Friday, December 19, 2008

Change: Pants, PubMed & Patron Expectations

Thank you for your comments and Krafty Librarian's mention about the PubMed Discovery Initiative post. Since then there have been a number of new RSS subscriptions (welcome all!) and a fair amount of web traffic due to that particular entry, so I wanted to mention that I do have a Creative Commons license here. You are welcome to copy, distribute and transmit any of my work here as long as you link back to whatever post it came from in your work. Drop me a comment if you'd like, I love to see what others are thinking. Keep asking so that we may understand, keep sharing so that we may learn.

This blog is still the first Google result for Quizno's I fear change commerical from my April 2008 post. I still love the 'I fear change and will keep my bushes!' reaction to pants, it is often on my mind when I come across resistance to change now. I hadn't reread the post for a while, but my thoughts there are relevant once more when it comes to these current changes in PubMed:

Resistance to change, however, is an undeniable part of human nature that is most successfully overcome through extreme patience, persistence and education in conjunction with assessing user information needs (before, during & after) to determine the proposed changes will/are actually work(ing).

From my very limited time in the field I've observed that many medical librarians have persistence bordering on the obsessive (I'm guilty of this), a very large amount of patience for our patrons, not quite so much patience for one another, and little to no patience when it comes to the electronic tools of our trade not looking or working the way we have come to expect & rely upon them to be. Show of hands for those who pitched a fit when Delicious changed overnight this July, for example? How about the new Facebook profile layout during the same timeframe?

These social bookmarking and networking sites aren't even close to the heart of medical librarianship online tools; PubMed is the core and it has had a number of changes that directly affect our search results and the navigability of the database. No wonder there is so much chatter on MEDLIB-L and other venues about it!

We have come a long way in 11 years though. There once was a cost per query ranging from $2-$4 depending upon the amount of information retrieved and time it took to do so by using Grateful Med to interface with the MEDical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (MEDLARS) databases. (source) The title (bold mine) of the article reflects the time: Sikorski R, Peters R. Medical literature made easy. Querying databases on the internet. JAMA. 1997 Mar 26;277(12):959-60. I don't think any of us would consider that 'made easy' with our expectations regarding PubMed today, free full text wasn't an option!

What of the role of education in these changes? I already mentioned how, from my perspective, the Discovery Initiative background behind the changes in PubMed wasn't communicated clearly. Medical librarians frequently serve as educators for our users and our webpage tutorials, Camtasia recordings and classes about PubMed have already needed revision regarding the automatic term mapping (ATM), and will again where tabs are concerned per the PubMed Technical Bulletin on November 14, 2008

PubMed Advanced Search will soon no longer be a beta site. It is now the place to go to use features such as field searching and limits. In the near future the tabs for Limits, Preview/Index, History, Clipboard, and Details will be removed from the basic PubMed pages. History, Limits, Index of Fields, and a link to Details are available from the Advanced Search screen.
What about needs assessment? Changes have been and will continue to be made based on the data gathered from over 3 million searches a day, but I don't know the answer to what the results are from PubMed's needs assessment or usability testing studies. Direct feedback from users is a closed loop: web forms and emails are submitted but we as users do not know what happens next from what we send in although we are encouraged to do so. Sometimes we receive a response back that doesn't seem to address what we said, sometimes we receive no response at all.

It may be too radical and soon to cast an eye to some of the Web 2.0 tactics of transparency in change the upcoming administration is utilizing on the web for feedback, such as the first popular Open for Questions. 10,000 questions posted by visitors were ranked up or down one million times by over 20,000 people and some of the most popular ones received a direct answer for all to see. How could something similar be used to transparently offer a communication and feedback venue about what is important to all PubMed users, not solely medical librarians but all of the multiple populations that use it?