The Disappearing Medical Library

Recently there has been a lot of discussion on the medical library email listserv about the closure of another hospital library.  Also in the news the CBC reported on the reprehensible state of their Health Canada library.

“Health Canada scientists are so concerned about losing access to their research library that they’re finding workarounds, with one squirrelling away journals and books in his basement for colleagues to consult.”

Not only are the collections missed by researchers but the librarians as well.  Multiple researchers commented to the CBC on how important the librarians are to their research.

“My staff can do so much in sort of Googling around and trying to find this and that or stuff that may come into us. But being able to use the experts and to get their assistance makes a world of difference.”

Like the cuts made to hospital libraries, Health Canada states the cuts were made to save money.  However there is a question as to whether those cuts indeed saved Health Canada any money. The CBC reports, “One of the stated goals of Health Canada’s contracting out of library services was to save money. According to the report, though, the new arrangement is more expensive.”

I have seen this happen in American hospitals that cut libraries AND American hospitals that don’t understand how to work with their librarians.  A hospital cuts the library believing it is a way to save money.  They often end up licensing duplicate online databases, journals, or delivery services.  Fail to understand the nuances of negotiating library resources and end up with a poor deal.  They fail to to get a decent ROI because they haven’t properly supported and integrated the resource into the system.  Why pay thousands of dollars for an online journal that nobody knows exists because you didn’t set up the IP addresses and just handed out the username and password to a few physicians that asked?  Another favorite of mine is a department buying a database for several thousand dollars, hoarding it among their employees in their department and then wondering why it was only used once a month.

The discussion on the medlibs listserv seemed to center around the question about what can be done about the situation and who should be doing it.  What can individual librarians do and what should MLA be doing to get hospitals, administrations, governing and standards organizations to keep libraries in hospitals.  Several people wrote that MLA should be doing more for hospital librarians and work to get the library back in the JCAHO standards or other accreditation organizations.

First I want to say that any medical librarian that believes the our salvation lies with getting JCAHO to reinstate the library as a requirement in hospitals is waiting for something that will never happen.  JCAHO has moved on.  It is a dead issue.  It isn’t even going to be re-animated as zombie issue. It is dead, dead.

So now that we have cleared the air of the JCAHO thing….

I will bring up the issue that some librarians think MLA should be doing more to ensure our survival.  Let me just say MLA staff (all 16 of them) are doing as much as the cany for the MLA members including advocating for them.  The MLA President and Board are doing as much as they can too. However it is unfair to compare the advocating clout of ALA (which has a staff of over 300 and over 56,000 members) to that of MLA.

The only way I see medical librarians continuing on is to work together to get our message out.  As many said on the listserv, medical librarians are too often preaching to the choir about our value and benefit.  We need to take our message out to our patrons.  Not only do we need to do this locally but nationally.  As much as I am in favor of our medical library journals, we need to stop publishing about the value of library services in them and start publishing those kind of studies in our patrons’ journals which is what they read.  Our patrons don’t read our professional journals.  We need to attend and present at their meetings.

One librarian noted that publishing articles and attending their meetings is a little lofty of a goal for the part time librarians who are just struggling.  I get it, you don’t have a lot time and some of that can be difficult.  But we aren’t asking everybody to do everything.  Work to your strengths. I am not good at research but I am good at social media and I am think of ways to get our word out via social media. (BTW at the suggestion of a person on the list, I have already tweeted Dr. Besser MLA’s 2013 speaker about the plight of medical libraries.  It isn’t perfect but it is a start somewhere.) (*update* Dr. Besser responded and retweeted my message to his 33,000 followers. It is a baby step, but you have to take steps before you walk.)

Just because you are part time doesn’t mean you can’t do something when you aren’t in the library and you are at home.  I am a working mother of 3 young children.  My work on my blog, tweeting on #medlibs, writing journal articles, teaching MLA CE classes, and some of my work on the MLA Board often is done during my PERSONAL time.  Almost everything I write is done when the kids are in bed and I’m watching TV.  I have often had to take my own vacation time to teach CE classes or attend some meetings.  Believe it or not I still find time to have a normal life with my family for vacations, kids activities, movies, and life.

If you doubt what regular ol’ working librarians can do please do a little looking into Ohio Public Libraries, 2009, budget cuts, and Governor Strickland.  In 2009, out of the blue the Ohio governor proposed a 50% cut funding to public libraries.  This type of cut would close many public libraries and leave many irreparably devastated.  Within 1 hour of the announcement the story hit Twitter and the hashtag #saveohiolibraries was created to categorize the Twitter messages.  A Facebook site was created and had over 50,000 followers in less than 3 weeks. Another librarian created a website, www.saveohiolibraries.com.  Not only did they get national attention but the Ohio legislature received between 37,000-45,000 emails in one week regarding the budget cuts.

(I live in Ohio so I remember much of this but I was able to find the specifics in the Introduction of Laura Solomon’s book the Librarian’s Nitty Gritty Guide to Social Media)

The thing to note was that ALA didn’t get involved within an an hour of the announcement.  Much of the ground work was done by regular librarians like you and me who saw the immediate need to advocate for their jobs.  Given the differences between the funding of medical libraries and public libraries, I think we medical librarians can’t afford to wait for the budget cut announcement.  We need to advocate for ourselves now!  MLA is helpful and they will do what they humanly can to support us. But we need to stop looking to them to make everything all better, we need to get the message out in whatever way possible.

I understand, we all are worried about the future of medical and hospital libraries.  Just because I have a full time job and and I’m active in the organization doesn’t mean I am not worried.  In fact it makes me more worried because I have seen how easily it can turn.  But I refuse to sit back and subscribe to what some of the “realist” librarians have said, “It doesn’t matter how proactive we are; it doesn’t matter who gets involved; it doesn’t matter how many people come to our defense; it doesn’t matter how much evidence we have to justify our positions; it doesn’t matter how much time we save for others; it doesn’t matter that after we are gone there will be problems for people who need our services. All of that weighed against the decision of the ‘powers that be’ that they can cut the librarian will not help. They will not change their minds.”  To those realists I say, “There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.” I see you what you have made for your fate.  Your fate is not mine.

 

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