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.

Facebook URLs and Institutions

For those of you who have personal Facebook accounts or who help maintain institutional accounts you probably already are aware that the URL to your home page is usually something like facebook.com/profile.php?id=684175895.  Who remembers that long number?  I had to look mine up on Facebook to get it.  Having your own personal URL as your online identity seems to be the direction other social networking sites are going.  MySpace, Twitter, and Google all are using personal URLs instead of ID numbers or some other ID code.  Facebook has now decided to enter the game.

Why should this matter to libraries and institutions? If your library or institution does not have a page on Facebook, well it doesn’t matter too much.  But if your library has put a lot of time and effort into creating and maintaining a Facebook presence and it is that project is a success then you might want to pay attention.  Now is the time for your library or institution to register and get a URL with your library or institution’s name.  Friday 6/12 at 12:00 am EST, Facebook will allow people to choose their own URL instead of the ID number. 

It will be interesting to see how things work.  Those of you who have trademark or protected names can email Facebook here, to avoid any issues or problems.

Pros and Cons of Conference Twitter

MLA is the only group to use Twitter at a conference.  Twitter has become the latest technology trend for online discussion at meetings and conferences.  There some who tweet to help keep those who can’t attend in real life informed. Others tweet to discuss amongst themselves and questions and comments about the event or speaker, almost as a side discussion.  Instead of whispering to their neighbor they tweet.

Recently a paper by Wolfgang Reinhardt, Martin Ebner, Gunter Beham, and Cristina Costa was presented at EduMedia Conferencein Salzburg, Austria. The paper,  “How People Are Using Twitter During Conferences”, shares the findings from surveys conducted at five conferences. 

The authors looked at the tweeting that occured before, during, and after the conference. 

Before the conference most Twitter activity is centered around announcements of workshops, presentations, reminders, and registration information.  Organizers used Twitter to build excitement and interest while attendees used Twitter to organize and share information and planning about the trip or conference.

During the conference organizers used Twitter to keep attendees updated on last minute changes, upload picture, link to blog entries.  Attendees Twitter use primarily driven by their personal Twitter style.  Some people used Twitter to take notes, others used it to ask questions, while others used it to discuss specific topics with other attendees.

After the conference organizers used Twitter most often to thank attendees, post reflections, promote upcoming conferences, and gather feedback.  Attendees used Twitter to post links to their blogs containing more indepth information. 

Most of the respondents had Twitter accoutns prior to the conference (95.%).  Of those that have Twitter accounts it appears that most people use their Twitter account for personal and professional activites and have just one account to do so.  Unfortunately, the article and Figure 2 are unclear exactly as to what percentage of people this really is. 

Those who actively Twittered during the conference reportedly sent between 11-20 messages per day and the main reason to tweet was to share resources, communicate with others, participate in parallel discussions, take notes, establish an online presence (I am not sure what that refers to) and pose questions.  Surprisingly posing questions was the least common reason for Twitters. 

Despite collecting data from five different  conferences the authors had a rather small sample size, 41 respondents.  I can’t tell the reason for the small number of respondents.  I don’t know whether the number of people Twittering a conference is still very small, whether the number of conference attendees was small, whether they had a poor survey return rate, or whether there other factors. It would be interesting if a study can be done where the sample size is much larger.

This year MLA worked to provide information to members during the annual meeting through the blog and Twitter.  Because Twitter is still a relatively new technology that many of our members were just beginning to use, I chose to focus our primary efforts on the blog.  Even though it was not our primary focus there were quite a few librarians on Twitter during the conference.  There were over 150 followers of MLA2009 and MLA2009 was following 137 people.  Several people tweeted a couple of sessions while others used Twitter to meet up with each other. 

Unfortunately I did not keep any statistics, conducted any studies or surveys on MLA membership usage of Twitter.  But unofficially, I think I can say that it was used and helpful to some of the membership.  It will be interesting what we see happens next year.

Meet the New MLA Board Members and President Elect

The MLA Connections blog has three nice posts introducing the new President-Elect Ruth Holst and the two new Board Members Cynthia Henderson and Ann McKibbon.

Don’t forget, if you are interested in reading about some of the things that the MLA Leaders are interested, discussing, or working on, the MLA Connections blog is a nice blog to keep your eye on.  While you have to register to leave a comment, I highly encourage doing so because it gives you the opportunity to discuss and interact with people who have unique insites in to the organization.  You can’t say that MLA isn’t listening if you aren’t speaking.

Old Posts Available

Ok now that MLA is done and I am back at home dealing with my normal hectic life, I can begin to fix my blog that kind of derailed when I moved it to WordPress. 

I have 5 years worth of blog posts and comments and thankfully they aren’t missing.  While you can’t see them right now on this current site they are still available.  If you want to browse or search for something you have to go to http://www.kraftylibrarian.com/old_index.html.  That covers everything from when I started blogging in June 2004 to April 23, 2009.  Searching for posts within Google will also work. 

I am in the process of getting those posts and adding them to WordPress.  However the WordPress one click easy migration from Blogger doesn’t work for me and my posts.  I suspect the reason why is that my Blogger posts were not actually hosted on Blogger they were hosted on the LISHost server.  So if anybody as any ideas as to how to move my Blogger posts so they actually show up within the WordPress site, please share them. 

I will be making a lot of changes these next few weeks so just bear with me while I get this thing up the way I want it.

MLA Conference Blog Survey

I am finally back from my post MLA vacation.  I have a lot of piles to go through personally and professionally but I wanted to post a link to the MLA Conference Blog Survey while things were still fresh in people’s minds.

MLA evaluates the meeting (please fill out their survey if it was sent to your email) and the programs to see how things went.  They are always interested in what was done well, what could have be done better, and suggestions for programming.   The blog is no different.  So we have created a short survey about the blog.  Your feedback is needed so that we can learn about what you want in a blog, what was helpful, what could have been done better and whether we were able to provide appropriate coverage of events at the meeting. 

Your feedback will help future bloggers. http://tinyurl.com/op84ed

The survey will be open until June 30th.  I plan on posting the results by the end of August.   I will forward any ideas and lessons learned to next year’s blog coordinators. 

Thank you

MLA Posts

Starting today (Thursday 5/14/09) I will only be posting on the MLA Official Blog for the Annual Meeting.  I will then resume posting on this blog starting June 1st after my vacation.

For those of you going to Hawaii, I hope to see you.  For those of you who can’t be with us at the meeting, I hope the posts from me and the other bloggers will help keep you up to date with the events and information at the meeting.