Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos


In this CVR podcast series, we talk with those doing research and serving victims and learn about the work they've done together.

Tell Us About It, Episode 23: The Impact of Research Librarians in Victim Services

A convo with Laura Puls and Muriel WellsOct 04Time: 27:42

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Tell Us About It, Episode 23: The Impact of Research Librarians in Victim Services

On this episode of Tell Us About It, we speak with Laura Puls and Muriel Wells, two research librarians in the victim services field. Laura and Muriel spoke about their mission as research librarians, how research librarians serve their community in a variety of ways, and the value of contacting a research librarians with questions and requests.

Laura Puls is the Research Librarian for the Center for Victim Research. Contact Laura with research questions, reference requests, and more either through CVR’s Contact page or by emailing

Muriel Wells is the Research Librarian for the National Children’s Advocacy Center. Contact Muriel with research questions, reference requests, and more by emailing

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Susan Howley: Welcome to Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos, a podcast from the Center for Victim Research with support from the Office for Victims of Crime. On each episode of Tell Us About It, we talk to researchers and practitioners about their work, the tools being built for use in the field, and how we can work together to build an evidence base for crime victim services. I’m Susan Howley, and on today’s episode we have the privilege of talking with two Research Librarians: Laura Puls, from the National Center for Victims of Crime, and Muriel Wells, from the National Children’s Advocacy Center. Can you please introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit more about where you’re based and your primary audience? Laura, let’s start with you.

Laura Puls: Hi, my name is Laura Puls. I’m the research librarian at the National Center for Victims of Crime. I’m very excited to be on the Center for Victim Research project. My primary audience are service providers and practitioners who are interested in research articles, statistics, facts from studies, anything that they can use to help reach their audiences, make their case for funders, and just really understand how their work has an impact on people.

Susan Howley: Thanks. Muriel?

Muriel Wells: Yes. I’m Muriel Wells, digital information librarian and research librarian at the National Children’s Advocacy Center. We’re based in Huntsville, Alabama. My primary audience are the multidisciplinary team members and staff of the over 900 children’s advocacy centers in the United States.

Susan Howley: As librarians in the victim services field, what do you each see as your mission? Muriel, let’s start with you.

Muriel Wells: Well the primary mission is of course information provision; however, it’s very broad in that the focus is on providing information that is very relevant, very quick sometimes because we want the practitioners to focus on their work, their service to the victims. So the less amount of time that they spend searching for information, the more time they have to focus on their job. So the main focus I have is serving them very quickly and sending them very targeted information that they can use to fulfill their purpose.

Laura Puls: I love how Muriel phrased it. I agree totally. I see my mission as a librarian to understand what people’s needs are, their real needs, and to get them practical information that they can act on. That can mean a lot of different things. That can be somebody who is working with a victim and they want some research studies that helps put the case that you’re not alone, other people have gone through similar things, here are some things that you may experience, you may not experience them. It can also help when service providers are planning outreach and they want to understand what are the needs in my community. Has somebody else conducted a similar study, so I don’t have to duplicate it, especially if I don’t have the means, but I can still understand what might be going on in my community and have some numbers to back that up. I also think it can help people when they are trying to make the case for a particular policy in just knowing what does the evidence actually say about this practice.

Susan Howley: Wow. So you two really are integral to the victim services field and I know that the two of you work together. Are there other libraries that you coordinate with?

Laura Puls: Yes. There’s actually a wonderful what we call research to practice network. We’re made up of a number of libraries, including the Center for Victim Research; CALiO, where Muriel work,s the Child Abuse Library Online; the National Center on Elder Abuse; the National Sexual Violence Resource Center; VAWNet, which is housed at the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence; the National Crime Victim Law Institute; the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center; and the National Criminal Justice Reference Service.

Susan Howley: Great. How do you two or how do all of you librarians work together?

Muriel Wells: Well, in addition to those that Laura just mentioned, I would like to add the Child Welfare Information Gateway is also another fantastic library that we work with. And how we work together is, since we know one another and we know pretty well what resources each separate library carries that our library may not specifically carry, we can share open access resources between the libraries as well as answer questions that focus more on our area of expertise. For instance, I actually occasionally have inquiries about matters pertaining to elder abuse and so I can direct the person requesting the information to the Center on Elder Abuse and their professionals who can provide service there. So it’s just a matter of our knowledge base of knowing where to find it, who has it, or who knows about the issue at hand.

Laura Puls: Yeah I think that’s a really good description of how all the partners work together. We also share how we do our work. So if somebody has already approached a certain question or provides a certain service, I like to understand how they approach their work so that we can either adapt similar services that we’re providing similar level of service. I know too that a lot of the other research to practice centers provide different types of materials, like Muriel was describing. So in the Center for Victim Research library, we really focus just on research based materials and a lot of the other resource centers include these wonderful toolkits and other practice guidelines that can be really helpful for different needs.

Muriel Wells: I’d like to piggyback off of that as well because often I will get a request and the person is actually asking for research but I can tell by how they’re phrasing it that they actually really need a more practice-based item, such as a toolkit or guidelines or best practices type of information and I can direct them in that direction.

Laura Puls: That’s a really good point, Muriel. I think that’s another skill that librarians can really add to the field is just understanding what kind of information people are actually looking for. We’re working with a lot of subject matter experts, people who have many, many years in the field and a lot of experience and then our experience is more, how do you find additional information.

Susan Howley: Muriel, how do you help people who come to you with a specific question? Let’s say they’re bringing a research question or they want the latest research on a particular area.

Muriel Wells: Okay great. That is a great question actually. Let me start with this, often they’re not exactly sure even what their question is. They need the librarian to help them actually clarify their question and oftentimes they’ll freely admit “I’m actually not sure what I need.” And oftentimes, we have already gotten the same question from other people who work in the field and oftentimes I am asked the same question many, many, many, many times over the years, especially since I’ve been in this position close to 11 years now. I’ve seen almost all of the questions. And so I help them by going back and forth and asking them for clarification and more details about their case or who they’re needing the information for to actually hone down exactly what they need. And oftentimes, the question is just “Will you send me this the specific article?” And Laura can speak to this as well, because a lot of times when they ask for an article on a specific topic, we also know of two or three more articles or maybe just one other that is really better on that topic, focuses more on that topic, or just as an addition more information on the topic. And so we send them more than they actually ask for.

Laura Puls: Yes I love those kind of experiences when we can just really expose people to the variety of materials that are out there.

Susan Howley: Laura, I have a question that’s kind of the opposite of the one we just discussed. So in this information age, we really have an over-abundance of information and there are new studies coming out all the time, new materials, and people find it difficult to kind of stay on top of their area of specialization. How do you all as research librarians, how can you help someone in that situation?

Laura Puls: That’s another kind of skill that I enjoy doing is not only finding the materials people request but also helping them help themselves. I’ve recorded some tutorials on setting up search alerts, other tutorials on just using the database to find similar articles. And related to what Muriel was talking about, once I know somebody’s topic of interest is, I love to send on new articles that I come across. So I subscribe to a number of journal table of content lists. So about every month or so, the journals that are of interest to the field send a list of here’s all of our new articles. And I’ll go through that list and if I notice any titles that sounds like questions that people have asked me before or I know somebody works in a certain type of environment and they’re interested in this topic or their state is going to be funding something on this topic I like to send on that article just to give them a heads up that it’s available and that they’re able to access it.

Muriel Wells: Yes very good points. I’d like to add to that. In addition to like recording tutorials and staying on top of the information that comes out, I think Laura and I both subscribe to several list serves and newsletters from organizations that produce information or produce research. And so those come to our inbox every day and we go through those on a regular basis, like she said, and pull out the things that we know aha I get questions on that topic frequently or oh I think I probably will get questions on that topic or this will be something that people are going to be concerned with. And so we just kind of organize all of that information and have it ready. Sometimes people will comment on how quickly we send information to them or resources. They think it’s some kind of magic. Well no, it’s just being prepared ahead of time. We’ve already collated, curated, and organized the information ahead of time and we have it right at our fingertips.

Laura Puls: You’re so right. Those skills to just predict what people are likely to be interested in and do that information evaluation – is this actually good information. I know that I’ve had people ask “Oh do we even need librarians anymore?” As Susan was saying, there’s so much information out there, why can’t I just google it? Well you could and get millions and millions of results that are maybe something is somewhat relevant in there. And librarians can really help you not only go through some of your Google results or make better Google searches, but help you get started in a better place in the beginning and search valuable, reliable databases, journals, sources.

Muriel Wells: Exactly and sometimes I get the question of well how do I know that this is reputable, good material that I should use. Well pretty often, a librarian knows by looking at the very front page of a publication. Is it published by, say, the American Psychological Association or any number of hundreds of organizations and research agencies that we know are reputable and peer-reviewed. And there are other ways, I won’t go through all the lists, but we have several ways of determining pretty quickly if the information, the resource, is a reputable information that should be used. And a little trick I have is if I cannot get a hold of a certain piece of research – and I actually just use this trick this morning. I saw an abstract for a new publication that we actually do not subscribe to that journal but I knew one of the lead authors. So I e-mailed that one lead author, that’s out in Oregon at a university, and within a few minutes, he sent me the full text of the article.

Laura Puls: That’s great. People really do want to share formation and the authors a lot of the time have some version they can share. That’s a good tip.

Susan Howley: So speaking of staying on top of information, I know that both of you produce research bibliographies or bibliographies on certain topics. How do you decide when to produce a bibliography?

Muriel Wells: Well there’s a couple of aspects of that issue. I usually base my decision on what subject matter to use for a bibliography based off of the inquiries that I get, the questions that I get, or what’s hot in the research. For instance, I would say beginning about 10 years ago, maybe a little less, the subject of domestic child sex trafficking exploded on the scene, so I knew that I would need to create a bibliography on that topic. Or say vicarious trauma among victim service workers. That began to bubble up to the surface as the hot topic that needed addressing.

Susan Howley: Laura, anything to add?

Laura Puls: I think Muriel describes it really well. And another instance that I think about for creating an annotated bibliography is when this information can be really hard to find. So Muriel was describing like when hot topics are emerging, there may not be a lot of research in the beginning. So just bringing together what exists is really valuable for people so they don’t have to spend their time searching for those individual articles. Relatedly, there may just be a topic that’s been around for a long time but there still hasn’t been a lot of research on it and so just collecting together again the parts that you can piece together to really answer that question can help people.

Susan Howley: Muriel, people may be familiar with going to their local public library or they may even have gone to their university library or remember using it in their student days. What’s the difference between someone walking down to the corner library or even the university library and calling you or one of your colleagues?

Muriel Wells: Right. Great question. There may be several differences, and Laura can speak to this as well, but all of the librarians in all the different types of libraries have the same desire to serve. We’re there to serve, we’re very service-oriented and very knowledgeable about if we don’t have it, we know who does. However, with a targeted research library, the information and the knowledge of the librarian is more targeted. So in your public library, even though the librarians are very knowledgeable, they have more of a broad based knowledge of serving the community and not the professionals who work in victim services or another area of specialization. So it’s just more of a specialized service that can target the needs of the population that we serve.

Laura Puls: That’s a really good description. I also find public libraries can be valuable for those books that you might want to research as well. Well, I guess the Center for Victim Research doesn’t have any physical books. Muriel, I think you may have a small book collection but it’s not your primary service. So public libraries can be really valuable if there’s a book you heard about that’s talking about, for example trauma, or going more in-depth about a bunch of research studies. I also found public libraries do have some business and funding databases that maybe nonprofits or research libraries don’t necessarily have access to. Public libraries also can be a great place, as Muriel was saying, for that community outreach. So if you are planning an event or you want some more information or statistics, demographic information about your community, the public library can be a great place to start. University libraries sometimes also allow patrons from the community to come in and use a dedicated computer to access all of their great resources. No library is going to be able to subscribe to all the databases that are out there, so it’s really good to contact some librarian and they’ll connect you to where that resources available. Librarians love to help each other.

Muriel Wells: Exactly. And I find that sometimes people, practitioners or just people in the public, find the huge university library is daunting and almost scary. But anyone from the public can go into your public local university library and use those resources. You cannot check out books, but you can use their copiers and copy pages from books, copy pages from print journals, things like that. And so sometimes I will be asked for a book that is not available electronically, or is available electronically but maybe I don’t have access to that electronic version in our library, and I will use a database that is familiar to librarians named WorldCat and I will find the university in the area of my patron that is wanting that book and I will suggest to them, if you really, real really need that book, such and such university in your area has a copy.

Susan Howley: Laura, you talked about this a little bit earlier when you said that in this Google age, people tend to just go to the internet and then they might think that they should be able to find something on their own and might hesitate to reach out and bother you or Muriel. What would you say to those people?

Laura Puls: I would tell them to bother me, I’m a librarian. One of my friends actually got me a plaque that says that because I say it so often. I really want to emphasize for people that librarians are here to help you and we love to help you and it literally is our job. So please send us requests. We’re going to help you get started a little bit more quickly. Help you understand the types of information that might be available to you, and also if it’s not available. Sometimes it can be really valuable just to know I don’t think this has been studied yet, so you’ve actually identified a gap in research.

Muriel Wells: I totally agree with what Laura has said, especially on the case of bothering. I will often get email messages that the first line starts with, “I’m sorry to bother you but -” and I always say no, that’s what I’m here for. We’re very service-oriented. It’s a helping profession. It’s just a different kind of helping profession, where we provide information and resources or the knowledge of how to get to the information and resources. So our expertise can save the practitioner or even the researcher a huge amount of time and even frustration when we know how to access something so quickly and so efficiently that they don’t by virtue of not being a librarian.

Laura Puls: I love that. In addition to being helpful and service-oriented, a lot of librarians are curious. So once we get asked a question, we want to figure it out. We want to understand what’s available, what might be there. And I mentioned this earlier too, once I know that you’re interested in something, I’m going to keep that on my radar and be sending little tidbits that I see as I come across them as well.

Susan Howley: Now I know both of your libraries have grown over time, but Muriel what do you see as the future role for research librarians in the victim services field?

Muriel Wells: Well, I actually see it expanding. As the information age expands – as we all know if we’ve ever used Google, 10 million results on a search – there’s just more and more and more especially digital information that people have to wade through and the number of journals out there just has exploded in the digital age. There are thousands upon thousands of journals even. And of course books. And so the role of the librarian in actually organizing all of this information so that people can use it effectively is I think going to grow and grow as time goes by.

Laura Puls: I agree. I also think that people’s questions are becoming more and more specialized. So there’s something very specific they want to know that would make a difference in their community to have that information. It’s really rare for there to be a journal article or a study that focused on their specific question. So I think a librarian’s role is not only the organizing and collecting information and evaluating it if it’s useful, but also putting together information from multiple sources to really answer people’s specific questions. Another future aspect of librarianship that I see can also be in connecting the research and practice fields. Librarians speak the language of academia and databases and research and because we work with the public, we also can translate some of that language and understand how an article might use different terms to talk about the same topic. We’re also very interested in sharing resources, which I think is a very big movement towards more open access, more open science, more transparency, more freely available materials. They used to say in library school: “information both wants to be free and it’s expensive.” So librarians can help bridge some of that knowledge gap by pooling resources. It’s very expensive for an individual practitioner or nonprofit organization to purchase a single $35 journal article or $400 journal subscription. But with the librarian being able to be one place to provide multiple access points, it’s really valuable.

Susan Howley: Any thoughts you’d like to leave our audience with?

Muriel Wells: Just circling back on people understanding the value of information and how the library itself and the librarians can serve you. Oftentimes, we know what the information isn’t. Don’t spend a lot of time searching for something, when the librarian may know it doesn’t exist. We’re very good, like Laura said, of knowing where all the resources are and connecting with one another as librarians and using one another’s resources and brains to find it if it exists and we know when it doesn’t.

Laura Puls: I want to build off of that too of just – my point earlier related to curiosity. I like helping people. I like knowing what people are interested in and keeping up with what’s actually valuable and needed in the field so we can provide services that match.

Muriel Wells: And another thing Laura mentioned a moment ago that I did want to speak to was the concept of research to practice. We are actually, at the National Children’s Advocacy Center in the Child Abuse Library Online, grant mandated to focus on research to practice. It is preparing documents and resources. We prepare from the research, publications that the practitioner who doesn’t speak research-ese or librarian-ese to use in their practice implications from the research. So we’re very good, as Laura previously mentioned, at boiling down research in a digestible, usable way.

Susan Howley: Well I for one am a true believer. And now that I have come to rely on both of you when I have research questions, I can’t imagine going back to a world where I did not have a connection with a research librarian. So I’m so glad that you both had the time today to talk to our audience so that people can understand that they too should jump into this world of having a research librarian that they can call on to help them be even more effective in their work. So thank you both.

Laura Puls: Thank you.

Muriel Wells: Thank you.