I Am Lander: Vanderbilt ‘treasure hunter’ Rachel Walden searches for information
Monday, Mar 08, 2021

Rachel Lane Walden Rachel Lane Walden is a treasure hunter.

But don’t confuse the Lander University alumna with the pirate marauders who terrorized the South Carolina coast in the 1700s or the dashing Indiana Jones whose death-defying movies thrilled audiences via the silver screen. Walden’s hunts are more subdued and tedious. Yet, they are quite likely to take her to out-of-the way locations where she is often unseen and relentless in her quests.

As a Health Sciences Informationist at the Eskind Biomedical Library at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., Walden hunts information. Her clients include physicians seeking the newest treatments for patients with rare illnesses, researchers wanting the most current findings to advance their own studies and medical and nursing students needing assistance with their classes.

Her career began at Lander where the December 2010 graduate earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. “I always liked science classes, more so than the humanities,” said Walden, 33, formerly of West Columbia. “Lander has a great science program, and I had good scholarships to attend the University. It was a good fit for me.”

After graduation, she was a park ranger with the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, a job she loved because it put her in touch with tourists from many parts of the state and nation. But Walden couldn’t shake her desire for a science-based career.

Accepted into the master’s degree program for library and information science at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, Walden found a perfect match for her interests. She earned her master’s degree in December 2014 and discovered her first treasure – an internship at Vanderbilt University, world-renowned for its medical school, hospital and biomedical research. She began her new job in January 2015 and ultimately was promoted to a full-time librarian position.

“I work in a very busy library environment with people in the health sciences. The most interesting part of my job is finding that piece of information that no one else has found yet. That is the treasure hunt aspect.”

A recent search, for example, was for a researcher studying whether Vitamin C could provide therapeutic benefits for the heart during angioplasty. A project for the School of Nursing involved helping a graduate student working with young people in a Third-World country. “How could this nurse help them with long-term birth control decisions?” she asked.

Her work for Vanderbilt’s School of Nursing, a national leader in nursing education and research, has been so valuable that Walden was selected to receive the Friend of Nursing Award in October 2020. The nursing school ceremony was done virtually for the safety of participants and award winners. This award came on the heels of another honor – the 2019 Jean & Alexander Heard Award for Distinguished Librarianship, presented in February 2020. The award honors a professional librarian for distinguished service and leadership.

“Libraries aren’t always what people imagine them to be,” she said. “Yes, we have books. But much of a librarian’s work involves searching for information that people need. The majority of my work focuses on finding journal articles for the latest information on clinical trials and new drug therapies for patients. I also search for information that can be used in our scientists’ research and their scientific presentations.”

The Eskind Library is a busy place for hundreds of medical and nursing students, although the pandemic has taken a toll on their ability to be there. During the first couple of months of the pandemic, Walden worked from home. The time away from the office enabled her to become a foster parent last year for nine cats and kittens. “It was my quarantine project,” she said.

Beyond the walls of the library and the keyboard of her scientific treasure hunts, Walden sheds the bookish librarian persona. She is a certified scuba diver whose ambitious dives have taken her to Florida, Mexico and the Bahamas and the rock quarries of Kentucky. She’s planning an international scuba-diving trip when it’s safe to travel again.

Walden also is an avid cosplay participant and makes extravagant costumes for conventions celebrating characters from books, novels and video games. Her costume passion is for the Harpy of Meereen from Game of Thrones, a golden statue sporting wings. With her dad’s help, Walden built gold wings with an 11-foot width that she wears.

Before the pandemic, Walden could be found exploring Nashville’s bustling music scene and outdoor events or enjoying zip-line adventures. “Now, I just want to go on a vacation,” she said.

Walden considers her days at Lander as a Gamma Phi Beta sorority member among her favorite memories of college life. The University also gave her a solid foundation for her career. “My biology studies have been very helpful in my work. My leadership roles in the sorority were important, too, because I was shy in high school. Now, I can give presentations before 300 people. The opportunities at Lander gave me that confidence.”

And maybe finding her footing at a highly respected library in an academic setting isn’t so unexpected, either.

“I spent a lot of time in Lander’s library. Among my friends, it was a favorite place to hang out,” she said.

She admits that she doesn’t “shush” library users. “I tend to be a little bit loud myself at times,” she said.

Perhaps “loudness” is an innate characteristic, too, of treasure hunters. Pirates and Indiana Jones share that reputation as well.