Seeking Virtual Projects

The Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA) has a new annual column describing innovative and notable virtual projects in health sciences libraries. This column will focus on library virtual spaces. “In an increasingly digital world, the library’s virtual space can be as much of a hub as the library’s physical space. Digital content and technology-rich library services are moving the library presence outside the physical building to support users in their digital spaces wherever and whenever needed.”

JMLA is looking for submissions of recent virtual projects for the Virtual Projects column.  The column will be published in October 2013.

Examples of projects that could be submitted include:

  • projects that improve the quality of the library’s virtual presence through webpages or its catalog
  • development of technologies that facilitate information discovery and content delivery (e.g., federated searching products and portals)
  • mobile-friendly resource and service initiatives
  • development of web 2.0/Library 2.0 initiatives (e.g., social networking applications)
  • hosting and preserving digital content activities
  • projects that demonstrate the use of library resources and services through the institution’s electronic health record (EHR)
  • collaborative ventures with campus or other partners to develop new digital resources and services


To be considered for this column, please submit a 200-word abstract of your virtual project or a link to your project web page that describes the project and why it is innovative/notable. Send your submissions to Susan Lessick, AHIP, FMLA, by March 15, 2013.

Volunteers Needed

MLA Research Section Needs YOU!

(courtesy MEDLIB-l)

They are coordinating the MLA-wide effort to characterize the literature that informs the 15 questions MLA members identified in 2011 as the most important research questions facing health sciences librarianship.  With your help, the Research Section will identify several teams of librarians with varied research experience to conduct systematic reviews for the questions using a standard protocol with results stored in a centralized database.

 They envision that each team will have at least one member with systematic review experience. However, this is also an opportunity for those seeking to learn more about systematic reviews to grow their knowledge through hands-on practice.

 Please consider volunteering for one of the systematic review teams being assembled to review our literature.  One tangible outcome for each contributor will be the opportunity for co-authorship on a published article; additional ways to build skills and share knowledge will arise throughout the process.

 Apply online by Friday, January 25, 2013.  

For more information on how the questions were identified, see the JMLA article at 


Questions about applying can be directed to Jon Eldredge, Chair of the Research Agenda Committee, at [email protected].  Details of the plans for the systematic reviews and processes will be shared with the medical library community broadly once teams are finalized and workflows are developed.  Thank you for your consideration!

Consider Adding a Librarian to the Editorial Board

The most recent issue of Nurse Author & Editor Newsletter, December 2012, “Editors Cannot Know (and Sometimes Even Find!) It All:  Making a Case for a Medical Librarian on Your Editorial Board” (requires subscription to read) by Judith S. Young and Tina M. Marrelli is an interesting case for having a medical librarian on the editorial board. 

Full Disclosure:
I am currently on the editorial board for the Annals of Family Medicine and on the library advisory board for Silverchair (hosts several publishers), and I was on the Library Advisory Board of the New England Journal of Medicine.  So I am kind of familiar with the role of a librarian on the board of a publication or publishers group. 

Young and Marrelli describe the benefits having a medical librarian on the editorial board for a nursing journal.   

“Working with a medical librarian and having access to this librarian as a sounding board is an untapped source of support for nursing journal editors– as well as authors, reviewers, and publishers.  An experienced, professional medical librarian can bring value to a peer-reviewed journal and its nurse editor.”

The authors state that not only are medical librarians familiar with evidence based nursing but they can also serve editors as peer reviewers, verify international or unusual references, and conduct content specific search to see what extent certain topics are covered which is helpful for originality of journal content but also when compling subject specific issues. 

As I mentioned, I have some experience being on various journal and publication boards and I think they are EXTREMELY helpful to both the organization as well as the librarian.  I have learned more about the publishing side of things than I ever knew before.  I also am able to experience their perspective on things such as what it takes to get a issue out and the part of the inner works of a journal from editors, advertising, peer review, market, web site demands, etc.  I think the journals and the boards learned a lot from my presence on the board as well.  In various board meetings I have been able to explain how their journal is primarily accessed by institutional users, web site issues/enhancements, budgets of libraries, and networking issues/opportunities.  Recently I have been getting a lot of questions about the use of social media and how journals and publishers can use it effectively.   For many on the boards, the idea of social media is something that they know is growing and is important but they don’t exactly have a concept of how they can use it because all they see about social media are Ashton Kutcher tweets. 

So why am I posting this?  Two reasons. 

First: To inform librarians that there is another opportunity to get involved.  Sure you have to be asked to be on a board, but if you are asked know that you have some good things to contribute. Keep your ears open and you will find your niche.

Second: To inform publishers and library vendors that don’t already have librarians on boards that we can be very helpful and provide a slightly different perspective on things.  The worst thing to have on a board is a group of individuals who are all the same.  You need people who use your product but who are a bit different from each other or have different strengths and backgrounds to compliment your board. 

Librarians aren’t just in libraries.  We actually do some things that can be helpful that is beyond the traditional library.

Medlibs What Interests You?

It has been almost 2 weeks since I wrote something on the blog.  I appologize to readers.  These last few weeks have been quite busy with kids stuff and holiday stuff that what little extra time I had got sucked into a vortex.  I do plan on blogging very shortly.  But I thought I would take this time to solicit opinions and ideas about what you would like to see on this blog for 2013. Is there something I should focus on specifically?  Or, is there a topic that I have beaten to death that you are tired of reading?  Let me know!  I write not only because I like to but also because I like communicating with you all.

For example would you like more:

  • Database/product reviews
  • Mobile stuff (in general I will leave medical app reviews to the folks at iMedicalApps, they already do a great job)
  • Trends in medical libraries
  • What is happening on the MLA Board

I know you are all familiar with my voice, but would you be interested in having guest posts every once and a while?  I usually don’t do them, but I am not opposed to them either.  Bigger question…Is my blog relevant still?  Would you rather get my insights from Twitter, Facebook or something else?  Basically is this blog dead to you and I should focus on other things. 

I look forward to any and all comments.  Let me know.  Without you, the reader, I would just be blogging to myself which isn’t much different than talking to myself and I do enough of that already.


Not All Hospital Libraries Are For Patients

I recently read several articles by an author that made the erroneous assumption that the “average user” for a hospital library is the public and that hospital library websites should be easily accessible to them.  The problem is  the author doesn’t realize the average user for a hospital library isn’t necessarily the public.  The average user for many hospital libraries is the hospital employee.  The doctors, nurses, physical therapists, social workers, etc. who work in the hospital are the average users.  The hospital’s Internet site is designed for the public.  Libraries are where their average users are and for many hospital libraries that isn’t the public Internet site.

For example, the library for Energizer doesn’t have a web presence on the company’s website. In fact, if I hadn’t met the librarian at Energizer, I would never have known they had a library if I browsed their website.  The reason, the average user visiting the Energizer website is not that library’s user group.  The employees are the library’s user group and they probably have an internal network for employees to access the library resources and contact information.  The same principle follows with hospital libraries.  If a hospital library’s mission is to serve the employees of that hospital then their resources should be easily accessible to the employees.  If a hospital library serves patients then it should be easily accessible to patients and the public.  The problem is, not all hospital libraries serve patients! Therefore, not all hospital libraries will have have pages on the insitution’s website, because the institution’s website is directed at patients not employees.

Many large multi institutional hospitals have patient education departments that provide patient information resources that can be accessible to the public (or as the author likes to keep saying the “average user”). These large multi institutional hospitals with patient education departments have libraries that usually serve the employees who treat the patients.  These libraries usually don’t serve the patient directly.  For example, part of my library’s mission statement is “to provide information to support patient care, research, education, and administration to all employees.”  Patients are not our user group, employees are our user group.  It doesn’t mean that a patient can’t use the hospital library, it just means that the resources aren’t geared toward them and aren’t licensed for public use.  Since they aren’t licensed for public use they might be behind the hospital’s firewall on the Intranet or they might be on the library’s Internet site in an area frequented by employees not patients.

So for one to comb through various large hospital’s websites looking for the hospital library’s page to be easily accessible to the “average user”, is a waste of time.   The average user isn’t patients!  Therefore, they don’t design their site nor place it in a spot easily accessible to patients searching the hospital website.   Their average user is the clinician who is in the electronic medical record (EMR) or Intranet site WAAAAY more than the hospital’s public Internet site.  These libraries are designing their access sites for their average users, employees. So if your premise is that this lack of Internet accessibility for the public (which you keep referring to as the average user) renders the hospital library invisible thus diminishing the importance of the hospital medical library in the eyes of hospital administrators and clinical staff, then you are dead wrong.   You are dead wrong because the average user is the employee and they don’t use the hospital Internet site like patients.   

I am not against web site or library accessibility studies.  Accessiblity studies are very important, but only if you study the right user group.  Remember the first thing we learned in library school, know thy user.

Single Service Desk: Thoughts After #Medlibs Tweet Chat

Last week I summed up the previous week’s #medlibs tweet chat on alternative reference services.  I mentioned that I would go into more detail this week on my thoughts around the reference desk and single service desk in the library.

We have one public service desk in our library.  As I mentioned in my previous post, the library staff at my library tend to call our desk the reference desk or front desk.  In reality it is a single service desk where all sorts of things happen.  It is really the only single established place within the library where patrons can ask questions.  Yes they email, phone, and stop us if we are walking by, but the front desk is the one physical spot to get service.  It could be checking out a book, paying fines, asking for the bathroom, checking out a room, help with a computer/printer, or an actual reference question.  All of our library employees staff the reference desk throughout the week.  The library director, cataloger, ILL personnel and student workers (when we’ve had them) man the desk.

Various people on the tweet chat mentioned several concerns:

  • Isn’t there a blending of our professional status of having both librarians and library assistants essentially doing the same thing (manning the desk) and don’t you have patrons (or administration) thinking we are all the same and interchangeable?
  • You don’t do a lot of “professional” things on the desk. You do more assistant type things such as telling people the location of the bathroom. Isn’t that a waste of time or (to be nice) isn’t there a better use of your time?

First, all of society thinks anybody working in a library is a librarian, so from that perspective it doesn’t matter who staffs the service desk, because everybody thinks they are a librarians. Society’s perspective isn’t going to change on that.  Second, I don’t think of it as bluring our skills and making us interchangeable to patrons.  Why?  I guess because we each have our specialties and if we are on the desk and somebody asks a question outside of the norm and outside of our specialty we freely tell them to wait just a second while we get somebody else who can best help them.  Medical professionals are very familiar with the concept of specialists.  So while all of us work the service desk there are times where we have to have the “Circulation Specialist,” or “RefWorks Specialist” help the patron.  So our patrons see us doing similar services but they also have experienced us getting a “specialist” to help with things certain questions. 

Define professional.  My job is to help people find information.  Information is different for all things, and I am helping people.  While I am on the desk I am constantly looking at ways to improve or help people. I view the service desk as my test kitchen and I am a master chef.  I am able to see what dishes (products) people select and how they use them.  It doesn’t always have to be reference related either.  For example, I have learned a lot just renewing people’s books.  If they tell me they never received the “reminder to renew” email, I am able to double check their email and add a secondary email (that has less stringent spam filters) to their account.  Sometimes I am able to recommend another similar book our research avenue.

I know how my patrons are searching (or not) the catalog and why they can/can’t find things.  I know how they are looking for full text ebooks and I can fully appreciate their frustration with ebooks.  Working on the service desk provides me with the opportunity to work with our patrons and better understand their needs more than any established office hours would because I get to see the patrons in action.  I firmly believe catalogers and tech service people should work the service desk so they experience how their users find and access things.  How are they able to know there is a problem if they are back in their office cataloging all day?

This is just my overall philosophy. Not every situation works for every library.  I think if we had two desks (a reference desk and a service desk) it might be a different story.  Also I think it all boils down to the fundamental real estate philosophy, location, location, location.  If you are off the beaten path you will have a totally different perspective.  We are a very large institution and while the library isn’t exactly centrally located to all departments, we are definitely in a prime location and on one of the main walking thoroughfares.

I believe librarians need to get out and get to know their users.  How they do it can be varied.  The single service desk is just one way.  Abolishing the desk may not be a good thing to do if you have good usage. Our desk has lulls but more often than not, it is hopping.  Getting rid of the service desk would be a disservice to our patrons. Of course keeping the service desk because it has great usage, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do outreach.  There are still lots of people who don’t come in the library and they need to be reached.  However, the idea that the service desk is dead isn’t true in all libraries, in some libraries it is alive and a great place to meet users.

Do Library Vendors Feud Like Apple?

Yesterday I read on the Cult of Mac, Mike Elgan’s “How Apple’s Obsession with Google is Hurting Apple.”  Elgen describes Apple’s Maps and the removal of Google Maps from Apple’s new iOS 6 as an example of how the company operates when faced with competition. 

Apple removed Google’s (far superior) Map and YouTube programs from its new operating system.  It also created a more seamless integration with the other social networking tools Twitter and Facebook but not Google+.  Many, including Elgen, have said Apple’s actions have more to do with Google’s Android system competing with Apple than the operating system itself.  He even mentions this type of behavior is not new with Apple.  If anybody remembers Apple in the late 80’s and 90’s, it was not the powerhouse company it is today.  It was locked in a battle with Microsoft to the detriment of Apple and consumers. 

“…they become obsessed with Microsoft, and were throwing all kinds of spaghetti against the wall to see what would stick. They became blind to the truth that great products bring more and better customers, and instead tried to beat Microsoft and the larger PC industry at its own game. They tried to litter the market with narrowly targeted product lines just like the clone companies did, even though most of the positioning was just a bullshit series of lies. The Centris, Quadra and Performa lines were more or less the same line, and the consumer electronics products had the Apple logo on them but weren’t Apple products.”

Elgan sees Apple history on the verge of repeating itself and it is an interesting thought. It was after an hour or two after reading the article that another thought popped into my head.  Are there library vendors that follow Apple like practices with competitors?  The idea is intriguing to me.  It would seem to me this ideology is not unique to Apple, they are just one the largest most well know companies so it is more obvious.  This probably happens in all areas of business, including libraries. 

I think competition is healthy.  It is what brings better products and services to the consumer.  But what happens when competition mutates and you aren’t focused on a better product but focused on destroying another competitor.  When the focus of the competition leaves the product or service, it negatively impacts the company, product, and consumers. 

Do we see this with OPAC companies competing for libraries, or has that area settled out?  Do we see it with traditional publishers and OA publishers?  Do we see it with point of care tools?  How about ebooks and all the uncertainty and upheaval in that area? 

Let’s forget about libraries for a brief second and think about healthcare.  I certainly think we see this type of behavior with healthcare at large, but do we see it within our own health systems? Do we see it within our own hospitals and departments?

Competition is good but there is a fine line between it and obsession and the slope can be slippery. If you find yourself in that situation within your institution/company what are your options? Do you have any?

Just some deep thoughts that my silly little iPhone has made me think about.

Just Serve! Join an MLA Committe

When I was a new librarian I was a bit overwhelmed with MLA.  It seemed everybody knew everybody and they were all doing very interesting things. I wasn’t sure how to get involved or how to get my toe in the door.  Believe it or not I am an introvert (though my husband says I am extrovert librarian).  So seeing everybody knowing everybody made me feel nervous and worried about trying to join the group. 

If I knew then what I know now, I would have saved myself some introvert angst.  The key to MLA is serving in MLA.  Volunteering for committees, groups, projects, etc. allows you to work with and know a lot of people.  So by the time the next Annual Meeting roles around you will at least know a few people via email through your committee work.  (I would LOVE it if we could add our pictures to the membership directory so that we can begin to put a face with a name and email.)

I have to say that my participation within MLA has been one of the single most important career development opportunies ever!  MLA is what you make of it.  If you sit around wondering what has MLA done for you, yet do nothing in return, you will get little out of it.  But if you participate, engage in the association then your returns will be rewarding.  Life is not a spectator sport, neither is MLA.  So get out there and volunteer on a committee!

(Below is from the MLA Focus)

MLA Committee Applications Due October 31
Apply today for a committee and play an active part in MLA.

Committees make decisions on awards and scholarships; help plan membership recruitment strategies, continuing education courses, and the annual meeting; participate in the publishing process for the Journal of the Medical Library Association and MLA books; make recommendations on new technology; and more. Apply using the online application form for the 2013/14 association year. You will need your MLANET username/ID and password. Applications are due October 31.

Never served on an MLA committee before? See the August MLA News for tips from President-Elect Dixie Jones, AHIP, on how to increase your chances of being appointed.

Professional Discourse Can Happen on Twitter

Professional discourse can and does happen on Twitter.  In fact, I find Twitter as important as email for work communication.  I know, I can practically see your eyeballs rolling and the murmurs through the Internet as I type this.  But it is true. 

Years ago, I remember saying that I couldn’t think of a reason to be on Twitter.  I didn’t say there wasn’t one, but at the time I just didn’t see any.  Today it is a totally different story.  I probably discuss librarian issues and ideas more often over Twitter than I do on Medlib-l.  Yep you are reading that correctly. 

In fact the 140 character limit doesn’t inhibit me at all.  I am able to ask quick questions and have them answered fairly quickly.  What kind of questions do I ask?  Some of the same things I might ask on Medlib-l like:

  • Is PubMed down?
  • How do I bold a line in LibGuides?
  • What other MeSh term can you think of to represent X?


I also make little comments about things I am encountering while I am at work or doing librarian stuff.  Some of these things are just my comments  while others are passing along helpful or interesting websites.  Some recent examples are:



As you can see all of that stuff is related to librarianship.  Doesn’t Twitter get all cluttered with junk about people’s cats, lunch, etc.?  Yes and no.  In fact, I do a little bit of off topic chatting…


I am not a robot, some of my life and personality filters through on Twitter just like it does on email.  The key to Twitter is the you people follow.  Follow other librarians (medical and non-medical), doctors, patient advocates, technology gurus, etc.  Find the people who mainly tweet about professional items and your Twitter feed will mainly be about professional information that you can use.  Yes there will be some personal bon mots that fly through, but that is life.

I have also found it HUGELY helpful to follow my vendors.  Yep, I follow @SpringShare, @WKHealthOvid, @EBSCOInfoSvcs, @NEJMTeam, @ClinicalKey, @MDConsult, @MHMedical, etc.  Not only do I find out about new things like I did the other day with Ovid…


But I have gotten pretty darn good tech support and responses from problems and complaints.  Honestly I have gotten faster responses than I have ever gotten when I post on Medlib-l.   @SpringShare has been very helpful and responded quickly whenever I mentioned I have a problem.  @EBSCOInfoSvcs responded quickly when I was asking people about an A-Z quirk.  @ClinicalKey responded very quickly when I brought up an issue regarding personal logins for PDFs. 

Twitter isn’t for everyone but it isn’t just the realm of Charlie Sheen rants and lunch updates.  It is a valid method of professional communication.  The key is how you use it and how you integrate it in your workflow.  Next week I will share how I have integrated it into my work flow so that it takes no more time out of my day than regular email.  In the mean time, don’t forget about the #medlibs Thursday chats at 9pm est. which is a perfect example of professional Twitter communication.  You are free to lurk and see what is going on. Any questions about Twitter #medlibs chat feel free to contact me.

New Roles for Health Sciences Librarians

Are you a health sciences librarian working in position that wouldn’t be considered a “traditional” health sciences librarian position?  If so then pay attention…. The Journal of the Medical Library Association has a special issue on New Century, New Roles for Health Sciences Librarians and they are seeking papers!  Papers must be sumitted by February 2013!

(from JMLA)

The advent of both digital content and new forms of communication has made radical changes in health sciences library users’ expectations for access to information. Researchers and clinicians expect information at their desktops, 24/7, in a format that can be easily digested and used. At the same time, in response to concerns over the increasing cost of health care, government funding agencies have changed their expectations for how health-related research is conducted. Funding agencies look for translational medicine and dispersion of information across disciplines and institutions.   

Responding to the opportunities provided by these changes, some librarians and libraries have changed their focus, no longer emphasizing libraries as keepers of the information universe but instead stressing their ability to provide expertise supporting those who work in the health information universe. A number of new paradigms have been reported at conferences and in the media: embedded librarians, e-science experts, support for translational medicine, and data curation and management. To help us gain a better understanding of these new paradigms, the Journal of the Medical Library Association (JMLA) is planning to devote the October 2013 issue to papers that focus on the outcomes experienced by those who have taken on these new roles.

Not sure you have enough “stuff” for a full length research article?  Don’t worry in addition to full length research papers they are looking for brief communications and case studies.

(Descriptions from JMLA)

Brief communications – 1,800 words or less, describe evaluations of either the need for or success of new roles. They should provide a brief literature review and describe the new role; the method used to assess the need for the role or to evaluate its success, such as a small scale survey, focus groups, or measures of user participation in services provided; and the results of that evaluation or assessment. Papers describing evaluations of education and training programs relevant to new roles are also welcome.

Case studies -3,500 words or less. Describe, in depth, new or innovative roles for librarians such as embedded librarians, e-science experts, support for translational medicine, or data curation should provide a brief literature review; describe the components of the new role and relate, if relevant, the institutional factors that supported the creation of this new paradigm; followed by an evaluation of the success or failure of the initiative and any lessons learned. Papers submitted as case studies must include evidence that allows the reader to judge the value of the librarian’s contribution in this new role, independent of the author’s opinion. Examples of evidence include results of a user survey, inclusion of the librarian in papers authored by a research team, improvements or changes attributed to a librarian in an open access journal, or continued financial support from or additional responsibilities assigned by the institution.

Full length research papers – 5,000 word limit. Investigating a research question related to new roles for health sciences libraries or librarians should use a standard quantitative or qualitative research design. Quantitative studies should employ a sampling methodology that allows extrapolation to the larger population. Examples in this category would be qualitative or quantitative studies evaluating faculty or clinician reactions to embedded librarians or illuminating the features of digital libraries that contribute to their success or a benchmarking study of librarian roles in Clinical and Translational Science Award grant–funded projects.

So if any of this is of interest to you OR you know somebody else who is a non-traditional health science librarian then you should totally pass this on to them and suggest they write something up.

Please contact Susan Starr, editor, JMLA, at jmlaeditorbox[atsign]gmail[dotcom].  Further details on procedures for JMLA submissions and requirements for brief communications, case studies, and full-length papers can be found on the JMLA Information for Authors page. All papers should be submitted online at