Humans of LIBER Interview – Frans Mast, Director of the Medical Library, Erasmus MC in Rotterdam
This interview is part of the Humans of LIBER campaign 2022 — which draws upon the pillars of the upcoming LIBER Strategy 2023 – 2027. We feature real people working at research libraries who make up the LIBER community. We believe that by highlighting our community more humanely, we can create genuine connections within and outside of our network. We hope to see our community inspired by each of these personal stories of working at research libraries.
We visited Frans and his colleague Wichor Bramer on the 14th of February 2022 (Wichor will be featured in an upcoming #HumansofLIBER interview). The Medical Library (Erasmus MC in Rotterdam) is now an e-library, but Frans and Wichor showed us the remnants of the physical collections. We had a great conversation about how staff from diverse backgrounds facilitate the work of a medical library, the importance of communication in providing services, and the future of the library sector. Now, over to Frans:
“My name is Frans Mast, I trained as a biologist, and I did cardiovascular research for fifteen years at three different universities in the Netherlands. A little less than 25 years ago, I switched from being a researcher to becoming the manager of this medical library.
I changed my career for two main reasons. To have a good scientific career, you must have your own research line, become very good at it, and can acquire grants for your research. But I did not succeed in doing that. The second reason is that I, by nature, like to facilitate others. I was mainly facilitating the colleagues in the lab, at the cost of doing my own research. I looked for another job in the medical academic environment, which Erasmus MC of course is, and I saw the vacancy here for the head of the Medical Library. They hired me and I never felt sorry for making this change. The library field is very dynamic, especially nowadays.”
“There is no typical day and that is something I enjoy. Now I can facilitate students, employees, researchers, and doctors in their work, help them work as well as they can the entire day, and that feels very good.”
“It helps to have a biomedical background because I know what my researchers need and what the students need. You can understand them at the same level as they are working and thinking, and it helps if you know the terminology and the work practices, know the biomedical field and then learn how to use tools and information literacy.”
The research library sector in five years
“To apply for a grant, researchers now need to write a data management plan and that involves the entire management — from getting your raw data, processing and storing data, using statistical procedures to aggregate other information from your raw data, storing it, and making it reusable. There are also the FAIR principles, data integrity, scientific integrity…this entire field of all these aspects of what you could do with data, and what data could do for you is, I think, particularly important. Research libraries should build experience and expertise on that and teach it to their researchers and students. There is also the move from open access to open science; all aspects of science are becoming open. Some researchers are very proactive in this field, but some are not. At the library, we are proactive in creating this awareness, and we tell our researchers: “This is going to be important in the next years, so please find the proper open access platform for publishing your results and your data.”
Added to this, we have a particularly good network for keeping up with new developments. In the Netherlands, we have a meeting for all the heads of academic medical libraries. Every two months, we see each other and discuss all matters which are relevant to all of us. There is the European Association of Health Information Libraries (EAHIL) and the Medical Library Association (MLA). Additionally, I learned about LIBER through my colleague at the University Library at Rotterdam, who routinely went to LIBER conferences. I think the first time I went to a LIBER conference was in 2011 in Barcelona, which is already quite a long time ago. LIBER is broader, of course, it is not just medical. It is especially important to be aware of and keep up with research library strategies in general.”
Meeting the needs of the library’s target audiences
“I always note the difference between information resources and information services — you have the products, and you have the services provided by the personnel on-site. For a research library, the most important thing is that you have a very rich collection of journals. At Erasmus MC, we have about 50 research departments and clinical departments, and they know which journals they need.
Every two or four years we do a survey and send this to our clients to ask them what new journals they would like, or if there are any journals we could take off the list. A few years ago, we succeeded in getting all the journals that were on the main must-have list. Then for students, it is important to have all the textbooks in electronic form, because we are an e-library. We succeeded in getting 60% of the mandatory books in e-form. I did not succeed in getting all books in e-form because either they were not available for campus license, or they were so expensive that we could not afford this form of e-book. I regularly talk with teachers and people responsible for curricula, saying to them: “I understand you find those books nice, but I cannot afford them. I have many, many other books, that are also very good. So please select the books I do have, and do not pick the books which I cannot afford!” I hope at the end of this year we will have 100% of our books in electronic form, then we will also be able to please our students. Moreover, doctors are also reading journals, of course, and they would like to have access to a clinical database, which helps them in their daily practice. Every target group has some main products you have to supply them with.
As for services, we have tried to roll out what is called a ‘clinical librarian’. This is a librarian who is called in by doctors when they have a problem and then supplies them with the best literature within 24 hours. I know Amsterdam has a clinical librarian, and in some other universities as well, but in Rotterdam, there does not seem to be a need for a clinical librarian, or they do not understand the concept yet. In the medical field, there are very urgent questions, even life-saving questions. In a medical library, you must have 24-hour access to your collections. In the days when we had physical collections, there was always a key stored at the front desk/reception, and if someone wanted to look into this book or that journal, they were given access. Clinical librarianship is an important thing, but the departments first need to understand the concept and know how to use such a librarian. We still have to ‘evangelize’ the concept to help people understand this service better. We have been able to surprise doctors by giving them solutions that they could not find.”
“My impression is that libraries are always ahead of their patrons; patrons know they want a book or a journal, but they never say they want a skill. You often have to convince them of their needs, and say, “We already know what you want, and we have it for you.””
Life outside of work
“My main hobby is oil painting, and this is a hobby that in a lot of ways defines me. I am married and we have three children and three grandchildren, so we like to see them a lot. Walking is a great hobby for me and my wife, and we like to walk in nature and go to sunny islands. I like my work, but it is not my entire life. That I think is a part of the reason I was not a very productive scientist, because if you want to be a highly successful scientist, you must be married to science and give not 100% but 200% of your time to the field. That was not the way I wanted it to be. I like to enjoy life not only at Erasmus MC but outside of Erasmus MC as well.”
If you feel connected to this interview, please tweet about it by clicking on the tweet below (and using #HumansofLIBER)!
“There is no typical day and that is something I enjoy. I facilitate students, employees, researchers, and doctors — and that feels very good.” Read our NEW #HumansofLIBER interview with Frans Mast, Director of the Medical Library at @ErasmusMC here: https://t.co/GA60I9Cb3K pic.twitter.com/ZcNY6BCaTc
— LIBER Europe (@LIBEReurope) June 7, 2022
The LIBER communications team visits different member institutions to conduct interviews. In light of the current Covid-19 restrictions, we are interviewing member institutions in the Netherlands initially, but we aim to expand the campaign to include our European member institutions once that is possible. If you are interested in being featured, please email us at email@example.com.
Interviewer and author: Sasha Lam
Photographer: Rosie Allison