Killing Cows: #Medlibs Summary

Last Thursday a group of medical librarians got together online via Twitter to discuss the issue of change in libraries.  Specifically they discussed evaluating the sacred cows in libraries and librarianship within our institutions and whether they should be continued (successful programs) or killed (unsuccessful programs).

I thought I would briefly summarize the discussion for those who were unable to participate. Transcript is available here.

We had 30 people who participated in the chat and each participant tweeted an average of 11 tweets.  (Lively discussion.)

In an effort to set the tone or get some context for the discussion. Nikki Dettmar (@eagledawg) reminded us of Mark Funk’s (@funkme77) 2008 Presidential Address, where the gist, “We Have Always Done It That Way” is not the way we want to continue the business of libraries.

Several librarians gave examples of sacred cows they have either killed off or would like to kill off in their libraries.  These include:

  • Reference desk
  • Checking in hard copy journals
  • The catalog and cataloging
  • Regularly scheduled classes
  • Face to face classes
  • Table of contents lists
  • Reference collection
  • Printed books

Many had various thoughts on each of the above topics.  For some getting rid of the refernce desk was a sacred cow that was killed or needed to be killed. However, for others, their library’s reference/front desk was still doing a brisk business and killing it would be unwise.

The topic of cataloging while a lively topic at other discussion venues didn’t draw as much ire or skepticism.  Several thought small hospital libraries with solo librarians may want to re-consider the idea of an online catalog in favor of something easy, agile, and less time consuming.  Almost everyone agreed that the act of cataloging could be done much more quickly and simply that librarians stop fussing with minute details of cataloging and look at user tagging/catalgoing. Tony Nguyen (@TonyNguyen411) mentioned he was “Totally ok with collective cataloging. Original, just the easiest access points to get it quickly on the shelf.”

The rise of electronic collections caused many in the group to discuss alternatives to book and journal purchasing, collection development and management.  Teressa Knott (@tlknott) mentioned their circulation numbers has caused her to start thinking of a “strictly e-book collection.”  I mention how our institution got rid of our reference section.  Reference books were shelved next to the circulating collection.  Patrons don’t have to go to different shelves or locations within the library to find books on a topic depending on the book’s loan rules (which patrons don’t know).  All of the books are together making them easier to find.  A red dot on the spine indicates the book doesn’t leave the library.

The library classes seemed to be a bit of a problem among the #medlibs librarians.  As Amy Blevins (@blevinsa) stated, “(I) have mixed feelings about schedule classes. Love them when people randomly show up. Not so much when 0 show.”  This seems to a problem shared by several in the chat.  There were some librarians who got rid of their scheduled classes and only taught classes by appointment while others tried to get rid of them but had to bring them back because “admin wants to bring (them) back b/c other AAHSL libs do it.” I am not sure whether Stephanie Schulte’s (@s_schulte) referrence to admin was institutional administration or library administration.

In the second half of the hour the discussion seemed to venture away from the library and on to the profession itself and sacred cows within the profession such as:

  • The name librarian
  • Associations, organizations, societies, and certifications
  • Academic journals
  • Impact factors
  • Peer review

Besides our job title of librarian, I’m not sure how much impact we have in with the other sacred cows within the profession.  Additionally there were many that said the issue wasn’t the title of “librarian” but it was people’s out dated notions of librarians.  The issue of librarian vs. informationist, vs PubMed Whisperer, vs information specialist is probably a larger issue that could be discussed on another Thursday.

Overall it was a very interesting and fun discussion.  I challenge all librarians, not just the 30 on the chat, to think about our sacred cows.  I want to quote Mark Funk’s last Presidential blog post, “Remember that ‘We have always done it that way’ isn’t an answer, it’s an excuse. Boomers didn’t like that response in the 1960s, and we shouldn’t like it now.”

2 thoughts on “Killing Cows: #Medlibs Summary”

  1. I wouldn’t say that “peer review” should be challenged, but rather “blinded peer review”. Though blinding has its benefits, it has several shortcomings, too. In the digital world, I believe transparency furthers discussion, and ultimately science better than the current model.

  2. We’ve moved to a general information desk we call The Hub which is staffed primarily by paraprofessionals. A reference librarian can be called if necessary but most of their reference work is done via online chat. The reference librarians need to spend more of their time outside the building — they can’t be tied to a desk.

    For the last four or five years we’ve spent less than 1% of our content budget on print, which takes care of several of the other cows.

    We still like face-to-face classes, but we do these as “Express Training” where we do a one hour session over lunch (we provide pizza) on different topics — some recent ones have included EndNote Web, Google Scholar, Evernote, Tech tune-up: 50 sites. We generally also do a webinar version of these at a different time. Most of our classes are scheduled ad hoc at the request of an instructor or group of students.

    We run a TOC service in the hospital that is extremely popular so we’ll keep doing that.

    Deciding what to stop doing is very hard, but essential. I recommend this exercise: make a list of all of your ongoing activities. Then prioritize them. Then decide that you are going to quit doing the bottom 15%. But they’re important! you’ll scream. Of course they are. But then look at the list of new things you think you should be doing. Would they show up higher in your prioritized list? If so, then you owe it to your institution to quit doing the other stuff.

    I don’t believe in doing more with less. You do less with less or you do different with less. The latter course is more fun.

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