Transitioning Technology in Today’s Medical Library

By Rina Krautwirth

Research Project on Medical Libraries

Photo by NEC Corporation of America with Creative Commons license.

Photo by NEC Corporation of America with Creative Commons license.

For my thesis project at the Graduate School for Library and Information Studies (GSLIS) at Queens College during a required course titled Research in Library and Information Studies, I chose to research and study medical libraries and librarianship in order to learn more about how a modern-day medical library operates. In particular, I looked at how a medical library utilizes emerging technology, a phenomenon currently progressing rapidly, and gained valuable insight into best practices for medical libraries. Moreover, I saw how a medical library can serve as a vital resource and pillar of support for its surrounding community. I also learned of the current challenges faced by medical libraries and librarians. These challenges stem to some degree from the recent rapid growth in the field of technology and from the vast amount of medical research taking place, two positive contributions to society that at the same time require adaptations and accommodations for their successful implementation. As librarianship continues into the twenty-first century, medical librarians continue to work to meet new challenges and to bring about improvements in medical and scientific knowledge.

Synopsis of Findings from Research Project

During the course of working on the research project, I found that looking at the historical development of health sciences libraries within the larger context of the development of libraries in general and of scientific progress in general provides a framework with which to understand and analyze current health sciences libraries and practices. I also saw that many of the current innovations and adaptations in health sciences libraries can serve to benchmark best practices for general libraries as well. In addition, from the literature review component of the project, I found a number of handbooks written for prospective and current health sciences librarians; these handbooks offer a valuable tool for the librarian and for the field of librarianship.

More specific findings included discovery of the professions of “information analyst” and “Clinical Medical Librarian (CML).” Learning of these two concepts for professionals pointed to an emerging opportunity to combine an interest in science and medicine with the skills of information management in novel and innovative roles.

From the research for my project, I also learned in more detail about practical applications of new technology toward managing information and teaching knowledge. For example, I read about iPad utilization by Clinical Medical Librarians who join in medical rounds. I also read about the process of screencasting, which enables one to create slide shows and tutorials to teach methods to use online resources and the like. Dating further back, the availability of electronic journals clearly has significantly impacted the scientific and medical fields.

With respect to meta-analyzing the efficacy of health sciences and medical libraries, formal studies have been completed to assess the progress and current state of health sciences libraries and to identify areas that require improvement. These studies included surveying student usage and student responses and feedback. A 2012 task force was created as well for improving the field for the purpose of medical education.

Site Visit to a Medical Library

As part of the research project, I visited a medical library and spoke with its director, who provided me with up-to-date information about the library’s operation. From the site visit, I learned about the current state of medical librarianship in this particular institution and about its progress. The library provides accessibility, assistance, and strong research skills to foster health and medical research.

Patient care decisions, in which case requests for articles that the library does not own fall under urgent (obtained within two to three hours) or rush (obtained within the same day), research lab experiments, and grant deadlines each have urgency and involve time sensitive materials. The library provides training sessions including sessions on not plagiarizing and on using proper citations, maintaining the integrity of the research produced by the institution. An interesting and perhaps unique application of the medical library is its ability to provide lab researchers with quick access to information on techniques for conducting experiments, even while the researcher or technician is in the process of conducting the experiment! Regarding challenges, like non-specialized libraries, the medical library faces adapting to larger volumes of knowledge with need for faster access, adapting to fewer print materials and more electronic materials instead, and adapting to innovations in technology both for internal and for patron-accessible technology. Researchers often use different terminologies in their lab notebooks or research notes, so to meet this challenge to data management, the library website presents detailed research guides for students and health professionals.

Students (medical students; PhD, MD/PhD, and Master’s students; bioethics students; and psychology students), faculty, researchers (research investigators and post-docs), health professionals (medical professionals at affiliated and nearby hospitals, residents, and fellows), the nearby affiliated psychology school, all institutional staff, and nearby hospitals, i.e. the larger surrounding community, utilize the library. The library and the research offices and laboratories share the same building, which decreases travel time and creates a sense of community. Features of the library include:

  1. National Library of Medicine (NLM) call number system;
  2. Medical and basic science works (e.g. Biology and Chemistry works);
  3. A 2 a.m. closing during course exams and from Memorial Day until early June, when second year students study for their Board examinations;
  4. A 24/7 study center that contains PC and Mac computers, scanners, and printers;
  5. A cafeteria in the building;
  6. A well-lit reading area with many large windows to bring in natural light;
  7. Regulations for quiet study, a quiet study room, and five individual study rooms;
  8. Three sculptures of scientists, near the stacks.

Generally, an aesthetical library increases its efficacy and creates an environment conducive to studying comfortably.

Reference projects vary. Librarians could work on a literature review for a researcher writing either an article or a grant proposal. They can work on a systematic review, which has emerged somewhat recently in research. In contrast to a narrative review, this review entails a long and rigorous process to prove the review’s claim and requires team review to ensure that the research does not contain any bias. They can assist with the Public Access Policy, issued by the National Institute of Health (NIH) in April of 2008, with which scientists need to comply. This policy states that if a research project receives funding from tax money, the researchers must make available in full text to the public the research paper that results from the tax-funded research. They also work on citation management and citation programs like End Note and Ref Works. (Zotero and Mendeley are others.) Inter-Library Loan (ILL) services, in reference, enable scientists and information professionals to share information in an increasingly connected network, to rapidly share new research and information. A requested PDF automatically enters the patron’s account, for thirty days for opening, downloading, and/or printing.

New technology has changed library usage. Innovations include: email, chat (9 a.m. to 6 p.m. or a “next time” message), Twitter, and texts to contact librarians; Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and other social media sites for communication; Poll Everywhere —an audience response system with a “clicker” device—to gather and gauge lecture audience responses, to improve research; PCs and Macs; color printers and color scanners to create quality color images that can show essential information about physiology, cell and molecular biology, images from microscopes, histology images, etc.; laptops, iPads, and iPad Minis for loan, which can have great applications for health studies and research; a cutting edge 3D printer for health professionals, researchers, and students to better understand the information that they encounter – for example, a 3D printer can improve medical research and can create models of chemical structure; up-to-date technology, such as flat screen TV screens for computers installed in the five private study rooms (separated by glass walls from the main room) for better collaboration within study groups above dry erase boards/erasable markers; and online study room reservation or a barcode to scan at the study room door.

Analysis of Results

From my research project, I learned much about how the disciplines of science and medicine greatly can benefit from advancements in information management. I saw that a bridging of information studies and scientific and medical research can bring about improvements to both fields. A symbiotic relationship between science/medicine and information management and studies has the potential to bring about improvements in health research, which in turn would greatly benefit our global society.


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