Archive for the 'To Ponder' Category

A Library in Paradise – “My Way”

[Contributed by Cara Marcus, MAHSLIN president]

Whenever I take a vacation, I enjoy visiting their local libraries to expand my horizons and gain new insights from all locales.  My most recent trip was to beautiful Palm Springs, where nestled among the glorious mountains, canyons and palm trees, I glimpsed the Medical Library at Desert Regional Medical Center.  I say glimpsed as the medical librarian was away when I was in the area (perhaps she was skiing the snow-capped New England slopes for her own holiday getaway while I was there). 

 I found the medical center on the way to an outdoor wellness park complete with a walkable labyrinth and scented healing herb garden (believe me – I came back quite relaxed after this vacation!)  As I walked through the hospital, which was founded in 1948, I was struck by the serene tiled hallways and open architecture that let nature indoors.  Disappointed that the library was closed, I visited the gift shop to buy a poolside reading book.  It turned out that the gift shop volunteer also volunteered in the library, and told me about how well-utilized it was and how much she enjoyed volunteering there.  While she couldn’t open it for me, she told me that if I stood on the veranda, I would be able to see it through the windows.

 I found out the library was part of the Sinatra Education Center, with funds donated by Frank Sinatra in memory of his father Anthony Martin (Marty) Sinatra.  Old Blue-Eyes had lived in Palm Springs, and in the dedication of the Education Center shared, “This splendid structure is my dad’s kind of dream, just as it is yours and mine.” (Nancy Sinatra, Frank Sinatra, My Father, Simon and Schuster: 1986, p 224). 

 It was a beautiful medical library, with burnished wood shelves and carrels, a glass display case showcasing archival treasures, stately stands for oversized dictionaries, coffee-table books of photos, collections of textbook, periodical and audiovisual materials elegantly displayed, and a prominent reference desk.  What I didn’t see in the library were computers – there were 3 workstations tucked away in the back and a separate computer room down the hall.  While library services included electronic resources for both providers and patients (with instruction sheets in racks outside the door), it seemed that visitors to the library itself could quietly read, study and think in a serene setting.  Maybe it was just as well the library was closed, or I may have disappeared to browse and peruse for hours while the California sun beckoned outside.

 As I left the library and walked into the sunshine, I could almost hear Frank Sinatra singing, “The summer wind came blowin’ in from across the sea . . .” Happy New Year MAHSLIN!

The More Things Change, The More They … Change

[Contributed by Cara Marcus, MAHSLIN President]

As you know, it’s MAHSLIN’s 30th birthday this year.  Where were you 30 years ago?  Some of you weren’t even born yet, while others were working in the same libraries you are now, although the job itself has changed dramatically.  As for myself, 30 years ago I wasn’t yet a medical librarian, or even a librarian, but a very happy library assistant in a lovely small-town public library in New York.  That library has changed completely too – a whole new building, new staff, new services – but I remember it like it was yesterday.

30 years ago (1983) was a pivotal time for many libraries – mine included.  That was the year we AUTOMATED.  Big boxy computers were brought in, trainers followed them, and existing and new staff were instructed on how to enter all the holdings and all the patrons into these formidable machines.  Actually, they weren’t too formidable – they reminded me somewhat of the “pong” game we had on the TV with their big black screens and blinking green cursers.  Still – I was happy when I was told I was not going to be one of the staff chosen for the data entry project (my time that summer was spent sublimely creating large paintings of Curious George and Winnie the Poo for the Summer Reading Club).

So what did automation replace in 1983?  There would be no more manual checking for reserves, which had to be done every time a book came back.  We used to have a large rotating carousel with index cards, and every time a patron returned a book, one of the assistants had to check the for title to see if someone had reserved it.  Another time consuming task that would go by the wayside was sorting and alphabetizing card-catalog cards, which we did in long A-Z trays with lift-up slats.  But I don’t think anyone could foresee how much computers would change any and every aspect of library work.

I remember so much about that library with warmth and nostalgia.  We showed reel films every month (reel – meaning they played on motion picture projectors).  There were only a few staff in the library that knew how to run the equipment, and it seemed like the whole town turned out when they were offered.  There were two small glass-walled rooms with typewriters that students and businesspeople had to sign up to use in half-hour blocks.  These were almost always in use.  Library newsletters were printed on mimeograph machines, with trademark purple ink.  Once they were printed, my colleagues and I would spend hours hand-folding them.  And yes, we used library paste to affix the sign-out card pockets to the backs of the books.

How did the reference librarians find information in 1983 before there were databases and electronic resources?  They read, and read and read, to learn the content of the material in their collections, and used bulky print indices for various subject literature.  Librarians at a small library like mine would have to spend a lot of time calling and writing (not emailing – writing) to other librarians to see who may have a particular resource.  It was not unusual for reference questions to take weeks to be answered.

If you were working in a library 30 years ago, I’m sure you have similar memories and stories.  No one could have foretold how much our profession would change.  When MAHSLIN created their first Union Lists at that time, the librarians involved were paving the way for the future.  Now we can access hundreds of thousands of resources nearly instantaneously, and we often think nothing of it.

What will our profession look like 30 years from now in 2043?  Perhaps a doctor in the operating room will ask, “Is Oraparythivesamine contraindicated by Mono-limeo-M25d?”  This query will be picked up by his wristPED and immediately transmitted to the librarian in her virtual office on an idyllic Caribbean beach.  She will expertly tell her iSearch the precise search strategy, and then the iSearch will transmit the perfect article back to the doctor’s wristPED, just in time to avert a fatal adverse reaction!   Only time will tell . . . .

You Get What You Search For—Or Do You?

This post was written by Elaine Alligood, MAHSLIN President.

I just read an Interesting item from Jakob Nielsen about search strategies.  Jakob Nielsen is a web usability expert & guru; his observations are spot-on evidence for the importance of us-librarians in the search process:  searching for clinicians at the point of need, training clinicians what they don’t know about how to search, training clinicians when to get help with search, when to question the reliability of their results. . . and more!

Jakob Nielsen writes:  “Although some analysts questioned the finding of search dominance, it’s a user behavior that gets stronger every year. Today, many users are so reliant on search that it’s undermining their problem-solving abilities. Ironically, the better search gets, the more dangerous it gets as people increasingly assume that whatever the search engine coughs up must be the answer.”

Thus, users increasingly rely on individual pages listed by search engines instead of finding better ways to tackle problems!  Not us necessarily, but our users/clinicians may very well be doing it!

This is what could be termed as a risk of users’ accepting bad results as good results or the normalization of deviance.  Loosely, the definition of the expression “normalization of deviance” as applied to human behavior and in our case, search behavior, was invented by a sociologist, Diane Vaughan, and represents when individuals in a system, over time, change the rules of what has been found an appropriate and safe behavior to one which is less appropriate and less safe because each individual finds that other individuals are changing the rules in the same way. So that behavior which is deviating from the established rules is now being made normal and common by this phenomenon—and in our world, more dangerous, as well!

Check it out. . .  perhaps you can use this in your own institution to change a few minds. . . Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox for April 11:  http://www.useit.com/alertbox/search-skills.html

Copyright Challenges in Today’s Digital World

This post was written by Barb Ingrassia from the Lamar Soutter Library at UMass Medical School.

To follow up on my article about copyright in the MAHSLIN Network News Winter 2011 issue, I’d like to begin a discussion on the MAHSLIN blog. What would you share about some of the following?

With the advances in digital technology, it is SO easy to search, copy, paste, and send materials without giving a thought to copyright implications and the possible risks of charges of infringement. This area has become so involved and of such importance to our faculty members at the Medical School, that it is now my full-time job to provide information on copyright to our patrons.

I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one at the library, so while I can’t give any legal advice, I CAN point people to reliable, relevant resources that help them in their work. One way I do this is by maintaining a Copyright Resources subject guide on my Library’s website that provides easy access to many of the resources I’ve gathered over time. I also provide one-on-one consultations and offer workshops for faculty, students and staff. And all the while, I’m learning more about the “murky gray field of copyright.”

There are many myths and misunderstandings about copyright in academia. There is the notion that “any educational use is ‘Fair Use’ and that permission isn’t needed” in a (non-profit) educational situation. This isn’t always true and some of what I share with our faculty comes as a great surprise, to say the least!

Are you faced with copyright issues in your work? I’m particularly wondering what sorts of copyright issues come up in a clinical setting? How are they handled? Who handles them? What role do you as a medical librarian play? What role do you think the Library can and should play?

Thanks for your thoughts!

New Year’s Resolution: Don’t Forget!

This post was written by Sally Gore, MAHSLIN Vice President & Program Chair.

I attended the Open House and Fall Student Exhibition at Worcester Art Museum last week. I went to support my spouse who teaches there, to see the art, to talk to some artists and to sign up for a winter class. What I didn’t expect to do was be a biomedical research librarian, but that’s exactly what happened!

I was talking to Tracy Spadafora who teaches a workshop on encaustic painting. She had some of her work on display at her table and I was drawn to a couple from her “DNA Series.” They are really wonderful pieces and I couldn’t help but notice the nucleotide sequences that are a part of each. I asked her if they were in any way related to the particular pieces themselves, she said no, but that she’s often asked this question by people who recognize the familiar strings of A’s, G’s, T’s and C’s.

We talked about how it would be neat if she could actually tie a real sequence with the subject of a piece and she told me how she’d love to do that, but didn’t know where to find that information. She said she’d done some searching about with Google and was either unsuccessful or led to sites that wanted her to pay for the information she sought.

Well, as you can imagine, I couldn’t just pass up such a gift-wrapped opportunity to be a medical librarian, regardless of the setting. I said, “All of that information is online and you’ve already paid for it”, and then I proceeded to give her a quick rundown of helpful databases and tools she can access through NCBI. She wrote down the names and website addresses and was genuinely thankful – and no doubt a bit surprised – to learn about them at the open house.

Awhile later, I was on my way out and stopped to wish a good night to a new friend of mine, another very talented artist, Suzy Becker. Tracy passed by and as Suzy went to introduce us, Tracy shared how we’d already met and that I’d helped her by telling her about those databases. I said, “You just never know when you’ll need a medical librarian” and Suzy replied, “And it’s good to know one when you need one.”

It’s good to be known. It’s good to be needed. And it’s good when we don’t forget that.

Mark Your Calendars! Suzy Becker will be one of the keynote speakers at MAHSLIN’s Annual Meeting, May 6, 2011.

(And while Tracy isn’t planned as a speaker at the Meeting, I bet she’ll remember just what health sciences librarians have to offer.)

The Wind in Our Sails

This post was written by Sally Gore, MAHSLIN Chair-Elect

When I was in the 5th grade, I read a book in class that has stuck with me ‘til this day. Dove is the story of Robin Lee Graham, a 16-year-old who decided to leave behind what most describe as “safety and security” and head out to circumnavigate the world alone. For him, there was nothing safe about high school, nothing secure about living in the California suburbs. He wanted to explore and to see the world. This is the kind of life he dreamed of.

I have multiple copies of the book now and even the issues of the National Geographic from 1968-1972 that captured his story and photographs. One of those photos shows Robin sitting in his sailboat in the middle of the ocean (I cannot recall which one at the moment), in the middle of what sailors call the Doldrums. The Doldrums occur along the equator and refer to a time of “light and variable nature of the winds.” (Glossary of Meteorology, American Meteorological Society) In this particular photo of Robin, the sea looks like glass; not a ripple to be seen anywhere. When one is sailing, one needs wind. Without it, there’s not much to do but sit and wait.

Today, the phrase “being in the Doldrums” has made its way from the nautical world into our own vernacular. Sitting in the midst of this unusually hot summer in New England, I feel I’m in the Doldrums. The heat and humidity, the lack of a cool, dry Canadian breeze, leave me feeling stuck (literally, to the chair!).

Long, lazy days can also leave me feeling stuck in my work. Do you ever experience the Doldrums of work? Do things ever seem to become so routine that you’re lulled into a sense of tiredness, a sense of boredom? If so, where does the wind for your sails come from? How do you get going again?

Since our annual meeting, I’ve thought a lot about Stever Robbins, the “Get it Done Guy”, and the exercises he led us through to shake up our thinking a bit. I’ve been following his blog, tweets and podcasts, and I find that he offers a bunch of neat ideas to help me get going again. And do you remember his description of “Action Days”? Talk about a great way to jumpstart your sails (mixing metaphors, I know).

My point is that the wind is blowing in a lot of directions out there. Maybe it’s not literally blowing in our windows to cool us off, but inspiration for new activities, new ideas, and new directions in our work abounds. Grab some! Harness its energy! Even better, produce some energy by sharing tips with others by commenting here, posting new ideas to the listserv, or sending in your anecdotes for the MAHSLIN Network News. Let’s be the wind in each others sails this summer and beyond!

Note: MAHSLIN will host an Action Day sometime in the near future. I’ll post details soon.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

This post was written by Brandy King, MAHSLIN Membership Chair

When I was little, my parents would crack up at the Staples commercial that was played every August around back-to-school time, where a father was shown gliding through the aisles as he excitedly throws school supplies in the general direction of his two dismayed children.

Since many of us work at hospital libraries and July is the month when all the new residents start, do you consider this the most wonderful time of the year? What does your library do to welcome new staff and get them oriented to the library’s resources? Discuss!


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