Wednesday, March 26, 2008

MLA & Medical Librarians: Running the trains but missing the passengers?

The theme for the Medical Library Association under our current president Mark Funk, AHIP, is Only Connect with a focus on using web 2.0 tools to connect within our membership. A great overview of his inaugural speech is over at omg tuna is kewl. Side note: if you don't already read Wondermark, you're missing out!

However, in the midst of our renewed focus of connecting with our colleagues online, we need to keep an eye out for our users who are also there. We are taught reference interviewing and how to observe body language and other non-visual cues to proactively offer service to hesitant users in person, but how about online?

When Kevin, M.D. (a primary care physician blogger) posted PubMed and its search engine that he found via White Coat Notes (a Boston-area medical news site) posted on the blogs, my journalism background thought 5 Ws/H? (Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?) while my poser geek/medical librarian background thought This wouldn't have been reposted by at least 2 other blogs had there not been a level of belief in the newsworthiness of and/or agreement with the original source...

The original source is from a Harvard Medical School PhD student who posted I Am Not Yelling. Not Out Loud. with some understandable dissertation research frustration regarding PubMed's search engine. The post, comments and responses from the original author speak for themselves, and (as I expected) several medical librarians had already posted offering assistance to her.

What I found of particular interest was the author's response to one of the offers for help of At the moment, I have neither a medical librarian to bother nor the time to do it in. I hope I make it through the next month on the rudimentary knowledge I do have.

Harvard has plenty of medical librarians at the Countway Library of Medicine.

Why none of the other medical librarians recommended that the author contact Countway perplexed me. If you were a Harvard passenger, would you be more willing to board a train whose destination is unknown or one headed straight for Harvard? What could be done to have the passenger know that the Harvard train is there in the first place, and would be happy to have her on board to reach her destination quickly?

Connection outreach opportunity! I used the contact form on Countway's site to let them know of the original author's blog entry last night with a note that 2 other medical blogs had cited her, and in the morning received a response from a librarian there of Thanks for the heads-up. I have sent her an email outlining what we can do for her.

I hope this helps both the author with her dissertation research and Countway regarding not only their services outreach, but considering ways to keep a finger on the pulse of their own users' online medical community for signs of help.

How are we checking the information vitals of our own academic, regional and other online medical communities? Have we lost sight of the passengers for operating the trains? If we want to not just survive but thrive, both are of equal importance.


Erika said...

This (the lack of mention of Countway) puzzled me too. I noticed that someone named Tia (can't tell if she was a librarian) actually did tell her that Harvard probably has a ton of librarians who could help her. But I will say from my own experience that researchers are MUCH harder to reach out to than clinicians-- probably b/c they feel like they should be able to do this stuff themselves, and they don't have the obvious time/money constraints that a clinician does.

Nikki Dettmar said...

Thanks for the feedback, Erika :) The response from Tia was after I posted this, which admittedly is also ancient history being 3 days after the original author's frustration. I agree with you that research/lab sciences is really tough for library outreach from what I observed during my internship experience. Partners in Information Access for the Public Health Workforce (PHPartners) is a response (in part) to research showing PubMed wasn't efficiently meeting information needs in public health(Revere et. al. gives some great background). I'm not aware of similar research-based information resources for biomed research, but I'm still a total newbie ;)

Erika said...

I'm not aware of anything like that for biomed rsch, either--but half the battle w/ them is making that connection. PIA is a great project (although I still find it rather unwieldy to actually find stuff), but the lovely thing about PH workers is that they tend to *know* that there's a ton of stuff our there, and it's all over the place--and they're generally grateful when someone shows them how to use it. They don't seem to have that attitude of self-reliance that academic researchers have. Nature of the beast, to some extent--PH professionals generally aren't working in isolation!

Erika said...

BTW, hadn't seen that Revere article--thanks for the reference!

Anonymous said...

By the way, the PhD student from Harvard refused the offer of one on one help from the Countway Reference Staff.
She was too busy finishing her dissertation.

Nikki Dettmar said...

I agree that half the battle is finding the opportunity for effective library outreach for PhDs who tend to work in isolated work cultures too, Erika. I think I'd worry about the health of the community a PH dept. was serving if they operated similarly! ;)

Anon, I am aware that the student ultimately declined help. My primary concern was making certain there was a direct, personal connection to her home library. We can't wear the SuperLibrarian cape and always save the day :)