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College of Information and Communications

Research rabbit holes

With boundless information at our fingertips, it’s easy to get lost in curiosity. A simple search can lead to a page, which leads to another, which leads to several more until you’re 10 tabs deep and 45 minutes short. MLIS alumna Jenna Strawbridge channels this same unique, relentless curiosity daily — and she’s lucky enough to call it her career. 

Strawbridge, ’20, works as a federal contractor for the Environmental Protection Agency with Oak Ridge Associated Universities. As a digital research librarian, she helps teams of scientists connect the dots between their own research projects and related references. 

“The goal is to provide transparency to the research process at the EPA,” she says. “It’s this kind of back and forth of trying to start with a really big pool of information and get it down as narrow as possible. Then we go in, and we connect all of those citations to a central database.” 

Strawbridge and her team make those enticing “rabbit hole” research moments possible through work on the Health and Environmental Research Online database. Her team compiles thousands of references through major online databases for scientists to review, and from there they refine, and link the references back to HERO for publication. The finished product — a public research report — wraps all the featured references into an accessible, hyperlinked list of works cited for anyone to explore. 

While completing her MLIS, she was originally called to librarianship in higher education, but her work with the EPA has inspired a new perspective. 

“I feel like librarianship has really changed in the past 20 years,” she says. “So much of librarianship now is online, it’s digital, it’s information-based, it’s technology-based. The fun thing about being a librarian is that you’re not a subject specialist, and I can tell that this is my thing. I like going down rabbit holes, and I love doing research.” 

Her experience at the iSchool made the transition to digital librarianship even sweeter. Stand-out courses that she calls upon in her current role include an introductory reference services class with associate professor Susan Rathbun-Grubb, an information retrieval class with associate professor Feili Tu-Keefner and assistant professor Amir Karami’s design and database management class. 

“What I appreciated most about this program was that they wanted you to be prepared to find a job as soon as you graduate and be successful,” she said. “I was just shocked at how applicable almost all of my classes were to my daily work.” 

The relationships with her professors have also left a lasting impact on Strawbridge. Take her connection with associate professor Dick Kawooya. Once a student in Kawooya’s academic libraries course, the two still keep in touch and have even run into each other through work on side projects. 

“Jenna was an outstanding student, and her successes come as no surprise due to the standards she set herself in everything she does,” Kawooya said. “We challenge our students to apply their information science skills to every situation involving organizing information in support of community or organizational needs. Working for the EPA is an excellent example of that.” 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.