NLM Presentations from MLA 2009

I recently wrote a post (June 19, 2009) about NLM’s Online User’s Meeting at MLA, at the time of the post they had published the remarks and the presentation slides made by David Gilliken. 

Wait no longer, the NLM Technical Bulletin now has the rest of the content available online.

Don’t forget to look at the PowerPoint slides which show the changes that will be happening with PubMed.

Unbound Medicine and the iPhone

Earlier this month Unbound Medicine announced an application for the iPhone and iPod Touch that allows users in institutions that subscribe to uCentral to access it on those Apple devices. 

uCentral is a customizable product that allows institutions to select and provide a list of medical reference resources.  Institutions can either purchase titles for their users or provide discounts for individual purchases. 

Until recently uCentral was not available on the iPhone or iPod Touch.  After the announcement of their uCentral app, I decided to try it for myself. 

You must download the app either through iTunes or the App Store on the device.  The app is free but you must be affiliated with an institution that has uCentral for it to work.  Unfortunately there are several people who don’t realize this because the app has a 2 1/2 star rating in the App Store.  Of the six people who reviewed it, almost every poor review came from somebody who didn’t realize or criticized the fact that you need an institutional subscription to uCentral.  (Welcome to the way hospital and academic medical reference resources are paid for people.  What do you think librarians have been saying for years now, “It isn’t all free or cheap on the Internet.)

It took a while for me to install the app using the App Store on the 3G network.  I don’t know whether this was due to the application’s size or my 3G getting finicky.  Since iTunes and the App Store are blocked on by my institution, I could not use the wifi to download it quickly. 

uCentral is an institutional gateway product where institutionally affiliated users can select and access their institution subscription’s Unbound Medicine titles.  So if the institution does not subscribe to Davis’s Drug Guide through Unbound then the individual using uCentral will not be able to get it and use it through uCentral.  

Over 30 titles are available through uCentral.  The titles are the same quality titles like Davis’s Drug Guide, 5 Minute Clinical Consult, and Emergency Medicine Manual that have been available through Unbound Medicine for some time on different access platforms (Internet, PocketPC, Palm, etc.).  A Medline and PubMed alerting service is available where individual users can set up auto alerts and table of contents deliveries that link back to the institution’s journal collection. 

Once the app installed on my device, I was asked for a username and password.  (So far, it appears to have remembered that information because I have not had to re-enter it again.)  The device the syncs to the institution’s uCentral account and begins to upload the available titles to the iPhone.  This can take a bit of time if you have quite a few resources. 

The titles are loaded on the device and updates are downloaded periodically or if I hit the little update arrows in top right corner.  The titles are downloaded directly to the device so you theoretically don’t need to have a WiFi or cell signal to use them.  I decided to use the airplane mode on my iPhone (airplane mode turns off the device’s ability to send or receive signals) to test how well the products work on device without WiFi or 3G.  They worked perfectly.  The only thing that did not work were links to the links to the full text articles to journals or Medline records, and that I expected.  But the actual reference texts worked quite well. 

Having the titles directly loaded on the device is especially helpful this means that a doctor or nurse can use the texts independent of the device’s connection of WiFi or 3G network.  Every hospital has WiFi and cellular “dead zones,”  such as the basement, radiology department, some obscure hallway, older buildings with a lot of metal, etc.  Making these texts available and usable regardless of connection signal means that a doctor or nurse can access the title wherever they are in the institution. 

Accoridng to Unbound’s information, individuals can also conduct Medline searches and retrieve the table of contents to institutional journals.  I was able to login to my uCentral account online from a computer and create a Medline search.  The search interface is very basic and I couldn’t figure out how to do that on the phone or how to retrieve the Medline results on the phone.  If I were doing a Medline search on my iPhone I would probably opt for PubMed’s handheld interface.  I never could find out how you send the table of contents of certain journals to my phone either.  I don’t know if this is because I missed some instructions or if things are limited because I am on a trial account.  

I did find one thing distracting about uCentral’s News and Medline Journals applications.  The titles and the brief abstracts loaded on to the phone but when you want to look at the full text, you have to go out onto the Internet using Safari this process ends up closing uCentral.  So you have to click on the uCentral app and then click on News to read the about the next title.  You cannot toggle back and forth between the full text in Safari and the uCentral News.  I think this problem has more to do with the iPhone and iPod Touch’s inability to multi-task, however there are other iPhone apps such as TweetDeck that are able to display web pages within the app seamlessly. 

While there were a few distracting issues, I found uCentral to be a very helpful product that allows institutionally associated users access to medical and nursing reference texts in the palm of their hand.  The fact that these texts are available and usable when the phone is outside of WiFi and cellular range is an important detail that many medical apps on the iPhone fail to realize is necessary.  A doctor or nurse can’t rely on an application that only works when there is a good signal, they need something they can use to treat a patient regardless of where they are located in the hospital and whether there is network access.

I would be interested to hear what other medical professionals have to say about uCentral on the iPhone or iPod Touch.  I would also be interested to hear what other librarians have to say about their patrons use of uCentral.  Please leave a comment if you would like to share your experiences.

For those of you interested in what uCentral looks like on the iPhone and iPod Touch devices, Unbound has an demo that you can view.

Stipends, Grants, Awards, Is There One Central List?

Yesterday, I posted about the Grace and Harold Sewell Memorial Fund, Inc. to help librarians and other information professionals to attend the American Public Health Association Meeting.  After I posted the information, I began thinking of several events recently that made me wonder whether there was a master list of grants and awards available to librarians.  One site where librarians can look or click through a list of available grants for education, meeting travel, etc.  As people looked to find alternative funding to attend MLA, many SIGs and Sections had listed their meeting and travel awards on their own websites and blogs.  But from what I can tell there isn’t one master list, somebody has to look at multiple sites for possible funding opportunities. 

One List to rule them all, One List to find them, One List to bring them all in the library and bind them.  One List might be very helpful.  I realize there many different flavors of librarians out there (medical, law, public, special, etc.) so perhaps One List might be an awful lofty goal.  Perhaps one list, (think a silver ring with normal engraving not a gold ring with flame engraving) with all of the funding opportunities for medical librarians might be more possible. 

There is already a Library Grants blog, (seems to have more public library related issues) but I think something like a search-able list would be more helpful in this instance.  Compiling a list is only part of the job, maintaining the list would be a larger and more important task.  It would only be as good as the information listed on it and if that information is lacking or out of date then the list quickly ceases to be helpful.  Something like a wiki would make it possible for anybody, SIG reps, Section reps, other organizations to add their information and link to the most recent application.  If a wiki is the way to go, I don’t think there needs to be one created specifically for funding opportunities, there are plenty of library and medical library wikis out there that would be appropriate. 

Would this be helpful and is this something that you think librarians want? Is a wiki the appropriate tool?  A wiki is only as strong as those who are adding and editing, would the appropriate people be interested in adding and editing their portions as needed?  Does anybody have any other thoughts?

Stipend for Public Health Librarians

Are you a public health librarian, have an interest in public health, or work with public health professionals?  Are you interested in attending the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA November 7-11, 2009?

If you answered yes, then you will probably interested to know that the Grace and Harold Sewell Memorial Fund, Inc. is offering stipends to librarians and other information professionals to help cover the costs of their attending and/or participating in the American Public Health Association Meeting. 

Successfull applicants from the greater Philadelphia area will receive a stipend of at least $650 and sucessfull applicants outside of the greater Philadelphia area will receive a stipend of at least $1,000.  This amount covers most of the APHA Membership at $195 and the Early Bird Member Registration (register before Augus 28, 2009) at $395.  While the stipend is significant, it will not be able to cover all costs, so stipend recipients will need to find additional monies to cover any remaing costs. 

Completed applications are due July 24, 2009, the application (Word) can be found at PHHA blog. The application and all required materials are to be send as a single email attachment to Joey Nicholson at jnicholson[atsign]nyam[dot]org.

Handheld Librarian Online Conference

Yesterday I got an email about the Handheld Librarian 2009, an online conference about mobile library services.  Mobile services are growing at an explosive rate.  Everybody from libraries to professional sports organizations are getting into the mobile application and mobile web optimization.  For librarians who are interested in the mobile web and applications you might be interested in the Handheld Librarian Online Conference.

The first ever Handheld Librarian Online Conference will be held July 30, 2009 and is $49 for individuals and $89 for sites.  The program will include a variety of ways to collaborate, network and learn from experts in the field.  In addition to live interactive webcasts, participants will have access to a collection of available resources includingdiscussions boards and the recordings of all live events for one year after the conference.

Medical librarians who are interested in mobile technology take note, Peg Burnette, Library of Health Sciences – Peoria, will be presenting Mobile Medical Information: View from the Medical Library.

It should be an interesting online conference and the price is right for those people whose institutions may require them to foot their own continuing education bill.

Why is the Hospital Library Disappearing?

This May the Medical Library Association and Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries released the “Statement on the Global Economic Crisis and its Impact on the Health Sciences Library Collections.” 

Budget pressures are hitting academic medical libraries as well has hospital libraries.  Yet as the statement says, these libraries are “pivotal to the success of all health care organizations.” The libraries’ collections and services support the institutions information needs including providing information to medical professionals for patient care.  However the economy and budget pressures have forced many libraries to make substantial cutbacks resulting in smaller collections of regular and online resources and fewer library staff to provide services.  According to a recent AAHSL survey “many academic libraries had mid-year budget reductions in the current fiscal year, and nearly 70% are expecting budget cuts for the coming year, some of which could be 10% or higher. In many cases these are permanent cuts to libraries budgets.” 

If large academic medical libraries are feeling the pinch, you better believe the smaller hospital library is in a vice grip.  I almost wonder if they were our canary in the tunnel.  And in some instances I can say yes.  Yet at other times I often wonder why a hospital hasn’t already cut their library.  As a medical librarian and one whose previous job was working in a community hospital this may come across as a pretty odd statement. 

Every day I encounter different librarians and libraries at all different levels and I am amazed and saddened by the ones who provided wonderful services with limited budgets and resources yet all of a sudden found their job reduced or eliminated.  But for each of those super librarians I unfortunately run into, I also run into librarians who seem to be stuck in a time warp and are running a 1980 library in 2009 and wondering why their budget is cut every year.  I am not saying these librarians have to be on Twitter or doing the latest and greatest things with technology.  But these librarians have got to be looking at future and seeing and evaluating whether their resources and services they have in today’s environment are relevant to their institution.

While I was at MLA I sat in on several committees, meetings, and section programs.  There were heated debates on the state of the hospital library.  One very heated debate centered around the hospitals without librarians ordering on DOCLINE.  This even spilled out on to Medlib-l email list.  Yet can you blame a hospital for eliminating its library when the librarian has not activated one online journal title?  Can you blame the hospital library for outsourcing its document delivery (or trying to use DOCLINE on the sly) when their librarian did not have an online document delivery program in process and received their articles through the mail and then turned around and sent them to the doctor via inter-office mail?  Can you blame the hospital administrator for believing everything is online through Google when the librarian didn’t even have an online catalog or bother to add the URLs to the 856 field of the catalog? 

Some of you may think I exaggerate the state of some hospital libraries, I can assure you I have been to these type of libraries through my travels.   Each time I see them I silently shake my head and wonder how long they will be at their job or if the library will survive when they retire.  What makes me frustrated is that these librarians either don’t realize that they are slowing killing their library or they are so close to retirement they don’t care.   I have seen enough hospital libraries close once the librarian retires and the hospital either outsources their needs from companies or another hospital library picks up the pieces. 

Now days academic medical libraries are feeling the pinch of the economy and they are being asked to do more with less.  How they respond will predict their outcome.  If they become complacent or ignore the future issues, they will encounter many of the same problems as hospital libraries and librarians have been dealing with for quite a while.  Time to stop thinking about your users coming to you, but how you can come to your users.   That may not prevent all closures and cutbacks like those hospital librarians who were cut despite the wonderful services they provided.  But to do otherwise will almost assuredly land your library in the same spot as the hospital library that  still relies on card catalogs and has no links to their electronic collection.

EBSCO A-Z Enabled Browsing of Online Journal TOC

Last week EBSCO announced a new feature to its A-Z product.  Their new service enables researchers to browse e-journal tables of contents and directly access the online articles.

Oliver Pesch, EBSCO’s chief strategist, E-resources said:

A-to-Z is now much more than just a listing service. Librarians can now choose to give end users the ability to freely browse the library’s A-to-Z list yet allow only authorized users to access the integrated e-journal table of contents display – a feature that gives library users a one-stop online location for accessing and viewing e-journals.

The new feature allows all users to access a library’s A-Z Reader Site (including listings for e-journals subscribed to through EBSCO) without needing to authenticate. When users attempt to view an e-journal’s table of contents, they will be authenticated through the method the library administrator has selected. Once authentication is successfully completed, users will be able to access the table of contents for any other e-journal for the remainder of the A-to-Z session.

Additionally, the A-Z Administrator Site features allows libraries to control the appearance of the table of contents pages for all e-journals, including the display of important notes that alert researchers to specific details about e-journal access or coverage. Libraries interested in learning more about this enhancement may contact their regional EBSCO office.

Oooh happy day I have got to try this out and see how it works.  This might just be what I have been looking for.

MLA 2009 NLM Online Users’ Meeting: Remarks

The NLM Technical Bulletin has published the remarks and the presentation slides made by David Gilliken, Chief, Bibliographic Services Division, National Library of Medicine at the Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association.

Those who attended the sunrise seminar will remember (or maybe not, it was early) that they presented information about updates and new features to NLM products, demonstrated the PubMed redesign, talked about MedlinePlus and DOCLINE.  The Technical Bulletin currently only has the NLM and PubMed part of the meeting online and available.  The Question and Answer part to that session as well as the information presented on MedlinePlus and DOCLINE will be coming soon.

For most librarians and PubMed searchers the issue at the forefront are the PubMed Enhancements.  The Technical Bulletin briefly describes the enhancements made this year.  The accompanying slidesare particularly helpful since they have screenshots of the redesign (which is still under development).

Check out the NLM Technical Bulletin for more information on the PubMed redesign as well as information about LinkOut, UMLS releases, WISER, NLM Drug Information Portal, NLM Disaster Information Management Research Center, TOXMAP, TOXNET, ClinicalTrials.gov, DailyMed, and the NIH Public Access Policy.

What is Wolfram Alpha?

Wolfram Alpha has been popping up all over my online current awareness feeds and honestly the first thing that came to mind was it sounded like an evil computer created by the equally evil law firm Wolfram & Hart.  But since David Boreanz is now on the T.V. show Bones, I decided that it was unlikely that Wolfram Alpha was an elaborate marketing plot for another Joss Whedon show.

It turns out Wolfram Alpha is a “computational knowledge engine,” this is not to be confused with a regular ol’ search engine.  A search engine craws over the web filing and indexing data.  Wolfram Alpha relies upon the data inside it (entered by employees) that it scrutinizes and compares to draw conclusions about overlapping and intersecting details. 

It has been in development for five years and it is still very picky about search terms and how people search it.  It often misunderstands queries or search terms.  Wolfram Alpha prefers small simple search strings and it seems to do well with searches the produce specific quantifiable results. 

PCWorld does a good job explaining how somebody could use Wolfram Alpha to find overlapping and comparative information.

Then pick another term that will produce overlapping or comparative results. Try ‘California income’. Simple enough. Each search result includes a pop-up window that identifies its source, in case you ever want to dig into the origins of Wolfram Alpha’s information.

Now try another overlapping term, such as ‘California New York income’. Wolfram Alpha generates a simple table for comparing income in the two states. Now, you may begin to see its potential.

The site is admittedly young and is versed in only certain topics. Thus, a search for ‘San Francisco income’ comes up empty. If you cut a search back to its core and Wolfram Alpha still has nothing to offer, that entire topic might be missing from its current database. Visit more of the site’s examples to see whether a similar subject is available.

The folks over at the Dragonfly blog (Pacific Northwest Region NNLM’s blog) have begun to look and even post a link to PatrickMD.netwho wrote “Why You Shouldn’t Trust Wolfram|Alfa for Medicine.”  He tested it using several different medical health queries and he found that once you strayed from their examples Wolfram Alpha had problems finding the information.  Additionally Patrick discovered serious questions about the quality and how it interprets its data using W|A’s own example searches.

Their example of “Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center” is supposed to compare two large medical centers in Rochester, Minn. However, it actually compares the Mayo Clinic satellite in Jacksonville, FL, with Rochester. Even that apples-to-oranges comparison is hampered because there is no data in WA for Mayo in Jacksonville. Try finding data on Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami — the only Mount Sinai that WA admits to knowing is in New York City (and has no affiliation with the one in Miami.)

This kind of problem with non-clinical information me leery of trusting its other results especially clinical results  Patrick tests Wolfram Alpha further by looking at the risk of heart disease for a male nonsmoker.

WA says it calculates heart disease risk based on the Framingham study, but I get different results. (Assuming LDL 111, HDL 54, BP 120/80, nonsmoker, not diabetic.) Using the male score sheet from Wilson, Prediction of Coronary Heart Disease Using Risk Factor Categories. Circulation 1998 97 (18): 1837-1847., I get 6%, versus WA’s 4.6%.

As the score sheets just return whole numbers, WA is likely using the Framingham model which is discussed in the paper. However, even using that I get 5.4%, a solid 0.8% more than WA’s result. (for sticklers, my work is after the “more”.)

Based on Patrick’s testing, my testing (which is much more basic), and othersit seems that W|A is just in its infancy and has a very long way from being any sort of real tool for medical purposes.  Even if the data was correct within the system, Wolfram Alpha also has another large problem, it is too complicated to search.  You really have to search it in a very specific manner in order to get results.  That kind of a search just doesn’t fly with the regular public and many professionals.  Just look how hard it is for us to get our users to search using MeSH!  Look at the trends at tagging in libraries and the web, people want to use their own terms and their own search methods.  Wolfram Alpha fails at this type of searching completely.  It makes a poor ILS system look easy to use.

According to Wolfram Alpha’s FAQ page it is free to use for personal noncommerical use, subscriptions will be available in the future for enhanced versions and large scale commerical use.  Yet without inconsistant and unverified data and a extremley fussy searching feature, I don’t see many people wanting to pay to use it.  It is free and I can’t think of a reason to use it for my job as a librarian.

Who knows maybe in the far future we will have something like Star Trek’s computer system where we can just orally ask it a question and it will answer us back in our own language.