We Don’t Understand How Our Users Find Information

I had the unique pleasure to be the moderator for the McGovern Lecture at this year’s Medical Library Association Meeting. You must login w/ your paid meeting registration to watch. If you didn’t go to the meeting you can get a virtual registration to watch (scroll down to econference rates)

The McGovern Lecture traditionally is one person who give a lecture on a topic of importance to health sciences librarianship. This year the lecture featured 4 speakers (an Academic Hospitalist, a Professor of Physical Therapy, a Family Medicine doctor, and a Director of Nursing Research) all speaking about how they find information to stay up to date in their areas of specialty.

Each one of them used the library. Each one of them loved their librarians. Each one of them professed that they get the most up to date information in their specialty from Twitter. This was mind blowing to almost every librarian in the audience. These professionals use Twitter to connect across the globe with others (mentors, friends, experts in the field). They have a very curated list of people they follow on Twitter, so that they receive tweets specifically targeted on topics of interest in their field. If somebody they follow tweets about a good article, they get it. Its a bit like the old commercial when EF Hutton talks they listen.

We have all known that caregivers consult each other when faced with questions or staying up to date. In the past these people were usually in the same place of employment or geographical area. Now, with Twitter there are no boundaries for professional networking and consulting.

What also shouldn’t come as a surprise is these people mentioned that they get the articles in the easiest way possible. Sometimes that is the library, sometimes that is not. One person said if they can’t find it easily at the library, “there are other methods to get the article” implying less kosher methods. As I mentioned this should come as a no surprise, we (librarians and publishers) suck at getting people hooked up to their entitled articles and professionals don’t have the time nor patience to deal with our sucky methods. RA21 is not the answer either. RA21’s proposed method is still more complicated and more clicks than getting something from SciHub or ICanHazPDF.

If you are a librarian or somebody who works for a publisher or information provider, I highly recommend watching this lecture. It really illuminates what our patrons do in real life to get information, and it isn’t what we think they do. I also think people at NIH and NLM need to really watch this to see that front line caregivers never mentioned MedlinePlus as a resource to give their patients information until librarians in the audience asked. The speakers listed every CHI resource BUT MedlinePlus. Perhaps NLM may need to re-focus on hospitals and providers as the people who provide CHI information in addition to NLM’s efforts to connect to public libraries.

One thought on “We Don’t Understand How Our Users Find Information”

  1. Even after 40 years of research into the general topic of information-seeking behavior in the health sciences, we still don’t know very much about how our users go about the task of finding the answer to their questions. We know that they prefer to ask a colleague or, if they use an information resource, it will be one they believe has the answer they need, but not necessarily the correct one. As we heard at the McGovern Lecture, that resource all too often is UTD. And social media haven’t changed this equation. No matter how expansive a person’s network may be, any answer provided by the group is necessarily limited to what the group knows. If the needed answer is important enough, then a comprehensive search of info resources is still needed, and students and faculty generally are not willing or prepared for this kind of effort. So, what is the solution? Short term, it seems to me that putting librarians into every aspect of learning that we can think of: on the wards, morning report, the classroom, IPE, and so on, so that librarians can model the kind of behavior we would like to see in our professionals. How this can be done will vary from library to library, but librarians need to see themselves as fully participating partners in the life and training of our users. I know, easier said than done. Long term, I think further research can be done into not only how users utilize the resources available to them, but what the best ways are for libraries to make those resources available when needed. These are positive and welcome changes for our profession.

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