On the Floor at MLA ’16: Librarians Talk Change in Med Ed

Whether medical information is geared towards the consumer or the physician, medical librarians who attended the Medical Library Association’s Mosaic ‘16 annual conference in Toronto back in May have noticed changes in the way that information is being delivered and consumed. McGraw-Hill Education was able to get some viewpoints from attendees on the convention floor about these trends.

The leitmotif of the viewpoints from attendees is that information is being sought and consumed digitally.

Medical Librarians - Ann Glusker MLA “We have to think so much more about helping people find good information on the Internet,” says Anne Glusker, Consumer Health Librarian at the Seattle Public Library. “In the old days it was like, ‘Let’s look it up together in a book,’ and now it’s, ‘Let’s look it up together on the Internet.’” (Hear more from Glusker about how her role as a consumer librarian has changed.)


Medical Librarians - Nathan Rupp MLAThis demand for digital information has extended fully into professional medical education. “I think that one of the main ways [medical education] has changed over the last 10 to 15 years or more is we’ve seen a huge migration of content from print to online,” says Nathan Rupp, Development Management Librarian at Yale University Cushing/Whitney Medical Library. “About 99 percent of my budget believe it or not goes to online content at this point, whether it’s journal articles online or eBooks or databases.” (Hear more from Rupp about the expansion of the demand for digital materials at his facility.)

Medical Librarians - Brian Elliott MLABrian Elliott, Technical Services Coordinator, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, manages a table of contents (TOC) service in which he sends out journal alerts to member physicians. In the time he has been in charge of it, he says, “I’ve seen that transition from totally a paper service to a totally digital service now. I have nearly 300 physicians on the service and I send out approximately 200 titles.” (Hear more from Elliott about the expansion of the TOC service.)

The librarians interviewed by McGraw-Hill Education also see growing demand, especially from professionals, to access medical information via mobile devices—but vendors have not quite caught up yet, for a variety of reasons.

“I’m seeing mobile taking off and you think it would have already done so, but not really,” Elliott says. “I know IT is working to make that more seamless, especially for off site access, which you know is still the Wild West for digital devices trying to access new content from off site. If that piece gets fixed, it’s going to help a lot.”

Rupp says there is a huge demand for information at the point of care. “As our patrons become more and more mobile and are working in different locations, hopefully the content will become more adaptable to the mobile technology,” he says. “And it’s going to be kind of challenging for the vendors because the mobile technology itself keeps changing.”

For her consumer patrons, Glusker says when it comes to meeting their information needs, it’s important to meet them where they are—and it may not be online. “I don’t know if the library is always where they are about their health stuff, but Seattle Public Library, out of all the stuff we have, the first most checked out is graphic novels. Second most checked out is cookbooks, and third is health. So people are coming to the public library to get health information,” she says.

To make it easier for their patrons, whether consumer or professional, to find the information that they need, the attendees interviewed were in general agreement that medical librarians play an important role, by finding and evaluating the sources of information and making the systems as easy to access as possible.

“This person that you’re talking to, who is asking you this question, can probably teach you a lot of things, so try not to be condescending…I really think it’s about respect,” Glusker says.

Systems should be “intuitive,” Elliott says. “Content management systems kind of do that, and they’re fairly new. If they can make that even easier, I think that’s the way forward,” he says. He adds that his patrons appreciate the TOC service because “it’s really easy to use and they really appreciate the fact that it’s curated, it’s all in one place.”

Rupp says information access systems should be flexible, “to meet these different user needs in different scenarios.” But vendors wanting to pitch their systems to medical librarians have to take some realities into account, he adds.

“Think about the economic environment that we’re operating in; my library tends to get its budget from both the hospital and the medical school that it supports, and both of them are encountering very significant financial difficulties right now and that trickles down to us,” Rupp says. “Keep in mind as you talk to us about prices, the larger economics at this point.”

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