Meet the PubMed Central Team: Perfectionists with a Sense of Humor

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Data constantly comes in from publishers and vendors that need to be processed by the PubMed Central (PMC) team. These data add up quickly, adding more than 40,000 articles each month to NLM’s full-text digital archive of journal literature.

In order for the article data to be publicly accessible as quickly as possible, the PMC team needs to work with precision and perfection.

“PMC’s mission to provide the public with free access to medical literature, whether they are researchers, citizen scientists, or family members seeking medical information, is what drives the team,” explains Erin Zellers, leader of the PMC team. 

But there’s more involved than ensuring that the PMC database is up-to-date.

“This team also administers the PMC journal application system, supports funder open-access policies, manages active agreements with hundreds of publishers, and actively maintains the quality of data in the archive,” says Kathryn Funk, program manager for PMC.

Working with the publishers is particularly important, which is why building relationships is crucial. The team is always on the lookout for trends that suggest ways to improve the quality of the data being processed. For example, they look for issues with conflict-of-interest tagging or for supplementary materials that can be dealt with globally.

“Working with the publishers can be challenging and complex,” says Zellers. “The team must be excellent communicators.”

They’re also funny.

Read on to meet members of the team and learn who thought the gym was just for smoothies, who’s looking to win the lottery, who wants to tidy houses with Marie Kondo, and who dreamed of driving an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. And then there’s the team member who jumped out of “perfectly good airplanes” over 250 times.

Photo of Erin Zellers

Erin Zellers

What was your path to NLM?My professional library work began 15 years ago in the University of Missouri’s Special Collections department. Upon moving to the DC area, I wanted to expand to digital librarianship and landed at PubMed Central in 2012. Since then, I’ve taken on a variety of tasks and roles, most recently becoming the PMC production team lead in 2017.
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?The highly talented and conscientious staff. This makes my day-to-day work a complete joy. I truly enjoy celebrating our successes and accomplishments monthly as we talk about our individual work goals.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?The knowledge that PMC and NCBI’s work within the greater scientific community helps countless researchers, librarians, and patients. In my daily work, I’ve learned to lead with a few basic tenants: flexibility, passion, and communication.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?My desire to be outside would probably take over, so I see myself as a park ranger or dog walker in another life.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.I bought a bright blue comfort bicycle recently, because I enjoy the color and a relaxing ride
Black

Rebecca Y. Black

What was your path to NLM?After earning my BA in psychology, I initially pursued a master’s degree in psychology. During my undergraduate and graduate education, I had always worked in the university library. Halfway through pursuing a master’s in psychology, I realized that I had more of a passion for working in libraries, which led me to switching paths and earning a master’s in library science instead. Naturally, NLM has been the perfect place to nurture my combined interests in health and library science.
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?The people I work with! I enjoy collaborating with and learning from colleagues who share the same dedication to making medical literature accessible to the public.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?That the learning curve is infinite. There is always more to learn, and I will never have all the answers. This is part of the reason I value my fellow team members so much. I am constantly learning from them and with them.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?I’d love to travel the world and be able to make a living by writing about how to maximize travel using points and miles.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.I voluntarily took a summer school class after my sophomore year of high school in order to skip my entire junior year.
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Abigail Elbow

What was your path to NLM?A winding one! I’d worked previously in several jobs, one of which was as a freelance copy editor for various New York Times publications and others, and later I spent five years working for a software startup (initially run out of our quirky group house), doing everything from project management and HR to coding training texts for our core natural language processing software. When I left that position, a friend who already worked at PMC told me about an opening for a journal manager, which turned out to be the perfect blend of tech and text!
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?My teammates, of course! PMC has always been a great blend of quirky, smart, and down-to-earth. And everyone is truly committed to doing good work and making PMC the best possible archive, making life-science literature freely available and easily accessible to all.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?So many to choose from! Such as: We can’t fix everything on the internet, but we can fix our little part. The magic of XML and XSLT. If you make as much good science available as possible, in a standardized format, then it allows for new work and new discoveries. And especially the value of amazing, smart, hard-working, and thoughtful coworkers and supervisors.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?I am doing it! After five years full time with PMC, I decided to go back to school to become a nurse. I have stayed on part time with PMC ever since—I just can’t give up this wonderful team and mission—but most of my time is now spent as a public health nurse working with moms and babies from pregnancy to two years old.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.I live in Alaska, where I get to spend my free time hiking, camping, cross-country skiing, and curling!
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Erin Staiger (Salb)

What was your path to NLM?My path to NML began on the publishing side of academic/scientific publishing, working as a journal production manager. I then moved over to the editorial side, holding several different positions, first as a manuscript coordinator, then as a web editor and production manager, and finally as a senior editorial coordinator. NLM provides me with the opportunity to utilize all of the skills I have acquired over my career.
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?The support and teamwork. Everyone on the team is wonderful to work with and extremely helpful. We truly all encourage one another and are always available to help each other solve any problems or answer any questions.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?The expansiveness of the scope of what we do here and how impactful it all is.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?Perhaps trying my hand at writing full time.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.Before coming to work at NCBI, I took a brief hiatus from publishing and pursued a career in fitness. For several years, I was a certified health coach, personal trainer, and group fitness manager, and I even wrote for a fitness magazine.
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Robert Michael Barrett

What was your path to NLM?After undergrad, I landed a job in ’94 as a copy editor for the American Journal of Physiology. I was ambitious, and at that time we had just begun tagging articles in our DTD (document type definition)using MS-DOS. Over the next 12 years, I found my way to becoming a supervising editor, but that rudimentary tagging was what resonated with me. I left to lead my own editorial department at Cadmus/Cenveo. There, I realized that it might be possible to find a position that blurred the lines between editing, tagging, DTDs, composition, etc. And for the past 12 years, the NLM PMC has fit like a glove.
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?The talent we have is amazing. Whip-smart people contributing to a really great mission gives me a sense of pride in knowing that we’re contributing in such a meaningful way.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?A long way on since the days of MS-DOS, for obvious reasons I think learning and working with XML/XSLT would have to be the single most important, followed very closely by the Unix skills I picked up early on.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?As a former athlete, if I weren’t in my current field, I would most likely be coaching high-level track-and-field athletes at either a university or on the pro circuit.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.As an undergrad at Brown University, I was extremely jealous of the culinary students from a neighboring school in Providence. I absolutely love to cook. If and when I win the lottery, you will find me in culinary school in Paris.
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Rebecca Wong Hohmann

What was your path to NLM?I have a BA in English from the University of Minnesota, an MA in communications from New York University, and an MLS from the City University of New York. I edited digital and print publications at the New York Public Library for several years before transitioning into digital archives, first at Ancestry.com and then as a contractor. I joined NLM in 2014 as a contractor for PMC.
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?I like the culture of collaboration and its focus on helping one another. I’ve been a part of the PMC team for five years, but there’s still so much to learn and so many opportunities in which to grow. I receive so much support from my colleagues on a daily basis. Their expertise is invaluable, and I couldn’t do my job well without them.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?Ask questions and be willing to learn.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?Tidying houses with Marie Kondo!
Tell us something surprising about yourself.I was born without a sense of smell. It’s a blessing when it comes to riding public transportation, but I have burned every pot and pan in my kitchen and cooked some questionable meals for my family!
Lisa Allen

Lisa Allen Thakur

What was your path to NLM?I worked in the medical education field before library school. After working in several academic and specialized libraries (including the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office), I wanted to return to the medical field. I was able to do so by securing a contract position within NLM in 2014.
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?Working with my colleagues, whose goodwill, humor, and integrity foster a collegial atmosphere that I always appreciate.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?Learning how to manage web-based content (seeing things from the technical side, as I spent most of my career working with users on the public-service side), particularly how to tag XML, which allowed me to build on my prior knowledge of XHTML.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?Working as a librarian in a specialized library devoted to psychology and the behavioral sciences, which is a passion of mine. However, if I wasn’t a librarian, or had multiple lives, I’d become a public historian, professional genealogist, or writer.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.I am related to Walt Disney (my paternal grandmother was a Disney).
Susan Church

Susan Church

What was your path to NLM?I came to NLM via the National Cancer Institute, where I worked as a contractor in the public inquiries office for many years. Before that, I worked on health-related projects for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?I like the people and the fact that I’m always learning something new, either about the medical literature or about the ins and outs of producing a free full-text archive of journal literature.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?I’ve learned not to be surprised when I find out about yet another cool thing NCBI does at NLM.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?I’d probably be a counselor of some sort.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.Even though I was born in the United States, I lived in three foreign countries before I became a teenager.
Katy Rose

Katy Rose Taylor

What was your path to NLM?I went from public library to academic library to medical academic library to THE medical library—hooray for libraries!
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?The PMC team is full of people who are good at their jobs and are good people generally. Kindness matters.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?Wear comfortable shoes. You never know when you’ll need to cross the street for a meeting, walk into Bethesda for lunch, or take the stairs.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?The original plan was teaching sixth-grade math, but I knew by sixth grade that it was never going to happen.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.I’ve never lived on the west coast, but I saw the Pacific Ocean before I saw the Atlantic.
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Wayne “Jack” Logue

What was your path to NLM?I studied English in college. When the truth of the world of humanities academia became clear during graduate school, I promptly got a job instead. Workwise, I started in the publishing world—I worked on a series of tax publications for benefits compliance. Then I found PMC in 2006 and moved into science archiving without a second thought.
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?PMC is a great group of people—talented, intelligent, and irreverent. We get a lot of work done and, for the most part, enjoy the doing of it.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?Change at NCBI is constant and real. The PMC in which I began my career is not the same PMC that now exists. The fundamental idea of the archive is the same, but the structures, underpinnings, and architecture have been through a remarkable transformation.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?Any number of things. I’ve tended to follow my nose, career wise, which has led to rather an unusual number of unlikely choices for a guy who thought he would end up being a professor. In my personal alternate history, I’d be some kind of Californian, working in a university.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.Because it’s never too late to try a new challenge, even in middle age, I’m attempting my first marathon in the fall. Barring injury, I expect to complete it.
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Erin Friel

What was your path to NLM?My first career was in publishing, which led me to library school and a stint in a public library. My publishing and library backgrounds were a good fit for my work at PMC.
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?It’s a pleasure working with a collegial group of smart, motivated people. It truly is a team effort here.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?Learning doesn’t stop: While I’ve come to understand a great deal of new things in this job, there is still much I don’t yet know.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?I like to travel and explore new places, especially on bike or foot. Travel writer would be on the list.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.I once had aspirations to drive an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. But I’m a pretty terrible driver (and a vegetarian, to boot), so it’s for the best that I didn’t chase that dream.
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Jane Davenport

What was your path to NLM?I graduated college with a fine arts degree but wanted to go into graphic design. I worked for Yankee Publishing and the National Trust for Historic Preservation before working in the publishing program at the American Psychiatric Association. This is where I enjoyed working on scholarly publishing projects. After 14 years there, NLM was a good fit.
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?The staff, publishers, and doing data analysis.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?The integration of literature and technology has improved so much over the years, and I’ve enjoyed learning how all the different teams pull it together.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?My original intent was to be an art director of a New York City magazine.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.I’ve jumped out of perfectly good airplanes over 250 times. Yes, I was a skydiver for several years. I also enjoy gardening, genealogy, and planning parties.
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Tori Catipon

What was your path to NLM?I worked at a peer-review software company previously. But as a kid, I was really torn between growing up to be a librarian or a coroner. I loved visiting our local library multiple times a week. In fact, my dad used to study for his boards at NLM and was super excited when I was hired at PMC.
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?My colleagues come from different backgrounds, and as a result, I’m constantly learning from my coworkers. I feel grateful to work with such smart and competent coworkers.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?NCBI actually believes in a work-life balance so that when you come to work, you’re refreshed and eager to take on the day’s challenges. I once went on a surfing trip in Mexico and didn’t dread coming back to work. My friends didn’t believe me!
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?I enjoy working with my hands, so it would have been cool to have had a career in wheel throwing [ceramics] or as a food editor at a magazine.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.I thought the gym was just for delicious smoothies, so it was a big surprise to everyone when I started rock climbing. Five years later, I’m still climbing, but I’ve picked up running and surfing as well.
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Anna McWilliams

What was your path to NLM?While studying art history as an undergrad, I interned at Dumbarton Oaks’ Collection and Fieldwork Archives, which led to my studies in library and information science. I was working in electronic records management at the Government Accountability Office when I received a call to apply to NIH, which was surreal at the time—I had wanted to work at NIH in some capacity since reading The Hot Zone in my high school biology class.
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?My colleagues, hands down. I feel lucky to work with people who are as intelligent, supportive, and funny as they are.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?For me, I would say the value of liking my job, which is a huge part of my life. Even with the ups and downs of general life, I can get up and know I’ll be part of something that contributes to the public’s access to knowledge. It’s something that I’m proud of and feel good about, no matter what.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?Lots of things, if I could, but possibly records/database management for an environmental or animal advocacy institution. I would also like to learn more about software development.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.I’m pretty sure I’m the only native Russian at NCBI who doesn’t speak fluent Russian.
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Melissa Brennan

What was your path to NLM?I was graduating from the University of Maryland and job searching. I had coffee with a friend, and she told me about this job. I applied and here I am.
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?I like to think of my job as support staff to all of the researchers and doctors in the world who are helping people get healthy and live healthier lives or who are working out the puzzles and challenges that each disease presents. The more comprehensive the archive, the more good science doctors and researchers have to work with, and I like that.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?I’ve learned about NCBI’s rich history within the scientific community and the way it has shaped the way we share scientific data today. It helps set the bar for the quality of my own work.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?I’d be working in some other archive, likely one with a more cultural or artistic mission.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.I’m an alumna of the Juilliard School.
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Clint Walker

What was your path to NLM?My path to NLM was through print journalism (The Washington Post) and medical-journal publishing (Cadmus Communications).
What do you like most about working on the PMC team?The thing I like most about working on the PMC team is the wealth of talent and experience in the group. The strength of the group makes it possible to collaborate when necessary to solve almost any problem and develop new processes and systems.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since joining NCBI?Teamwork! Teamwork! Teamwork!
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what else might you be doing?In my dreams, if I wasn’t doing what I am doing now, I’d be wildly wealthy and spend my time jet-setting with close family and friends.
Tell us something surprising about yourself.I am a wine aficionado. White, red, sparkling! #nodiscrimination

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4 thoughts on “Meet the PubMed Central Team: Perfectionists with a Sense of Humor

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