MLIS Course on Crisis Informatics Inspires Student’s Career Path


MLIS student Robin Taylor found her career path after taking the Crisis/Disaster Health Informatics course with Dr. Chris Hagar. She recently got a job with the National Library of Medicine’s Disaster Information Management Research Center.

An introduction to crisis informatics through a course in her master’s degree program studies has led to a San José State University School of Information student’s new career.

Robin Taylor, who is in her last semester in the iSchool’s Master of Library and Information Science degree program, recently began working as a health sciences librarian for the National Library of Medicine’s Disaster Information Management Research Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Taylor’s main responsibility in her new position at the world’s largest biomedical library is to select items for inclusion in its Disaster Lit database. “We collect grey literature (i.e., materials not indexed in journals) about disaster health. Every day I check hundreds of trusted sources for new items. We follow RSS feeds, Twitter feeds, and subscribe to newsletters to help us find what’s new,” she said.

Taylor also works on the NLM website and social media channels. She recently analyzed a section of the website in order to improve user experience for accessing the online health information resources searched for by millions of people around the globe. Wearing her social media hat, she manages the Twitter feed and writing bulletins to send to list subscribers.

“I love working for the National Library of Medicine. We do such important and unique work with public health and the history of medicine,” she said.

Taylor said she became interested in crisis informatics after taking Dr. Chris Hagar’s INFO 281 Seminar in Contemporary Issues: Crisis/Disaster Health Informatics.

“I thought it sounded fascinating: combining librarianship, which I love, with the urgency and importance of public health emergencies. That was when I first heard of DIMRC, my branch here at NLM. For the first time in the [Master of Library and Information Science] program, I found myself thinking that’s a possible direction for my career,” she said. “I brought my textbook from Dr. Hagar’s class to the interview [with DIMRC], which sounds a bit silly, but I think it showed them how interested I really was.”

The INFO 281 course explores the interconnectedness of information, people and technologies in a crisis or disaster (e.g. hurricanes, earthquakes, and pandemics) and the intersecting trajectories of social, technical and information perspectives in crises/disasters. In particular, it examines how information is generated, accessed, organized, coordinated, and disseminated during a crisis or disaster. The course also examines the multiple roles information professionals and libraries can play in preparedness and response. The first half of the course focuses on crisis/disaster information topics in general. The second half of the course focuses on crisis/disaster health information.

“I was extremely delighted that the skills and knowledge Robin gained in the course helped her find employment at the DIMRC. [She] was an enthusiastic and dedicated student who brought an interesting perspective to the course from her experiences in Uganda where she was based when she took the course. We continued to communicate when the course was over,” Hagar said.

“I feel like I am using my powers for good. We are, I hope, making the world a slightly better place with our work. I love being close to all the fascinating things going on at NLM and at the National Institutes of Health (of which we are a part). I love expanding my subject knowledge every day, learning more about disasters, emergency management, public health, etc. It is endlessly interesting to me, so I feel very lucky to be here, where I can both make a contribution and continue learning,” Taylor said.

The health sciences librarian advises her MLIS student peers who may be interested in a profession focusing on crisis informatics to explore the DIMRC website. She also recommends getting involved local public libraries.

“Something people may not realize is that you can get involved without making disaster health your subject focus,” Taylor said. “Public librarians and others can take other steps. They can, first of all, help their institution and community be prepared for a disaster. Beyond that, they can collaborate with emergency management groups in their area and offer their services. Libraries serve a wide variety of functions before, during and after disasters.”

For more information about INFO 281 Seminar in Contemporary Issues: Crisis/Disaster Health Informatics, read the course syllabus.