engine to search many of the science and technology databases funded by the U.S. government.

Flynn says that every discipline has at least four or five multidisciplinary databases that generally cover a discipline plus others that are very specific to it. It is difficult for researchers to be able to access everything or find everything indexed in just one place. That’s where Flynn comes in. She knows the research groups at the EERC, what they are working on, and the types of resources they request as well as whether those resources are available online or if they must be found in physical form. When Flynn hits a dead end in a search, she calls Nerac, a research information services provider.

“We contract with Nerac and use it a lot for intellectual property searches, but we also use it for initial literature reviews if we’re starting a new project or moving into a new area. The company has access to many more databases than we do, so if we’re really stuck, we’ll turn it over to them,” said Flynn. “Their information analysts are scientists who’ve worked in industry before. Even within chemistry or physics, you may have two different disciplines, say organic or inorganic chemistry. I am just not going to have that expertise, so Nerac has been able to help us out in a few cases where I couldn’t find anything substantial.”

As a Certified Archivist, Flynn is well equipped to assist researchers with finding information online, in the stacks, or even in a drawer somewhere in the back of the geology library on campus. Unlike librarians or records managers, archivists often deal with unpublished or historical items and are concerned with their physical preservation as well as the information they convey.

Flynn is a graduate of the Archives Leadership Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and received her Masters of Library Science (M.L.S.) degree from Indiana University and her M.A. degree in Social Science and B.S. degree in History from Ball State University. Before she came to the EERC, Flynn served as a Project Archivist at Indiana University. During her M.L.S. work, she took a readings class with Phil Bantin, one of the early electronic records archivists, whose work shaped her interest in electronic records and electronic record keeping. Flynn is an active participant in several professional organizations, including the Society of American Archivists, the Midwest Archives Conference, and the North Dakota Library Association, and has taught workshops for many of these organizations. She strongly believes in giving back to the professional organizations that have helped mold and develop her skills.

“Currently I am chairing the Society of American Archivists’ Glossary Working Group,” said Flynn. “We are revising and expanding A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology, which was published in 2005. It is a pretty major undertaking and responsibility, with the core work being done by a very small group of people, me included.”

Flynn and her staff are well trained and cross-trained for the technical work they do in the Library and in records. Flynn stressed that there is something intangible that makes one a really good research librarian, though. 

“It is a special skill set. Not everyone is a searcher, not everyone can recognize or wants to follow the trail,” Flynn said with passion. “You get really excited when that thing that you’ve been looking for all day—all of a sudden you find one little clue. Sometimes that one little piece of information or that article can make a huge difference in the research. The excitement that the researchers have in the work they’re doing, we have that excitement in finding the information that feeds into that. We don’t just quit because we can’t find it within the first 30 minutes.”