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.

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