Dental Medicine Liaison Librarian, Assistant Professor
University of Nevada Las Vegas
When Ruby L. Nugent, MALIS, took a job at a local public library to serve the Spanish-speaking community, she also unknowingly began a lifelong career in library science. “I was just trying to find a job!” she explained.
Ruby spent the next two decades working in public and academic librarian roles and earning an MLS degree at the University of Arizona. She now serves as Dental Medicine Liaison Librarian and Assistant Professor for the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) School of Dental Medicine.
While she is passionate about her librarian responsibilities, she also acknowledges and takes seriously this unique opportunity to both reach and represent the Latinx community in academia.
“In my role as an academic, I strive every day to serve as an example – particularly to Latinx undergraduate and graduate students – that higher education is important for their futures, that it can be done with hard work and perseverance, and by continuing to contribute to the educational and historical narrative, raising their voices will move us all forward.”
Read more below.
What sparked your interest in a library science career?
Landing in libraries was not a deliberate career choice for me (I was just trying to find a job!), but it was something I quickly fell in love with. I began my career in public libraries working in a small, urban branch doing collection development, programming, and space management for the Spanish-speaking community that frequented our location.
After 10 years, I obtained a position providing support for the reference and education department of an academic health sciences library as student supervisor where I was also conducting basic research consultations and providing instruction. I was very fortunate to be surrounded by amazing leaders and mentors who were well respected and active in medical library organizations and professional activities, and who were instrumental in encouraging me to pursue librarianship. My experience and passion for serving Spanish-speaking communities and the gap of education about health literacy and health information resources to these populations was glaringly obvious to me, so I decided on medical librarianship early on. After nearly two decades as an hourly library employee in both public and academic libraries, I went back to school to get my master’s degree.
As a recent graduate student pursuing your MLS at the University of Arizona, you participated in the Knowledge River Scholar program, which recruits mostly Latinx and Native American graduate students from the iSchool program in an effort to diversify the library profession and increase services to those communities. How did your involvement in this program help prepare you for your career?
As a non-traditional Latinx student with practical experience, I was really deliberate about seeking out a library science program that went above basic curriculum. So, I did a lot of research and really examined my reasons for getting my degree and what I wanted out of it. The University of Arizona provided a rich curriculum, taught by instructors who were people of color and/or Knowledge River scholar alumni themselves. This, along with the cohort model of each incoming class, made for a learning environment of collaboration and support that contributed to my success not only as an information sciences student but as a woman of color.
I learned so much from my classmates and my professors in classes that examined unique cultural perspective, the inclusion and exclusion of indigenous voices in research, and identified inconsistencies and biases in library naming systems and hierarchal vocabulary. This has definitely carried over into my first year as a professional librarian and informed how I move through the library profession. Along with my practical lived experience, the education and perspectives I gathered from being in the program influences the service areas I commit to, the research and scholarship I contribute, and the communities I aim to serve. I am a firm believer in giving back to and fostering the diversity of our profession – particularly in health sciences librarianship where there are so few of us – and will support Knowledge River in any way I can to elevate the important work the program does and continues to do. I honestly would not be the librarian I am today without being part of Knowledge River.
As the UNLV Dental Medicine Liaison Librarian, what are your main priorities and responsibilities?
My primary role is to support students, staff, and faculty in the School of Dental Medicine as well as help my health sciences librarian colleagues support their areas in the School of Medicine as needed. The School of Dental Medicine has eight academic programs for which I provide new student orientations at various times throughout the summer and fall. Additionally, I deliver library informational sessions and library database searching, evidence-based dentistry and cultural competency, and cultural humility instruction within the curriculum, managing research consultations for faculty and students throughout the calendar year.
How do you interact with the School of Dental Medicine students?
In the short time that I have been in this role, I have spent most of my time with the first year doctoral dental medicine students, or DDMs. Each cohort of the four-year program averages about 80 students each and logs 5,010 pre-clinical and clinical hours with most or all done at community clinics in the Las Vegas Valley.
As a liaison, I try to support the School of Dental Medicine and the School of Medicine in other ways, such as attending special events or volunteering. Some of the things I have done in the past year include: volunteering for the local Give Kids a Smile community event, an interdisciplinary, cross-campus poverty simulation, and attending white coat ceremonies. Some consultations and information sharing happens organically when I am travelling from the library to the clinics and the classrooms. It makes all the difference in establishing rapport and trust with the students and faculty to show up and show out in places outside the classroom and at events that are important to them.
How is UNLV planning to conduct classes this Fall? Will it be a mix of in-person and online classes?
The mostly undergrad student body at UNLV returned to the main campus for fall semester recently, with 20% of classes being held in person and 80% online. It is a little different for the School of Dental Medicine and School of Medicine, with students and faculty a few miles away in the Las Vegas Medical District located near their respective classrooms, clinics, and hospitals. Both schools are doing a combination of online and in person classes, but because of the nature of the programs, also are continuing to fulfill required clinical and lab hours.
Students and faculty at both schools have been very involved in providing support to the Las Vegas Valley community during the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to provide dental and medical services as well as administering testing and triaging call centers. There are very strict screening protocols happening for students, staff, and faculty who move around those areas regularly. Although challenging, I think it is being handled well under the circumstances.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work? Has it resulted in additional content needs for the dental medicine program?
Being a medical or health sciences librarian during the time of COVID has been interesting and pretty productive. One of the first and immediate challenges I faced was moving an Evidence Based Dentistry class assignment from in-person to online. This included communicating with the Dental faculty who were teaching the class on logistics, such as evaluating final presentations that were meant to be done in class, conducting virtual meetings with students who were dealing with COVID and the anxiety of finishing up an important final project, and submitting grades to meet an earlier than normal deadline. I just see this continuing as we move through the weeks, months, and possibly years.
Some of the larger activities happened when my colleagues and I were called to action – using our expertise as medical librarians and informationists to help inform and update members or our profession and communities about COVID-related information. Some examples include:
- The Medical Library Association (MLA) Covid Conversations Series
- MLA Latinx Caucus Covid resources for Spanish-speaking populations Guide
- Collaborating with UNLV HSL team to create the Coronavirus LibGuide
According to its website, UNLV is the first four-year institution in Nevada to reach Hispanic enrollment of 25%. How does your Latinx perspective benefit and influence your work at the university?
I am certainly keenly aware of my brownness when I am standing in front of a room full my professional colleagues, faculty members, and graduate students. There are not many of us who are medical librarians, let alone academic tenure-track faculty. That is a lot to take on as a new librarian. But I also know if I am standing up here, there is another Latinx person out there seeing me. Exemplifying our contribution of expertise through education, research, and lived experiences is invaluable to the profession and our communities.
But in many Latinx cultures, it is hard to explain – to justify in some cases – to family and friends. In addition to traditional cultural and social norms, I find that the educational pipeline has been problematic for Latinx for generations. In an environment that was not created for us, we have been set up to fail. In my role as an academic, I strive every day to serve as an example – particularly to Latinx undergraduate and graduate students – that higher education is important for their futures, that it can be done with hard work and perseverance, and by continuing to contribute to the educational and historical narrative, raising their voices will move us all forward.
You recently celebrated your one-year anniversary as a UNLV librarian, which is also your first professional librarian job. What are you most proud of accomplishing during this first year? Were there any unforeseen challenges?
When I came to UNLV in July 2019, I was asked to step right in and pick up where my predecessor had left off – primarily with instruction. I was very fortunate to have the communication channels and faculty connections already established so I spent a lot of the first few months meeting with faculty and introducing myself as their liaison librarian. Because of that work, I was invited to teach within several core classes and facilitated a semester long evidence-based dentistry class with instruction, weekly assignments, and final evaluations.
COVID-19 was definitely an unforeseen challenge that many of us had to contend with. For me, it required lectures and final assignments to be re-evaluated and re-created to fulfill both the online platform while still retaining the integrity of the school’s educational standards in a period of two weeks. Although challenging, I see it as a great opportunity to show my flexibility as an instructor and a collaborator to the School of Dental Medicine teaching faculty. I am thrilled to have been invited back by the teaching faculty to provide instruction for the 2020/2021 academic year and see that as a great accomplishment. I am really pleased to have successfully navigated my role as the Dental Medicine Liaison Librarian thus far and with some of the lessons learned, look forward to applying them in the future.
Tell us something fun about yourself!
I am an avid cross stitcher (but not your Grandma’s kind!) and like to create snarky or pop culture themed art that I tend to give away to friends and family. I think a lot of that is influenced by my broad and eclectic taste in movies, television, and music which is reflective of the types of inspired pieces I create. As you might imagine, this makes me pretty great as a trivia team member too, which I love to participate in – preferably at a location that serves good craft beer. I am an unapologetic life-long Disneyland fanatic and look forward to the day I can set foot (when it is safe!) inside the gates of “The Happiest Place on Earth”.