Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Blogging the Difference Between Academic Medical Librarians and Hospital Librarians

Melissa Rethlefsen has a very interesting and in depth post analyzing the Social Networking Software survey. The Social Networking Survey looked at many types of social networking software and medical librarians opinions and usage. In her post Melissa just focuses on blogs.

After analyzing the data on blogs she found:
  • Hospital Librarians are significantly more likely to never use blogs in their professional lives
  • Academic Librarians are significantly more likely to use blogs daily in their professional lives
  • Hospital Librarians are more likely to think blogs are of little importance to the MLA.
  • Academic Librarians are more likely to think blogs are very important to the MLA.
  • Respondents with less than 3 years of library experience were twice as likely to use blogs daily in their personal and profession lives

So what does all of this mean? As David Rothman writes, What do hospital librarians have against blogs?

I have some ideas.

Hospital librarians are usually in small one or two person libraries. A big hospital library has more than three employees. Why does this matter? Hospital librarians feel they are always pressed for time. Since there is only one or two of them around to run the library, then they must make the most of their time. Ironic. Since I think reading blogs through a feed reader is a quick and efficient way to stay up to date on library trends, news, and information. Apparently not everyone feels that way. However, I have a question. How often are these same people on email reading their listserv email? That is one valid method for keeping up to date, but that too takes time and it probably takes more than you think. Try going one whole day without checking email and see how much you can accomplish. I am not advocating that busy librarians junk their email lists in favor of RSS feeds. On the contrary, I am just stating that keeping up to date in the profession takes a little bit of time out of your day, I think librarians perceive blog taking more time blogs they are a new thing. Email has been around for a l-o-n-g time and I am sure there were librarians out there who said they didn't have time for it when it first came on to the scene.

Academic medical and hospital librarians also seem to have completely different relationships with their IT departments. I confess, I drool like a little kid looking into a candy store every time I go to conferences or read about academic medical librarians doing really cool things with technology. Academic medical librarians tend to have more flexibility when dealing with IT issues. Because they are a part of a university environment they have a more open system. They are surrounded by young people continually discovering and adapting new technologies. They also are more likely to partner with a programming geek in IT or computer services who can help create cool programs, add ons, and things for the library. Hospital librarians, not so much. Most hospital librarian reports regarding their IT department are often adversarial. Some hospital librarians were unable to even have an OPAC until ASP hosted models eliminated the need for a library or institutionally maintained server. Many hospital librarians cannot use web based email systems, view online medical videos, use or view wikis, listen to or download podcasts, store files on the web server, create flash or Captiva type instructional programs, offer proxy services for off campus access to resources, or even create their own Intranet or Internet library web pages. So it isn't surprising that hospital librarians are probably less likely to use new web tools. Additionally, these restrictions can have a negative impact on a hospital librarian's willingness to learn new technologies. Think about how you would feel if at every opportunity to try and do something new you are told no and barriers were erected to prevent any attempts.

These are just some of my thoughts as to why hospital librarians are less interested in blogs than their academic counterparts.


At 2:56 AM, Mary C said...

Krafty Librarian - you certainly hit many valid points regarding hospital librarians. That doesn't mean we don't want to try new technologies. But many of us are dealing with IT departments that are grossly understaffed and extremely underpaid in comparison to academic IT departments. I do believe that means we don't have the "best trained and qualified" working in a hospital. It is sad to say that we are prevented from attempting new technological forms of media. I am a OPL in a medium-sized community hospital, one owned by HCA. We are blocked from web-based email and just recently have been blocked by all Blogger blogs. If we should question these blocks, we are informed that it is in our best interest to keep these "potential security threats" from invading our firewall.

At 9:59 AM, The Krafty Librarian said...

I don't think most hospital librarians actively go out of their way not to try new technologies. I just think as time goes by and as IT repeatedly interferes, hospital librarians slowly stop trying new technologies. They are usually the only person there in the library so it is often difficult to champion the cause consistantly for web email, blogs, multi media, etc. when they are also dealing with online journals, licensing and many other things. They always have to prioritize and contacting IT about why your IP ranges changed and finding out what they are again, is way more important than blogs.

I can't say for certain about how well people in hospital IT departments are paid. But, I think that many large hospital systems grossly underpay many non clinical employees (IT, librarians, art department, research, etc.). The private and academic sector tends to pay more for these positions. Naturally if you are in one of those hospital systems that pays less than the going rate, people will leave and you will consistantly hiring less experienced employees.

At 10:39 AM, T Scott said...

In general I agree with you, but I have a slightly different slant on a couple of your points (as someone who has spent his career in a small and then a large academic medical library).

"Hospital librarians feel they are always pressed for time." So do academic librarians. Ask the most productive folks in my library and they will tell you they always feel they are running behind, they're always working extra hours trying to catch up, and they never feel that they have enough time to get the essentials done, much less have time for the "extras". That being said, with more people, it is possible to specialize some and spread the work in different ways. And there is probably also a culture in academic institutions that supports experimentation more than is the case in hospitals. So academics may end up having a little more flexibility over how they distribute their time (depending on how much support they have from administration); but they don't feel any less pressed.

As far as the relationship between the library and the IT department, my experience is that most academic librarians also feel that they have an adversarial relationship with the university IT department, or at best a very uneasy alliance. I remember a meeting some years ago of the directors of all of the academic medical libraries in the southeast where the question was posed, "How many of you have a good relationship with your university IT department?" Only one hand went up (it was mine, but that's a different story). What we often have, however, are the resources to bring at least some measure of hardware, software and control in-house, so we are not as reliant on the IT dept. It is also the case that a university tends to be a more open environment -- it's not that our IT folks are any less concerned about security than those in a hospital, but they also have the strong demands from the research & educational missions to maintain as much of an open environment as possible. So they have to do a more delicate balancing act, and the library does benefit from that.

But while my perspective on those two issues is slightly different, the bottom line is the same -- hospital librarians don't feel that they have as much flexibility over their time, and they don't have as much control over the elements of IT that matter the most to them.

Maybe the most important difference is that many hospital librarians don't have the daily support of creative colleagues to help spur their own creativity. It's tough to try out new things when you don't have somebody knowledgeable working right with you to say, "That's a cool idea," or "How about if we try this?" The best things that happen in my library are always the result of two or three people putting their creative minds together.

That's why I think the leadership shown by you, by other hospital librarian bloggers, and by those who are promoting the use of electronic communication is so critical. The more that hospital librarians feel that they are part of a creative and supportive community, the more they'll find the ways to be innovative and creative in ways that make a real concrete difference to the people in their hospitals that they are trying to help.

At 1:07 PM, Anonymous said...

I am a solo hospital librarian. I do not have time to read RSS Feeds, Blogs, and I scan list-serv email quickly for topics of interest but rarely have time to actually read them. I tend to find out about new trends from my fellow librarians. I would love to have a blog. My patrons have asked me to have a blog, but the hospital blocks anything I could put a blog on and my library's website is buried. I do have a good relationship with the IT department and they are quick to fix the library's computers and crafty about coming up with inexpensive solutions. The organizations limitations are not their fault.


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The Krafty Librarian has been a medical librarian since 1998. She is currently the medical librarian for a hospital system in Ohio. You can email her at: