Is Getting the Answer Quickly the Most Important Thing?

That is a little bit about what Midwest MLA keynote speaker Clifford Stoll talked about today. While we don’t want to drag our heels to find information, the process by which we find it sometimes is lost. We have become a society that often relies on getting information fast but doing that isn’t always cheap and the information isn’t always good. He drew a triangle with words Good, Cheap, Fast at the corners and used food as the example of how we get things. You can get cheap food fast (ala McD’s) but it isn’t really that good. You can get good food for in a reasonable amount of time (ala restaurant) but it isn’t cheap. You can get cheap good food (home cooking) but it isn’t always that fast. Stoll says that most researchers want the right answers fast. But the right answers aren’t always fast, nor are those answers always right, especially in science. For many years people believed the correct scientific answer was that the sun revolved around the Earth. The process at getting the right answer is just as important answer. Sometimes by finding the answer you create more questions and in answering them you develop a completely new right answer to the original question. After all, if Copernicus had asked for the right answer quickly he would have never developed his heliocentric cosmology theory and we would still think the sun revolved around the earth instead of the earth revolving around the sun. Through out the history of medicine how many standardized medical treatments we have thought of as “right” have later been revolutionized and changed by another medical researcher? I am probably going to go out on a limb here but I bet that researcher didn’t ask for the quick right answer.

Leading In MLA

The MLA Leadership and Management Section blog is hosting regular discussions every Tuesday on “25 Counterintuitive Principles of Leadership.”  Check out the Leadership and Management column in the upcoming October 2009 MLA News.

While I am on the topic of leadership and MLA, I want to congratulate those who were selected for the 2009-2010 NLM/AAHSL Leadership Fellows Program.


The fellows and mentors selected for the 2009–2010 class of the leadership program jointly sponsored by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL) have been announced.


Heidi M. Nickisch Duggan, Associate Director Galter Health Sciences Library, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University.

Irma Quinones, Interim Library Director, University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus

Bart Ragon, Associate Director for Library Technology Services and Development, Claude Moore Health Sciences Library, University of Virginia

Debra C. Rand, AHIP, Director, Health Sciences Library, Long Island Jewish Medical Center North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System

Keir Reavie, Head, Biological/Agricultural Sciences and Map Services Department, Shields Library, University of California-Davis

PubMed Redesign is Here

The moment we have all been waiting for is here, PubMed’s redesign is live and available for everyone to poke and play with.  Right away the splash page is a bit of a departure from what we are used to.  At first glance I like how it appears cleaner and less cluttered, however it will take me some time to get used to.  For example I was looking for the Advanced Search feature underneath PubMed Tools near Citation Matcher and I couldn’t find it.  That is when it dawned on me that the link for Advaced Search is up above the search box. Oops I should have thought of that.

The newly redesigned PubMed is now accessible from a  link on the page (New! PubMed: Try the redesigned PubMed) or directly from

Check Out the Midwest MLA Posters

The Midwest Chapter Medical Library Association’s Annual Conference is right around the corner (4 days away) and there are 15 papers and 31 posters being presented at the meeting.  Things are hectic at meetings (even the Chapter ones) time flies by and before you know it you are on your way home trying to remember everything you saw.  So for those of you who are going to the meeting it might be a good idea to check out the abstracts of the papers posters ahead of time online.  Reading the abstracts before the conference gives you the opportunity to formulate questions ahead of time and for the poster session it helps you prioritize which ones you need to see. 

Click here to check out the papers being presented.

Click here to check out the posters being presented.

For those of you who aren’t going to the meeting, it is even more important to read the abstracts of the paper and poster sessions because this may be the only time you see the information.  Who knows, maybe somebody presenting is doing something in their library that you have wanted to do too.  You might be able to contact them and bounce ideas or ask some questions.

Call for MLA 2011 Local Assistance Committee Volunteers

On May 13-18 2011, the Medical Library Association’s Annual Meeting will be in Minneapolis, MN.  Gabe Rios (University of Alabama) and Bart Ragon (University of Virginia) are the National Program Committee (NPC) co-chairs.  Linda Watson (University of Minnesota) and Dawn Littleton (Mayo Clinic) are the LAC co-chairs.

The LAC co-chairs are looking for volunteers for to chair the two remaining Local Assistance subcommittee spots; Publicity and Promotion, Library Tours.

More details can be found on the blog of the Health Sciences Libraries of Minnesota: subcommittee chairs must be MLA members and will be responsible for recruiting volunteers for their subcommittee.  Those interested in volunteer for the subcommittee chair positions contact Linda Watson at lwatson[atsign]umn[dot]edu by October 10, 2009.

What do Medical Librarians Do?

Last school year my son was asked to talk about his parents and tell the class what we do at work.  He responded, “My mom is a librarian at a hospital and she finds stuff in books and on computers to help doctors.”  I was so proud.  Of course then he described what my husband at work.  “I don’t know what my dad does but his work has a lot of computers with video games and they have two slides and a bouncy castle you can play in.”  My husband is a web developer and yes his company has two slides within the building that employees, including the CEO, have used to get the ground floor.  But the rest of the stuff, the computer games, Wii, Guitar Hero, bouncy castle, etc. are only at my husband’s work during the children’s holiday parties.  Since my son really has only been to my husband’s work when there is a party, he assumes his Dad has Wiis and bouncy castles at work all the time.  

My son’s perceptions of what each of us does in our jobs is colored by what he sees us doing and our work environment.  Obviously my husband doesn’t have bouncer at his work place every day, and at 6′ 5″ he probably is slightly over the height restriction for that type of entertainment.  But since my son really only sees my husband’s workplace during the parties, that is all he has to go on for a point of view of what his dad does at work. 

Each person’s perception is colored by what they have seen and what they have learned from experiences.  When I am at various social gatherings I am often asked what I do.  I respond that I am a medical librarian and then I watch as the glazed look flits across their faces and they get that deer in the headlights stare.   Most adults have not been in a medical library, many more adults (more than I care to think of) were last in a library when they were in college or high school, some go to the public library with the their children.  Their library experiences are usually not in medical libraries.  So the glaze in their eye comes as they try and match their library experiences with their hospital or medical experiences, for most people that isn’t always easy to imagine. 

Those preconceived ideas are part of what we medical librarians are always dealing with.  Even within our own work environment, we have people who don’t realize that a hospital can/should have a medical library and what a librarian does.  These people not only have their on experiences of what a library is but they are most often very busy and completely immersed in their own work world that they may be unintentionally walking by the library with mental blinders on. 

That is why it is important to get the word out to people about what we do and most importantly what we can do for THEM.  Earlier today Dr. Ves Dimov  alerted Twitter followers  of this article, “Ask-A-Librarian Column: What Exactly Do You Do? A Clinician’s Guide to the Medical Librarian,” in Clinical Correlations, the NYU Internal Medicine Blog.  In the article, Jamie Graham does a great job of explaining what medical librarians do and what they can do for the Internal Medicine Residents.  She notes that we aren’t always in the library, that we are out and about doing other duties within the hospital. 

Graham mentions that the NYU librarians can be seen at or doing:

  • Clinical rounds
  • Faculty council
  • IRB sessions
  • Help with group or individual workshops
  • Finding patient education material
  • Finding evidence-based clinical care information
  • Teaching citation management programs (Refworks)
  • Create Table of Contents alerts
  • Find bibliometrics
  • Teach how to prepare manuscripts according to NIH mandates
  • Find medical multimedia
  • Participate on institutional projects (NYU’s ALEX system)

I wanted to share this article with others in the medical library world.  Not only is it a great article but it is published in the blog for Internal Medicine residents and is aimed right at a core group users who may or may not know what a librarian does or what one can do for them.  Perhaps you have a few more things to add to the list, feel free to add them by commenting here.  Others can read Graham’s article and the comments and can create a newsletter article of their own for distribution. 

I know we are all looking at ways to get our message out and to draw users’ attention to us and our services.  Not all of us have slides and bouncy castles to grab people’s attention to our jobs, so we need to try every other method available.

The Horror of Google Scholar

We love Google Scholar, we hate Google Scholar, which is it?  It’s a complicated relationship.  Librarians use it to find trickly little articles that are hiding in some dark crevice of the Internet and we search it probably just as much or more than the rest of the normal world.  So why does Google Scholar draw such frustration with librarians at times?  Why do we do our best impersonations of  The Scream  at the reference desk when researchers, doctors and nurses claim to have done an extensive search on Scholar? Part of the reason is us (librarians) and part of it is Google.

We are nerds who know that the information in Google is not always right. Just like a Trekkie debating the merits and flaws of Star Trek, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and all of the movies, we debate the merits and flaws of databases and information.  Google Scholar is just one of the various topics in our librarian geek debate camps.  As important as the debate over proper Klingon verb conjugation is in the Trekki community, it doesn’t usually impact the daily medical lives of many people.  (I know, I am going out on a limb there.)  Where as the information that librarians, researchers, doctors, and nurses retrieve from medical and other information databases usually does impact the lives of people.

As librarians we are trained to index, categorize, find and retrieve information.  As the Librarian Avenger  states, librarians “bring order to chaos.”  Nothing gets us more worked up than a database like Google Scholar that pretends to bring order to chaos.  I take that back.  Nothing gets us more worked up than when our patrons don’t realize that the Google Scholar database isn’t always right. 

Google Scholar indexes the full text of scholarly literature across many disciplines.  Yet Google keeps Scholar’s coverage and indexing a giant super secret.  Had Darth Vader employed Google Scholar creators, those pesky rebels would never have been able to sneak the plans out to destroy the Death Star.  This secrecy helps make Scholar a mess of a database.  Who knows what is in the that soup of information?  Some publishers do not allow Scholar to crawl their journals, but it is difficult for searchers know specifically which ones and adjust accordingly.  Like the unknown item in the Tupperware in the back of the fridge we don’t even know how fresh Scholar’s content is because it does not provide information on the frequency of its updates. 

As if not knowing what is in the database and how often it is updated isn’t bad enough, a recent article in Library Journal, “Google Scholar’s Ghost Authors, Lost Authors, and Other Problems” by Peter Jacso clearly will make any librarian (and should make any researcher) shudder over the idea of doing citation analysis within Scholar. 

Some of the problems Jacso found:

  • False authors like P Login (for Please Login), P Options (for Payment Options), and a whole bunch related to author affiliation such as CA San Diego.
  • Multiple listings of the same paper
  • Mismatched citation information – Scholar ignores existing, correct publication years, page numbers, volume numbers, etc.
  • Missing authors – Scholar in many cases replaces the real authors names with that of the false authors.

Really if it weren’t true it would make for a great comedy for librarians to laugh at, but with the 10.2 million records added from Google Books into the millions already within Scholar the story reads more like a B horror film. Not a campy one like Evil Dead, but more like the Blair Witch Project where despite the rave reviews (who gave that thing such great reviews anyway) leaves you nauseated and declaring it unworthy of even renting. 

However, I wonder if our patrons will even notice.  Will they even care about the fact that Scholar developers decided not to use metadata from scholarly publishers but instead built the database around a parser created by the developers and labeled as “imbecile” by Jacso?  Call me a cynical librarian nerd but I don’t think they will.  I have about as much hope that researchers will know or care as Jacso has for the Scholar developers to correct their massive mess. 

“The parsers have not improved much in the past five years despite much criticism. GS developers corrected some errors that got negative publicity, but these were Band-Aids, where brain surgery and extensive parser training is required. Without these, GS will keep producing similar errors on a mega-scale.”

WE may have a complicated relationship with Google Scholar and we will still be using it to find things, it is up to us, the Trekkies of the database searching world, to inform our patrons of the pitfalls as well as the promises of Google Scholar and to alert them to alternative resources and databases to use instead of Scholar. Because for every person who just wants something quick and easy, there are always those who happy to learn something new and will be amazed at what Scholar does not really do.

Medical Students and Unprofessional Online Content

The article “Online Posting of Unprofessional Content by Medical Students,” published in JAMA (JAMA. 2009; 302(12): 1309-1215. subscription required) looks at the activity of medical students on popular Web 2.0 sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, blogs and wikis. 

The article states than an estimated 57% of 25-34 year olds use social networking sites.  These 25-34 year olds are your medical students and your residents.  It is important to know that this study focused on the medical students not the residents out there in the work force at various hospitals.  The study found that 60% of the responding medical schools reported incidents of students posting unprofessional online content.  The unprofessional content ranged from suggestive sexual material, intoxication, drug use, discriminatory language, breaches of patient confidentiality. 

While this article focused primarily on the policies these medical schools might or might not have regarding unprofessional behavior, and the repercussions some students faced as a result of the unprofessional nature of the medical students online profile, it did not address the fact that their might be an actual need for education. 

We have all done stupid stuff in our lives, but until recently most of us did not have a permanent record (online or otherwise) available for all to see.  Go through the old keepsake box in your attic and look at the photos from your college days.  Bring back some memories?  Now somebody took that picture and at some point in time you decided it was worth keeping.  Did you blow it up and put in a picture frame on the fireplace mantel? No, you probably put it in the scrap book, or a box with your other things from college. 

Flickr, Facebook, and blogs are today’s scrapbook.  They record a person’s thoughts, feelings and pictures of a person’s life.  Unlike the scrapbook of old, these new scrapbooks are online, interactive and available for everybody in the world to see.  There lies the problem.  Patients, employers, colleagues could not go through your old scrap book in your attic and look through it and question your professionalism and integrity, but they can with Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, blogs, etc.

In addition to developing professional social networking policies, medical schools need to seriously look at conducting educational classes on professionalism in the online world.  Some schools have classes on medical professionalism in the workplace, but these days one’s private life is bleeding into and affecting the public life of the workplace.  I know there are some medical school libraries that offer classes on Web 2.0 and professionalism.  It would be interesting to know how many offer this type of class and whether it is tied into the medical school curriculum.  It would also be interesting to know, of the medical schools that have a class addressing online professionalism (either taught within their department or via the library) what percent have reported incidents of unprofessional behavior.

Remember I said this study focused on the medical students, yet 57% of the 25-34 year olds use social networking sites?  There is still the matter of those older people in that age range who have graduated medical school.  The residents and fellows out there working in hospitals.  Some hospitals have policies addressing social website behavior, some do not.  They too are on social web sites and I would be willing to be there are a few of them out there who have information and pictures on there that would be considered unprofessional and inappropriate.  Education has to start somewhere.

Nominations Sought for MLA Awards

The November 1st deadline to nominate somebody for an MLA award is fast approaching.  There are a lot of awards out there, surely you know of at least one person who would be perfect for an award, so get moving and nominate them! 

Virginia L. and William K. Beatty MLA Volunteer Award – This award recognizes someone who has been volunteering their time and going that extra mile to the Medical Library Association.

Estelle Brodman Award for the Academic Medical Librarian of the Year – This award recognizes a mid career medical librarian who demonstrates significant achievement and potential for leadership and continuing excellent. 

Lois Ann Colaianni Award for Excellence and Achievement in Hospital LibrarianshipNOTE: There wasn’t a winner for this award last year! So this year start thinking of a dynamic and exceptional hospital that deserves this award!  This award recognizes individuals who are visionaries and provide outstanding service in hospital librarianship.

Janet Doe Lecture – This nominee has a unique perspective on the history and perspective of medical librarianship.  The Janet Doe lecturer will be honored with a certificate, a $250 honorarium, travel expenses for the MLA meeting publication of their lecture in JMLA. 

Ida and George Eliot Prize – Awarded annually this if for a work published in the preceding calendar year (2008) which has been judged most effective in furthering medical librarianship.  The recipient receives a cash reward of $200 and a certificate at the annual meeting. 

Carla J. Funk Government Relations Award–  This award recognizes a medical librarian who has furthered the goal of providing quality information for improved health by demonstrating outstanding leadership in the area of governmental relations at the federal, state, or local level.  Nominees must have been members of MLA at the time of the contributions or activities which include but are not limited to increasing awareness of legislative agendas, testified before governmental bodies, met with policymakers or enhanced the Association’s governmental relations network. 

Murray Gottlieb Prize – This prize, established in 1956, is to recognize and stimulate health sciences librarians’ interest in the history of medicine.  It is awarded annually for the best unpublished essay on the history of medicine and allied sciences written by a health sciences librarian. 

T. Mark Hodges International Service Award– This award was established by the Medical Library Association in 2007. It honors an outstanding individual achievement in promoting, enabling, and or delivering improvements in the quality of health information internationally through the development of health information professionals, the improvement of libraries or an increased use of health information services. 

Majors/MLA Chapter Project of the Year Award – This award recognizes MLA Chapter projects that demonstrate advocacy, service, or innovation that contribute to the advancement of health sciences librarianship. 

Lucretia W. McClure Excellence in Education Award – This award, established in 1998 is given an outstanding practicing librarian or library education in the field of health sciences librarianship and informatics who demonstrates skills or leadership in education at national, regional or local levels.  The recipient receives a certificate at the Annual Meeting and an award of $500. 

MLA Fellows and Honorary Members – MLA has recognized for more than 50 years individuals who have made sustained, outstanding contributions to medical librarianship and to the advancement of the purposes of MLA and MLA Fellows.  Nominees must have been regular members of MLA for at least 15 years prior to nomination and have at least 10 years of professional experience in health information science. 

Rittenhouse Award – This award is for library students in an ALA accredited library school or an intern.  The award, established 42 years ago, is for an unpublished paper or web based project in health sciences librarianship or medical informatics.  Winners receive free conference registration to the Annual Meeting, $500, and a certificate.

Thomson Reuters/Frank Bradway Rogers Information Advancement Award – This award recognizes outstanding contributions in applying technology to the delivery of health sciences information.  The recipient will receive $500 and recognition at the Annual Meeting.

MLA Officially Getting More Social

Julie Kochi just published a post on MLA Connections about MLA’s New Association Management System (AMS).   The new AMS is in the process of being installed and it will enhance services to MLA members and make things a little more streamlined for MLA staff.  They anticipate it should be up and running in the beginning of 2010.

Some things MLA members will find the new system will do:

Password and username customization – MLA members will be able to set their passwords to whatever their heart’s desire and whatever their brains can remember.  Don’t worry if your brain reboots and you can’t remember, you will be able to click on “forgot my password” to retrieve it.  Krafty note: Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Profiles – Members will be able to set up detailed online profiles if they want to.  Members will be able to edit regular MLA directory contact information as well as add their job titles, IM handles, personal and professional websites, social networking profiles, and a photo.  Of course if you don’t want to add anything and you wish to remain just a name and contact information (from the directory) you can do that too.

Institutional Profiles – Institutional members will also be able to customize their information.  The MLA staff hope to have institutional information such as employees, constituents, collections and fiscal information included in the profile.

These are some great improvements and I look forward to using them in 2010.  The password issue was long overdue and will be one of the greatest improvements for all members.  I have only one thing to add to the wish list on the AMS, I would love for it to have a section where you can track your CME and AHIP things so that I can finally do away with the manila folder in my desk. 

Do you have any thoughts or suggestions?  The MLA staff would like your feedback.  If so please do not comment on my blog but go on to MLA Connections and comment.