Saturday, March 29, 2008

Conference Notes: WMLA '08 (aka yay!)

Yesterday I attended the Washington Medical Librarians Association (WMLA, which is pronounced 'wim-lah' or 'w-m-l-a' depending who you ask) meeting on the beautiful and snowy (?!) Bastyr campus. WMLA '07 was the first time I went to the meeting as a second semester graduate student, and during it I received the news that I would graduate at the end of the year (yay!) This year as a new graduate I actually understood everything, and celebrated the news of accepting my first librarian job (yay!)

After our business meeting and updates from our Regional Medical Library (RML), we learned more from Will Stuivenga (who also went to North Texas, yay!) at the Washington State Library about the upcoming April launch of Wayfinder, a multilingual online library catalog project providing a single search entry covering an initial 250 libraries ranging from public to tribal in our state. It is a partnership between several state library associations and the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), with funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS, who also funded my degree... yay!) Wayfinder has options to filter search results, such as state region and type of library, and the ability to click directly to search results on individual online library catalogs for users to request a book. When users navigate to other websites, the top bar retains a button to return to Wayfinder with its logo, which was well-designed to reflect our region and the catalog's purpose. It will be interesting to see how well this is marketed & received by the community, I look forward to posting a link to Wayfinder when it's public.

Will was also kind enough to supply our meeting swag: cool WebJunction pens and orange rubber bracelets with Dream. Learn. Achieve. LIBRARIES promoting :)

Ann Whitney & Sherrilynne Fuller from UW Health Sciences Libraries presented an update on HEAL-WA, an online portal to evidence-based medicine (EBM) databases for most licensed medical professionals practicing in the state of Washington & the librarians who assist them. HEAL-WA is one of several directives of the Washington State Senate Bill 5930 that passed in 2007, and the portal is currently in very early stages of development with an expected launch in 2009. This is an excellent opportunity to remove barriers to often costly EBM databases funded by a small addition to current licensing fees that is far less than the cost of most monographs in the medical field. Additional updates regarding HEAL-WA's development will be posted in a category of Dragonfly, our RML blog.

Fran Clark from Highline Community College presented an update on the recently revised Library & Information Services (L&IS) program the library there now directs. With a focus on paraprofessional library careers, Highline offers both face-to-face and online classes for programs ranging from an Associates of Applied Sciences (AAS) to K-12 certification taught by library staff who are currently doing what they teach (i.e. the cataloger teaches cataloging, and for the Spring quarter an RML employee will teach the Medical Reference class). Highline welcomes the opportunity to place L&IS interns in libraries, and Fran mentioned she's creating a list of those open to doing so. I need to connect with her as there is a similar project for the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Medical Library Association (PNC/MLA) I'm working on so we can share resources!

I'm a huge fan of WMLA meetings at Bastyr because of their fantastic vegetarian buffet at the cafeteria, and the cream of asparagus soup with spanakopita for lunch was perfect for our cold, snowy day (yay!) There was also gluten-free gingerbread with some yummy topping for dessert that tasted 'normal' to me and quite delicious. I was bummed out that their bookstore was out of stock on their cookbook and their online recipes don't include it :(

We all kept staring out the window at the snowfall, which was beginning to accumulate by lunchtime, and a decision was made to continue the meeting but cut it a little short. Those traveling back home to Eastern WA left early and I hope they arrived safely since Snoqualmie Pass was closed for a while due to a nasty accident later in the afternoon.

David Masuda, MD and instructor for the UW School of Public Health, gave an informative presentation on Clinical Informatics: The Genie in the Bottle. My program of study was Health Informatics and I still can't give a crystal clear definition of it; I was glad to see he couldn't either. He highlighted the 5 core information issues for clinicians; being patient-specific, a medical knowledgebase, awareness of social influences, logistics (insurance & related) information, and population information. He then nested the physician-patient relationship within a sphere of 5 influencing factors of electronic medical records (EMRs) including 1st degree delivery organizations such as hospitals, 2nd degree delivery organizations such as pharmacies, others such as employers and the community, measurement organizations such as the Joint Commission and CNS, and the "new kids" such as Cerner, Google & Microsoft. Value in the medical field is traditionally seen as an equation of quality over cost; the US cost for healthcare is currently at $1.7 trillion yet we are 30th in quality. Ouch. An unspoken factor in this equation is access, as currently 47 million people in the US are without health insurance including 20% of the population of California. What can we as medical information professionals do to help in all this? His suggestions included working with CE committees, creating sets of articles to respond to issues involving medical errors and difficult cases, and provide information support directly to the hospital administration staff in support of evidence-based clinical care.

Joseph Janes, Associate Professor at the UW iSchool and founding director of the Internet Public Library, presented What To Think About When We Think About Reference. In today's setting, there is more information coming to more people in more ways than ever before. Reference services can be provided in both synchronous and asynchronous methods, but the most important tasks for us as librarians is to determine the appropriate ways for our particular set(s) of users and to make certain they are aware it's a single, value-added service for them. Entry points for reference are up to the user (i.e. face-to-face, phone call, instant message) but it is up to us as the librarian to determine the appropriate exit/conclusion. His perspective is that libraries contain the secret weapon of print resources, but notes these will be a decreasing importance in the long run as more information becomes digital. It is worth the effort for libraries and librarians to learn, play, succeed, fail, share, lead and innovate. Libraries are not just stuff, help & place but also values and interaction, and our users are everyone.

A suggestion he had is to go to bloggers and post relevant input regarding their subject specialties (more on my perspective regarding this in a future post!) and that this is usually received well. As we learned in library school, it is important to do a good reference interview but know you will probably do a few lousy ones the first few times you try a new medium (i.e. instant message).

An example of outreach to online communities includes two new YouTube videos called Research Minutes that Cornell developed to give a brief introduction to scholarly articles and substantive news articles for their undergrad students below:

He closed with a reminder that librarians make humanity more human, and our task is to organize and keep the human record. We need to be central to the information lives of communities, wherever those communities may be, and in an extended notional of library and librarianship we actually have to be better online than we are in person. Social protocols (usually!) guide traditional reference interaction on the phone and face-to-face, but they do not exist on the internet and users can click wherever they choose for information.

Overall this was a very informative and relevant meeting, and it was great to connect again with colleagues to share that I managed to graduate in December and have a new job on the horizon. I'll keep an eye out at MLA '08 in Chicago soon and hopefully be able to find them in the masses there!

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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Week 3 Assignment: Social Networking Tools

Caveat: I'm still a recent graduate who is not yet employed at a health sciences library, although that should be changing soon :)

I have to admit laughing when I saw our class assignments for this week involving Facebook & LinkedIn. I finally joined Facebook two months ago when I realized the networking possibilities to stay connected both with old classmates and new colleagues vs. adding more email addresses to my address book that may not work with a job change or my frequent typoes. I was invited to LinkedIn by my best friend's mom several years ago but only updated my profile there and started reaching out to others again last week.

How can social networking be used by the Medical Library Association (MLA) to connect members?
This is an excellent question because, from my perspective, the majority of MLA members are resistant to participating in social networking. The MLA groups we have on Facebook don't seem to be utilized much, if at all, although there are plenty of connections between MLA members as friends.

I believe there is a perception that social networking is one more thing to add to an already overloaded plate, with frequent mention of 'I can't manage my email, how can I handle this?' For a contrast as a new graduate, I'm currently reluctant to join many well-established listservs in our field because I don't want to add to my inbox deluge.

I see social networking (RSS feeds too) as a way to reduce email volume and be more open to communication with users where they are at and point them in directions they may not have considered otherwise (i.e. the library's online catalog). This requires staying on top of new technology and communication channels, but isn't that what we as information professionals are supposed to be doing in the first place to understand the flow of data and our users' information needs in society? Several innovative UW librarians (Lally & Dunford) sought to integrate the digital collection with Wikipedia with very positive results several years ago, and I'm curious for an update on this project in addition to learning more about UW Libraries' web 2.0 presence below.

Should your library have a Facebook or MySpace page?
As a collective UW whole (not specific to the Health Sciences Libraries), we already do. I took the same picture as the group's profile shot from a slightly lower angle in the Suzzallo Reading Room several years ago and won second place in a photo contest. I love that room! It looks like the Facebook page has been there a while but is (as of this week) starting to be updated again, which is great and I hope the trend continues with current events, news, etc. along with some outreach. There are other fragmented UW library-related Facebook pages that don't appear to be run by UW library staff but I could be mistaken.

Are there privacy concerns for individuals when using social networking sites?
Goodness, yes. I'm actually somewhat surprised that extensive privacy filtering options were not available on Facebook until a week ago! There is definitely a need for appropriate education on how to set social networking profiles and application information to be beneficial yet safe for comfort levels, and I'd love to see MLA address this as part of the curriculum from the start instead of encouraging the use of false profiles for its members to try things out. I do understand that even covering web 2.0 technologies with MLA members is a big first step which is appreciated though.

What did you like or not like about your experience with Facebook or MySpace?
I have really enjoyed learning more about my colleagues' backgrounds (regions, education, employment, groups, etc.) in addition to what makes us all human, like seeing what others are reading and who else likes the same obscure music and movies I do. In my opinion, the interactivity of Facebook and other online game applications (such as Scrabulous, both Scrabble & a private chat board for a game with 1 or multiple other players) serves to strengthen these interpersonal connections in much the same way as staff retreats, but in an asynchronous fashion that doesn't require time off work or registration fees.

I'm hazy on how connecting with users on the same level as colleagues would work (thus group Facebook pages pointing to resources vs. personal librarian pages may be best for now), but who knows what concepts of networking the future may hold. I certainly didn't envision the platforms we now take for granted when I poked around in online bulletin board systems (BBS) & internet relay chat (IRC) last decade!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Week 2 assignment - Wikis

What is the difference between a blog and a wiki?
I see blogs as being similar to brief broadcasts sharing the latest news, current events, cool online resources and editorials similar to traditional newspapers. While organizations have blogs to share company news, individual blogs currently seem more popular for reasons I'll discuss in the second question.

Wikis are web-based collections of bigger information resources than those usually found in blogs, organized in pages of themes or subject areas, and are easily edited by the members of the wiki while logging a history of when and by whom updates are made. Wikis often have a common theme that is still relatively comprehensive, such as a subject guide on teaching evidence-based medicine or company policies and procedures.

What sort of things might be better suited for a blog and better suited for a wiki?
Blogs are best for news and current awareness updates covering a variety of subjects without needing a static, long-term reference guide to the information in them. Much in the same way epidemiologists track occurrences of disease in regions and populations, if similar information is popping up in multiple blogs within a certain timeframe it may indicate data or a pattern that should be paid attention to... but usually without the negative consequences of morbidity & mortality!

While it is possible for blogs to have more than one author, each person usually has a distinct writing style. In the case of a company blog conveying product or services information beyond brief news updates it can be a challenge to have a unified 'blog voice' which may lead to confusion for customers. I have not seen many successful group blogs that discuss or analyze issues in depth, but would love to see them if you know of some.

Wikis are great resources for building and maintaining collaborative reference guides and/or the development & production of group projects. It is wise to put as much time and consideration in planning and creating a wiki as any other database or catalog system. Just because we have the ability to create a free quickie wiki with preformatted templates that everyone can quickly edit does not mean it's the best option!

A few things to consider with initial setup include: What information will it hold? How will the information be organized in it? Does everyone agree on the wiki's purpose and to contribute appropriate information for it? Will the wiki be public (internet) or private (intranet/secure internet access)? Are certain group members in charge of the initial layout & design with the understanding that they do not have to carry the full load of information input? This only scratches the surface and doesn't get into the murky waters of wiki upkeep and maintenance.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

¿Como se huh?: Adventures in apparently archaic acronyms

A high school classmate of mine wrote ¿Como se huh? in my yearbook ages ago and every once in a while it pops in my mind when I'm reading something that I know I should understand but in reality I haven't a clue.

After coming across an acronym I didn't know 7 times in one discussion thread, I knew I needed to investigate further. As a librarian I'm used to being able to find an answer that satisfies my own information needs relatively quickly. I'm still working on achieving that same efficiency for others but luckily I'm learning from the best of the best in the field and shouldn't be a total newbie for long.

I wasn't surprised that I was able to come up with a definition quickly, but was surprised that it meant absolutely nothing to me. SDI = Selective Dissemination of Information with an indication that this is a dated term that predates the Web.

I studied that for a bit, emailed an instructor for help assuming I was the only one who didn't know what others were talking about.. and she didn't know either. I finally bit the bullet and posted for help, and two people responded: it just means a search strategy you set up in a specific database that you can get weekly/monthly/whatever updates on via email/RSS/etc.

I know all about what that is but have always called it 'setting up a search strategy in *insert dbase here*'

What I found most interesting is that I never heard this term mentioned a single time in all my medical & regular librarianship coursework or the bajillion journal articles we read, and I do have a health informatics track specialty. I thought I knew most of the basics. I can throw specialized medical librarianship acronyms around like nobody's business until eyes glaze over!

Now I'm left wondering if the use of this term to describe a search is a regional preference similar to soda v. pop. I'm a fervent soda living in a land of pop with a son who prefers the southern Coke! I don't know if all those who used it in the discussion thread are on the East Coast; the instructor I emailed for help is also on the West Coast, and my education is from Texas. Could it be a generational difference? I casually plunked my own search strategy in our literature (SDI[All Fields] OR "Selective Dissemination of Information"[All Fields]) AND ("Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA"[Jour] OR "Bulletin of the Medical Library Association"[Jour]) and the most recent mention of the term is 2003, with plenty of mentions in the 70s and even 1968.

I'm sure no one else finds this fascinating, but with my sociocultural anthropology background I'm intrigued. What other terms (let alone acronyms!) between different regions/generations are out there in libraryland that refer to the same concept in completely different ways, yet it is assumed everyone knows what the other is referring to? We focus on reference interviewing, needs assessment & other methods to understand our users' needs, but are we truly all speaking the same language ourselves in the first place?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Week 1 assignment - Blogging & RSS

Caveat: I am a recent graduate and not yet employed at a health sciences library, but am basing my answers on my Fall 2007 internship experience.

How do you think you could use RSS feeds at your library?
I think libraries need to introduce and help their patrons understand what RSS is first in much the same way this MLA class is for us! Although Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and related Web 2.0 technologies are new and subject to frequent changes, that is no reason for us as information professionals to assume our patrons (medical professionals extremely pressed for time) can 'just Google it' to figure them out.

The University of Washington Health Sciences Libraries How-To section includes Email Alerts with an option at the bottom a Comparison of Services chart of 'Save to RSS,' but does not explain what RSS is or how to save search strategies in it in the same way their helpful MyNCBI tutorial does. RSS is not the same technology as email and it is likely that a patron who does not already know what RSS is and is searching for information about it at the library would not click on an Email Alerts tab.

How do you think patrons could use RSS feeds?
I see RSS feeds as opportunities for patrons and medical librarians to collaborate on generating very specific search strategies tailored to research and/or practice needs, journal table of contents (TOC) subscriptions, etc. Information needs are never static in our field, and as science progresses the need to replace and adjust strategies based on new terminology, authors, specialties, MeSH terms and other factors in order to stay updated is constant.

As we've seen in our class help, however, we need to be careful to assess both what our institution allows access to and how our patrons plan on using this technology. If we work at a major hospital that blocks YouTube and a doctor indicates they will only check RSS feeds onsite and not from home or elsewhere, an RSS feed to a site broadcasting surgery technique videos would lead to frustration instead of information.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A new flight

The intended purpose of this blog is to be my starting point for the Web 2.0 101 continuing education class for the Medical Library Association, but who knows what direction the field or my studies may take me from here.

I've been blogging off and on since 1996 or so. Back then I hammered out HTML by hand to give brief updates to IRC friends about what I was up to, and that's pretty much the extent of my personal blogging now. The evidence is in the WayBackMachine and I'm not sharing it here ;) When I first heard the term 'blog' back in those ancient days, I thought it meant a backup log of activity on web servers so I did not consider myself a blogger. I still don't think of myself as a 'real' blogger because, for the time being, I don't have practical deep and profound brain things inside my head about the medical library profession since I'm not actually in it yet. I'm full of theory as any new graduate who is considered young by our profession's standards should be, but old enough to keep quiet and observe for now without expounding in public.

Welcome aboard for the ride!