Constant Mission, Constant Change: The Future of Biomedical Libraries


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Presentation on trends in biomedical libraries, given as part of my interview at City of Hope.

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  • Introduce self. I’ve been a medical librarian for nearly 14 years, during a period of nearly constant change, both evolutionary and transformational.  I've titled my talk Constant Mission, Constant change, because despite the huge changes of the last 15-20 years, the mission of biomedical libraries has remained constant: to provide quality, relevant information to users, when and where they need it, to support the mission of the institution.  How we do that has changed and will keep changing, but our fundamental purpose will endure.  

    Before we dive in, I want to say a word or two about the purpose of this talk--besides me trying to convince you to hire me :-) Seriously, whether you hire me or someone else, I hope my talk encourages you to consider what you want your biomedical library to be.  Whether you work in the library or elsewhere in the organization, this library is yours.  A director can provide leadership, but the staff and user community are key to its success.
  • In this presentation, I'll talk about some trends driving change in biomedical libraries and how we can expect the library's resources, services, and staff to change in response.  I'll talk about collaboration a lot, because I believe that will be the key to a library's success.   
  • But first, what do I mean by the future? Not going to try to tell you what a biomedical library will look like in 20 years.  Will look at more short-term future, because the landscape is changing too fast and too unpredictably to project too far into the future.  Don’t want to do the equivalent of all those folks in the 70s and 80s who told us we’d have flying cars and teleportation devices by now.  Instead, will look at the near-term future that we can start creating right now.
  • Much of my library experience is in systems, managing technology and electronic resources.  I began my professional career around the time libraries were getting interested in the internet and learning how to use it to connect users with information.  It's been a very exciting time, participating in the transformation of libraries from paper-based repositories to electronic information hubs. 

    E-books and e-journals cutting-edge a decade or so ago.  Now that they're mainstream, e-books and e-journals are growing.  Older material is being digitized, and libraries are having to make difficult decisions about their print collections.  I'll come back to that topic in a bit  -- it deserves a slide of its own. 

    Electronic medical record systems - provide libraries with an opportunity to make information resources available at the point of care.  

    On the research side, e-science both uses and generates large collections of data and often involves teams of researchers at multiple institutions.  Who will store this data and index it for future retrieval and analysis?  I think there's a role for libraries--and librarians.

    Web 2.0: everyone is creating content. Organizations are having conversations with customers/users via social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

    [Hold up Blackberry] How many people have a smart phone? Have been around for a few years (Palm) but iPhone has made them more popular. Getting cheaper and more powerful, following the usual pattern, so a medical library can expect the majority of its users to have one in the next year or two - if they don't already.  

    You might guess from my background and enthusiasm that I love technology -- and you'd be right.  But I don't love technology for its own sake.  Having seen lots of tech tools come and go, both in libraries and elsewhere, I've become skeptical about the hype that accompanies the next big thing, whether from vendors or infatuated futurists.  It will continue to be important for those of us managing libraries to evaluate new technology for its ability to help us serve users better rather than its coolness factor.  Or as I've said it on the slide, looking at technology as tools, not toys.
  • I'm pretty sure Carrie Fisher wasn't talking about libraries, but the quote still applies.

     We want what we want... right now... no matter where we are.  Anything less is becoming unacceptable.  

    For example, At OHSU, when we do usability studies on retrieving articles, we find that anything less than immediate access to the article leads many users to assume the system is "broken."  Print holdings, no matter how extensive, were invisible to many of our users and inconvenient for all of them.  

    Technology is expected.  A library doesn't score points for having good computers, wireless internet, etc.  That's just assumed. 

    And those users will have new expectations for the information and services we provide.  I've had my BB Storm for a little over a year, and already I get impatient when sites don't have fully-functional mobile interfaces.  These devices will create a challenge for libraries: We'll need to make our own pages and forms work on mobile devices, and we'll also have to assemble tools and resources from various vendors into coherent systems that let users retrieve information easily on their devices.  On a more positive note, these devices will create new opportunities for libraries to make information and services available at the point of need--truly anywhere, anytime. 

    This is all old news, but many libraries are still adjusting to the implications and trying to keep up with the expectations of our users.
  • Amount of published literature has been increasing for quite some time, with more journals and more specialized journals (tho controlled by fewer and fewer publishers).  Then there are blogs and other web sites with unpublished--but sometimes still useful--information. Hard to wade through all that--and expectations are shaped by tools like Google, which make it easy to find information but don't always provide the tools to find the best information.  It's tempting to settle for what's easy to find--"satisficing"--but that's not good enough when lives are on the line.

    Economic challenges: high cost of scientific and medical journals is probably not news to anyone in this room.  I remember learning about a crisis in journal pricing when I was in library school nearly 20 years ago.  But those challenges continue and influence how libraries purchase access and how well they will be able to assure that valuable research materials continue to be available.  

    Concerns about the cost of scientific literature have spawned the open access movement--and the NIH Public Access Policy.  Even when open access isn't mandated, some journals are making papers available sometime after publication, and some authors are negotiating the right to archive their papers, whether on their web sites, in repositories at their institutions, or repositories used in their field.  

    Move to electronic access has made the article the primary unit of access rather than the journal – much as mp3s have made the song rather than the album the primary unit in music. Open access movement magnifies that. Some articles in a given journal issue may be freely-available, while others require a subscription. But library systems are designed for subscriptions, for access at the journal level rather than at the article level. It’s becoming more difficult to provide an immediate, straightforward answer to the question, Does the library have this journal?”
  • Evidence-based practice also affects how libraries do business, since the evidence in question usually comes from the published biomedical literature.  Evidence-based practice is not a new trend but a growing one in medicine and nursing--and even in librarianship.  Medical libraries have played an important role by providing access to the literature and help with searching, but there are opportunities for libraries beyond basic support.  Will talk more about this as we look at how these trends are affecting and will continue to affect libraries.
  • With so much online--and users expecting immediate electronic access--do we still need a physical library? 

    The third place refers to someplace other than home or work, usually fostering community or creative interaction.  A biomedical library can be a third place within its institution--not home obviously, but not the office/lab/hospital either--someplace people can gather to build community, collaborate, or create, as well as do library research and study.  Library space is well-suited for that role, because it is common space, "owned" by all stakeholders rather than belonging to a particular department or division within the organization.

    So what exactly could be done with that third place?  Depends on what needs aren't being met by other facilities on campus.  Needs vary by institution; I'd want to talk with people on campus and observe how space is used before making any big decisions. A few possibilities: study and research space of course; teaching space; state-of-the-art facilities for collaboration, multimedia production; temporary work space (with state of the art workstations and enough space to get work done - can be helpful for users who may not have office space elsewhere, e.g. students or residents).   
  • Given the ever-increasing costs of scholarly literature, libraries must find new ways to provide access to the information users need.  Buy big packages, share purchases among groups of libraries, direct users to free/open access sources. 

    With some of the big packages, can get access to lots of journals at a relatively modest cost, but no guarantee that access to a given title will continue.  Here today, gone tomorrow.   E-resources usually licensed rather than owned - Have to negotiate for perpetual access rights to assure long-term access.  On the other hand, print is "permanent" but takes lots of space and isn't convenient for users.

    Balance long-term storage/access with immediate needs.  Libraries serve a function that few commercial entities do: providing long-term access to information resources.  But not every library has to have perpetual access to everything. What is essential for this library’s users? What is archived reliably by open access tools like PubMed Central, versus what is held only by less-reliable sources?

    So that leads us to the big question: will libraries still have books?  Note the 2 extremes; I'm in the middle, as you might expect from someone who's worked in both archives and systems.

    No single right answer for all libraries.  The right answer is the one that best meets local needs.   

    Print books and journals are neither precious and untouchable by definition, nor outdated space hogs. Their value, like the value of other library resources, comes from how well they support the mission of the institution and the library. 

    So some biomedical libraries may indeed get rid of most print resources, while others will continue to have print for the foreseeable future.  
  • So we've talked about the building and the collections.  Now let's talk about services. 

    Physical space: mobile library, librarians located in departments/research/clinical areas (part- or full-time).

    Virtual space: library resources and services embedded in the tools people use regularly, e.g. 1) EMR; point-of-care resources (mobile and otherwise) to support evidence-based practice; 2) research information systems, department information portals or web pages; 3) tools that work on mobile devices; 4) maybe via social networking or other web 2.0 sites if appropriate.

    Make the library’s resources and services convenient by going to the users, rather than making them come to the library (physically or virtually)
  • If the library is to take its resources and services to users, then collaboration with those users will be essential.  All the integration, physical and virtual, that we talked about on the last slide will require partnering with stakeholders around the campus--to allow librarians into other spaces, to integrate library resources into non-library systems.  

    We also need to collaborate to better understand users’ needs and how best to meet them.

    Library staff as members of the team rather than a separate support unit. 
  • On the clinical side, the emphasis on evidence-based practice has created new needs, which in turn have created new opportunities for libraries. To attract and retain excellent nurses, many hospitals are seeking Magnet status. Part of the Magnet journey includes increased emphasis on evidence-based nursing practice and nursing research. In some institutions, including my own, librarians are members of the Magnet team. Similarly, teams developing practice guidelines often include librarians to search and help analyze the literature. Partnerships in the clinical area are perhaps epitomized by the clinical informationist, a librarian who is part of the clinical team to support evidence-based practice. Since the medical literature has grown rapidly, while clinicians have less and less time, a librarian with specialized training can be a valuable partner in bringing evidence to bear on clinical decisions. Ensure that clinicians have ready access to the best information.
  • There’s a similar role for librarians on the research side of the house. Research librarians (with biomedical research background and library/information science experience]

    E-science and data curation: E-science is collaborative, interdisciplinary, based on shared expertise/resources and access to collections of primary data. Possible roles for libraries, probably in collaboration with informatics depts: Building systems for indexing and retrieving information about research resources and data. Archiving data, assuring its long-term accessibility for future use, is a major issue/concern. Libraries have much experience with long-term care of information. We can adapt this experience to meet new needs, supporting e-science initiatives.

    Example of library as partner in e-science project: eagle-i. Multi-site, NRRA-funded project to build a database of research resources (cell lines, core facilities, human health study data, etc.) that can be used in future NIH-funded studies (why reinvent the wheel?). Library director is co-PI for our site’s portion of grant and houses data curation team for entire project. Team consists of two PHD’d bioscientists, 1 PHD computer scientist, and a medical librarian with indexing experience. Fascinating to see how each member brings unique, specialized knowledge to the table, how they’ve come together to tackle this new project. This project is helping the library build stronger connections with researchers on the campus and hopefully will lead to future collaborations.

    As libraries attempt to meet new needs for information storage and retrieval, there may be opportunities to collaborate with biomedical informatics departments.
  • Now that we’ve talked about lots of changes to biomedical libraries, I want to say a word or two about library staff. Many of the changes I’ve described here can only happen if staff take on new roles requiring new skills. Continuous change requires continuing education, constant learning and adapting. Constant change can be exhausting and frustrating if it isn’t managed well. The successful biomedical library of the future will need a supportive workplace culture, in which staff are encouraged and supported as their roles change and in which they’re given ample opportunities to learn new skills.
  • We've had the constant change; now let's talk about the constant mission.  No matter how much things change, the mission of an effective biomedical library will remain the same in its essence: to provide resources and services to support the mission of the institution.  Along with that mission comes some enduring principles:
    * Decisions should be user-driven and evidence-based.  Need multiple ways to get input so that all stakeholders have a voice and decisions aren’t driven by only the most vocal.  Need to evaluate resources and services, regularly if not continuously, making improvements as needed to assure that the library remains relevant and useful to its stakeholders.
    * Evidence-based librarianship.
    * Collaboration: library as a partner.  Not one-way communication from the library to users but true collaboration.  Constant conversation – how can the library support clinical care, research, and teaching?  How can we help you cure cancer?
  • Thank you so much for taking the time to be here today!  And a special thank-you to the search committee for considering my application, for interviewing me, and for making me feel so welcome.  I have really enjoyed meeting all of you and visiting City of Hope.
  • Constant Mission, Constant Change: The Future of Biomedical Libraries

    1. 1. Presented by Janet A. Crum, MLS February 22, 2010 City of Hope, Duarte, CA
    2. 2.  Trends ◦ Technology ◦ User expectations: access anytime, anywhere ◦ Changes in scientific publishing ◦ Evidence-based practice  What it means for biomedical libraries ◦ The collections, building, and staff ◦ Where and how we deliver services ◦ Collaboration is key
    3. 3.  The near term: what's possible now, and what we can expect in the next few years Image © John W. Tomac. Used with permission.
    4. 4.  E-everything ◦ E-journals and e-books: not new but growing; impact still being felt ◦ EMR ◦ E-science  Web 2.0  Mobile computing: hang on, let me look that up for you on my iPhone...  Beware the hype: tools, not toys
    5. 5. Instant gratification takes too long!  Electronic access to journal articles is no longer a novelty--it's a requirement  Technology is like electricity--people only notice when it doesn't work  Smart phones -> anytime, anywhere So…
    6. 6.  Too much information -> "satisficing”  Economic challenges  Open access and self-archiving  Articles rather than journals
    7. 7.  Established trend in medicine and nursing  Requires evidence from the literature to support patient care decisions
    8. 8.  Library as a "third place”  What needs aren't being met elsewhere?  Local needs paramount
    9. 9.  Find new ways to provide resources  Balance sometimes-conflicting missions ◦ Meet immediate needs ◦ Provide long-term/archival access  Will we still have books?  Decisions must be based on local needs and library/institutional mission
    10. 10.  Need to be integrated into the workflow of users ◦ Physical space ◦ Virtual space  Tools will change, but the general principle remains: take resources and services to the user rather than making the user come to the library
    11. 11.  For taking resources and services to users  For understanding and meeting changing user needs  Library staff as members of the team rather than part of a separate unit
    12. 12.  Support evidence-based practice  Examples ◦ Magnet journey ◦ Practice guidelines ◦ Clinical informationist
    13. 13.  Library as part of the research team  E-science and data curation  Collaboration with biomedical informatics
    14. 14.  New roles, new skills  Continuing education  Supportive workplace culture
    15. 15.  Decisions based on the needs of stakeholders  Tools and evidence, not toys and trends  Collaborate!  Support the mission—how can the library help you cure cancer?
    16. 16. Janet A. Crum Head, Administration & Systems Oregon Health & Science University Portland, OR 503-494-0691