Preparing the Next Generation of Leaders: From NLM Associate Fellow to Health Sciences Library Director

Meet other library leaders who were once NLM associate fellows: Kris Alpi, Lori E. Harris, Shannon Jones, Stephen Kiyoi, Mellanye Lackey, Anne Linton, Alison E. Rollins, and Tanner Wray.

Catherine B. Soehner | 1988-1989 Associate

formal headshot of Catherine SoehnerCurrent position

Interim Executive Director
Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library
University of Utah

When did you become director?

I became Interim Executive Director of the Eccles Health Sciences Library at the University of Utah on July 1, 2018.

What was the career path that led to your current position?

I began my career at the National Library of Medicine (NLM), and during my 6 years there I had many colleagues who helped me succeed. Bill Trefzger and Ed Sequeira were partners in the design, testing, and troubleshooting of Grateful Med. They asked for my opinions and recommendations and frequently implemented my ideas whether those ideas were about software design or working with members of our team. They gave me more responsibility at every turn, allowed me to experiment, and applauded my successes. Sheldon Kotzin brought me to high level meetings at NLM and let me do the talking about Grateful Med. He put me on stage at the Medical Library Association meetings for the NLM Updates and sent me to talk one-on-one with Dr. Lindberg about Grateful Med. A terrifying moment. These early experiences boosted my confidence and gave me skills I still use today. Rose Marie Woodsmall gave me advice that I still pass along to others: when you attend a conference, get at least three business cards from people you don’t know and follow up with them after the conference. When I wanted to get a job in academia, I had a national network of colleagues at my fingertips.

When I moved to my first academic institution, the University of California, Santa Cruz, I was fortunate to have other colleagues support my desire to be a leader in libraries. Part of this was being clear that I wanted to be in administration. The other part was saying “yes” to many opportunities that were offered, even if I initially felt that they were beyond my abilities or expertise. Once I became the Head of the Science & Engineering Library, I quickly learned that I was terrible at having difficult conversations. When I needed to give unwelcome news, I couldn’t do it. I tried initially to have these conversations with spectacular failure. Kate McGirr was the Associate University Librarian for Human Resources at that time and we began meeting weekly so that she could coach me with each and every conversation until I learned to do this part of my job very well. From that experience, and the many experiences I’ve had as a leader, I co-authored a book, Effective Difficult Conversations, with my colleague Ann Darling at the University of Utah. This is one of my greatest professional accomplishments to date – turning a big weakness into a strength.

At the University of Utah, I continued my pattern of saying “yes” to opportunities as they arose. In addition to being the Associate Dean for Research and User Services, I spent time as the Interim Associate Dean for Library IT and the Interim Associate Dean for Human Resources. My current interim position is as the Executive Director of the Eccles Health Sciences Library. I’m delighted to work with such an excellent group of colleagues and am having fun being back in the health sciences.

What is your educational background? Or additional training?

I have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Mount St. Joseph University and an MLS from Indiana University. I’ve had the opportunity to attend the following leadership programs:

  • Library Senior Fellows Program at UCLA (2018)
  • HERS Institute: Higher Education Leadership Development Program (2014-15)
  • Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Research Library Leadership Fellows (2009-10)

What are your top three priorities now?

  1. Be the type of leader I would want to work for and continue to improve my leadership skills.
  2. Lead the Eccles Health Sciences Library to continue and increase their success by serving the research, clinical, and teaching needs of the University and the community.
  3. Continue my research projects and write at least one more book.

What did you learn as an Associate Fellow that you use in your position as director today?

I learned to be a confident public speaker even if my audience thought they already knew the information I was about to deliver. This happened frequently when presenting databases to scientists and engineers. They were almost always surprised that they learned something useful. I also learned to manage projects, use a computer, send email, and work in a team. Most importantly, I learned the value of mentoring, looking out for people who are early in their career, and the joy of being given responsibility and appreciation. These were things others did for me that made working at NLM so much fun.

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2 thoughts on “Preparing the Next Generation of Leaders: From NLM Associate Fellow to Health Sciences Library Director

  1. Impressive education, indeed. And some ignorant people might say that being a librarian is nothing special. Truly impressive range of knowledge.

  2. Thank you so much for commenting, Robert. We agree with you! Please keep reading NLM in Focus. Later this month we’ll be featuring NLM associate fellows from 10 years ago.

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