Health science libraries and librarians – rewrite the expectations!

Health science libraries and librarians – rewrite the expectations!

Should the library be closed? This was a question I found in the main library file, when I joined the  Hinduja Hospital as Librarian in March 1992. That was nearly three decades ago. The reason stated was – the library was not being utilized enough. Having just joined, the question seemed scary to me. How long would my job last – I thought to myself?

It turned out that I stayed in the job for 3.5 years. By that time I had turned the library into a bee hive of activity, usage and more. And it is gratifying to remember that many were sorry that I had resigned.

The same question seems to be threatening to loom up in many libraries now. In the current times, the statement that follows is –  “With Google, why do we need libraries”!

Librarians respond by fighting to retain their libraries. My thoughts – yes – librarians must fight – not just to retain their jobs but to elevate their job descriptions! The need for a physical collection maybe a choice. The need for a physical library maybe a choice.
The need for information is never a choice.

And for an institution – it still makes huge sense to have a librarian to handle information resources and manage them.

Information drowns us today. I am going to categorize information and knowledge resources as two kinds, – those available free and those that are not. Google results give us both kinds. If a resource is not free – then we face a – “So near and yet so far” – situation. An institution either needs to pay for subscription based access  (for a database) or to purchase a specific resource (an article from a database).

Then, (to the best of my knowledge) – Google does not search several structured databases. These again may be free (like PubMed) or may be paid for (EMBASE, CINAHL and more).

Somebody has to manage the needs assessment, planning and subscriptions to all these resources. Someone has to monitor the usage (not just the number of clicks and downloads) and the returns on investment in these resources.

And most importantly someone has to train people to use these resources right (the vendors may do a one time demo and go, and while some do a great job, some just show the features). 

If an institution decides not to have a physical collection – there is nothing wrong with that. It is a choice. But having an electronic collection / access without a good librarian is like having an MRI machine with no trained Radiologists and technicians.

Going ahead:

  • Health professionals need to urge the National Medical Commission to come up with job descriptions for librarians who are “informationists”.
  • Job descriptions with “higher needs” means a relook at librarians’ salaries and initially additional training. This will take some time. But sustained steps can achieve sustained results.
  • Existing librarians must be open to training themselves and learning more. The health professions must work with Departments of Library Science in the Universities to plan for training students for health science librarianship.
  • We need professionalism in handling information and knowledge

This is the first of my posts on the need for high quality librarians in every medical / health sciences institution in the years to come. I hope to do a series on this. 

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