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Q&A: Health Sciences librarian to represent UH in prestigious development program

Librarian Rachel Helbing aims to increase the visibility of UH’s Health Sciences Library. | Courtesy of Rachel Helbing

Each year, the Medical Library Association selects a few members for a program geared toward developing their skills, knowledge and personal characteristics to become librarian leaders in the 120-year-old educational organization.

The program, Rising Stars, has named Rachel Helbing, UH Libraries interim director of library services for the Health Sciences, as one of its three national recipients for the 2018-2019 year. She was chosen in part because she “demonstrated interest and commitment to professional service through participation in activities or conferences related to medical librarianship,” according the program’s website.

Helbing sat down with The Cougar to discuss her life and interests, how she ended up at UH, what it means for her to serve the UH community as a librarian, and her plans for furthering health sciences on campus.

The Cougar: How does it feel to be honored with the award?

Rachel Helbing: I’m really excited about it because it is a competitive application process. I’ve been involved for six years; I think I joined in 2012. It is an organization that I appreciate for the work that they do and the content that they provide for librarians. I am very honored that I was chosen to be a part of this program that will help me be more involved.

TC: Can you explain the mentoring program of which you’re a part?

Helbing: Yes. This program chooses approximately four people per year, and we will all be assigned a mentor. I haven’t learned who my mentor will be just yet, but they will be available for us to ask questions, and we will have one-on-one meetings to discuss career development and things of that nature.

TC: Do you feel accomplished?

Helbing: I feel good about my career trajectory over the last few years. I lived in Ohio my entire life, and I was a public librarian who did consumer health work in a hospital. I was employed by a public library, and I really wanted to get involved into medical librarianship. So I took a chance and moved to Montana to get a job as a hospital librarian.

Taking that chance lead to my career path and where I am now. I am happy that my path has led to my being here at University of Houston (since 2017).

TC: How did you go from working at Texas Medical Center Library and Kalispell Regional Medical Center to making the transition to joining the University of Houston?

Helbing: Luckily, I applied for the job and got it. There was a posting for a Health Sciences Librarian. The plan was to open this new Health Sciences Library, which we are sitting in right now. When I applied and was hired, this building didn’t exist yet. It was exciting, getting ready for this whole new library and the developing health science programs on campus.

TC: What does it mean to you to be a librarian?

Helbing: Overall, what all librarians do is help people solve problems. Whether it is a student trying to write a paper and needs help finding sources, or a faculty member doing research and needing support with that. There are various ways, depending on what type of librarian you are and what setting you are in. It all comes down to helping people solve problems.

TC: So initially you just wanted to be a librarian, and then as you said you became more involved in the medical field.

Helbing: Yeah. I started out thinking I was going to be just a general librarian, but I’m really interested in health and medicine.

TC: The MLA Rising Star seems to hope to shape the future leaders. Do you feel as though you leave a positive impact with not only your work but your presence in general?

Helbing: I always try to leave a positive impact no matter what I’m doing, whether it’s working here at UH directly with students, faculty and staff or it’s organization I’m involved in. I always try to leave everything better, especially with organizations like MLA.

The organization is driven by the people who are involved in it, so if I want to make the organization better, the only way to do that is to get involved and to try to shape it the best way that I can.

TC: Of all your accomplishments, is there any one in particular that you are most proud of?

Helbing: I think that the fact that this library is here now and what it is becoming is a big accomplishment. It definitely wasn’t just me individually; there were a lot of people involved and putting forth effort to create the library and its services. I enjoy the fact that when I started a little over a year ago, the library wasn’t here, and now it’s open allowing people and students to benefit from it.

We are providing good library services to the campus. I feel that is a large accomplishment.

TC: Is there anything you would like people to know about you?

Helbing: I am excited about representing the University of Houston and increasing the visibility of our Health Sciences Library services in this national organization.

TC: What’s your favorite book?

Helbing: That is a hard question to ask a librarian. I don’t have one favorite book, but a book that I’ve read multiple times, and I usually don’t read books more than once, is About a Boy by Nick Hornby. There was a TV show and a movie. The book is always better. It’s for nostalgic reasons. I will always be a ’90s kid.

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