myMETRO Member Spotlight: Toni Emerson

Our myMETRO Member Spotlight this month belongs to Toni Emerson, one of our community's newest New Yorkers. Toni's diverse background includes experience as a "cybrarian" and a pioneer of librarianship on the web. Look for Toni around METRO and at SLA NY networking events.


20140219_myMETROMemberSpotlight_ToniEmerson.jpgToni Emerson is an independent consultant working with a small research lab in the Pacific Northwest. Prior to this, Toni connected companies with jobseekers as an Employment Specialist for Seattle Goodwill.

After completing her Masters in Librarianship at the University of Washington, Toni founded a special library dedicated to Human Interface Technology. She moderated an award-winning discussion group on new technology and has been invited to speak at numerous international conferences. Toni has published subject guides to virtual reality in medicine and a comprehensive bibliography on Virtual Interface Technology.

Toni has extensive experience in health informatics. In her work at OnHealth, Toni developed a consumer health taxonomy and coordinated meta-tagging of content. As part of the WebMD Knowledge Repository Team, she evaluated user experience of a prototype server, as well as optimizing search technology.

She moved to New York City in 2013.

When did you first join myMETRO?

I just joined in early November of last year. I moved to the NYC area from the Pacific Northwest last September to be closer to my family. In October, I started getting myself established in the NYC area. I joined the Special Libraries Association (SLA NY) and myMETRO to start networking.

Describe your work experience prior to joining the profession. What has been your most rewarding experience as a professional so far?

I started out in advertising and grew interested in research while working with a composer on a performance art piece called “Without Law, Without Heaven,” a multi-media production about the Chinese Cultural Revolution. When doing research for the production, a wonderful librarian at the East Asia Library at the University of Washington encouraged me to go library school. Initially, I was interested developing multi-media collections in the library setting. With my background in the theatre and recording, I thought I’d be a natural.

The greatest recognition I have received in my career was for my work with the Human Interface Technology Laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle. When I think of rewarding experiences, my library and Knowledge Base Project comes to mind.

But if I think twice about it, my most rewarding experience is happening right now. I’m involved with great people, learning and exploring new territory, and every day is exciting. I love the NY area and the people that I’ve met. I am enjoying the challenge of creating a new direction in my career. I’m having a great time!

What drew you to your particular line of work?

In our line of work, it’s the opportunity to create and connect. And of course, there’s always the thrill of the search!

In library school, I worked as a reference assistant at the Odegaard Undergraduate Library. One day a student came up to the reference desk and said that they were looking for a volunteer librarian at the Human Interface Technology Laboratory (HITLab). When he started describing the research lab and virtual reality, I was fascinated.

I did a quick search on virtual reality on INSPEC and COMPENDEX. Nothing. It was a popular term and did not show up in the primary literature. I immediately started a literature review and building a keyword list. I was hooked.

At the HITLab, my role was two-fold: 1.) build a digital and print collection to support the research staff and 2.) develop a virtual community outside of the lab to support knowledge transfer. At that time, we called the Internet "cyberspace.” The director of the lab would introduce me as the resident “cybrarian.” I felt like a pioneer. I was involved with a new technology, creating digital resources for an international community.

I went to library school because I loved the information hunter/gatherer role. But that’s not what keeps me interested. Evaluating and putting information together in a way that will impact the user’s decision-making -- that’s the power.

Tell us a little about the projects that capture your interests these days (either for yourself or an organization).

Having just made a major change geographically, I’m searching for a new position on the east coast and consulting on the west coast. It’s taking multi-tasking and collaboration to the next level. My primary challenge is learning and adapting to changes in communication.

Given my background with the Knowledge Base Project at HITLab, I’m currently reading “Opening Science,” edited by Sönke Bartling and Sascha Friesike. The book examines how knowledge dissemination and scientific culture are evolving. From LinkedIn to ResearchGate, it’s wonderful to see the evolution of knowledge sharing, from water cooler to digital information landscapes.

What are your favorite ways to stay on top of industry trends?

“Staying on top” to me translates as organized, daily filtering of leads and deciding the most effective way to pass it on collectively or individually. I keep up to date connections with researchers and colleagues, follow a select group of industry and government news sites, check patents, and run regular searches on the databases that are available.

I’m doing a lot of the research going directly to competitive research labs, companies as well as association web sites. I subscribe to quite a few newsletters, and there are a number of Twitter feeds and blogs that I look at. Because funding is major to the lab, I check all the government sites, newsletters, and twitter feeds. There are some great blogs that I check into regularly, like Nature’s Soapbox Science.

What do you find most valuable about your myMETRO membership?

myMETRO connects a great community of librarians and archivists. When I came to the New York area, I couldn’t join all the library associations on my limited budget. The networking opportunities that this coalition of libraries offers is dynamic. Another big benefit for me is the Career Services package and, of course, professional development. I find that my memberships with SLA and myMETRO complement each other very well.