Five Questions with Mary White
Mary White seeks new experiences, from volunteering to dog sledding.
Name: Mary White
Position: Global public health librarian, Health Sciences Library (HSL)
Years at Gillings: Six months (I’ve worked at UNC for two years, but just transitioned from the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute to public health in January 2016. I also attended graduate school at UNC several years ago and was a research assistant at the HSL and the Gillings School during that time.)
What I do at Gillings (and why I love it): I’m technically employed by the HSL, and my role is to serve the needs of the students, faculty and staff at UNC Gillings. I’m here to help with information needs, be it for research, teaching or service. I conduct library orientations for classes, assist with literature reviews and teach people about online databases. I also become part of the research process at times, helping people figure out what they want to achieve with their research and then guiding them through the incredibly vast world of digital information.
I absolutely love the satisfaction of moments when people come by and tell me they’re feeling a bit lost, but then leave my office with a sense of excitement and focus. I also enjoy acting as a sounding board for students who need to talk through their research questions with someone before they officially present them to a professor.
I decided to work in library science because: my entire family is made up of educators – I mean everyone, from my parents to my aunts and uncles, up to my great-grandma. I grew up as a library rat instead of a gym rat. Because of that, when I attended undergrad at UNC, I got really passionate about the question of what libraries were like in developing countries, and ended up becoming involved with the School of Information and Library Science. I earned a minor in that field and spent some time working abroad with libraries in Honduras and around South Africa.
I realized I would need a Master of Library Science degree to go further in my career, but I also continued working with faculty at the Gillings School while I studied. For example, I collaborated with Dianne Ward on the Get Kids in Action Project, and I took a class with Kurt Ribisl on eHealth. Eventually, I honed in on the emerging field of health informatics, took an informatics fellowship at Johns Hopkins University and completed all the course work for a doctoral degree in community and behavioral health (similar to health behavior). I was thrilled to ultimately return to UNC and to a role that is a serendipitous match for my interests and background.
Something people may not know about me is: that I’m part of the NC-1 Disaster Medical Assistance Team. Once my career became more focused on public health, I found that I missed the clinical side, so I earned my Emergency Medical Technician license and joined NC-1. It’s a federal entity with intermittent field employees who are activated during emergencies. In disaster scenarios, we extend the response capabilities of the affected area. In my case, that might look like training people on electronic health records and patient tracking systems so responders can effectively report up the chain about any epidemiology-related concerns, catalog the supplies needed and note where people are so their loved ones can find them.
A big adventure I’ve had: is traveling to Alaska earlier this year. I’d always wanted to go there. When I found myself with a few extra vacation days, I decided to go for it! I love hiking, biking, kayaking and exploring in general, so Alaska was a beautiful way to experience all of that. I did a lot of hostel hopping and met fascinating fellow travelers. I experienced dogsledding, kayaked alongside a pod of orcas, biked along the coast of Anchorage and saw a bear and a moose (both from the train window).
My favorite book is: Well… I think that for a researcher, a book is just a tool for accessing information, in the same way a stethoscope is a tool for a doctor. I’m tempted to tell you about the Scopus database – my favorite one – instead! I do have a favorite fictional book series, though. I love Anne of Green Gables. I once went to Prince Edward Island to volunteer at their marathon and run in an 8K race. While I was there, I visited Anne’s Land – where Lucy Maud Montgomery lived and wrote the books – and I also met a woman who took me cranberry bogging. There were a lot of ‘kindred spirits’ there, as Anne Shirley would say.
Mary was nominated by Elizabeth French, MA, a lecturer in the Gillings School’s Department of Health Behavior and the Dean’s liason for special initiatives. Elizabeth said, “Mary is the School’s newest public health librarian. She has a really strong background in librarianship, public health and health informatics, so it would be great to get her plugged into our UNC Gillings community. She’s ‘one of us’ in a lot of ways, and I think not everybody knows that!”