We often read and hear about the closure of medical libraries in both academic and hospital areas. A number of committees and task forces have been formed nationwide to respond to the erosion of these important resources; for example, the New England Hospital Library Group has developed advocacy programs and tool kits, with members attending onsite meetings with hospital administrators to point out the very real benefits of having a physical hospital library with a well-trained and committed librarian.
In addition, because the librarians in this particular group have lost staff, space and collections in their respective libraries due to budgetary constraints, they have tried to reinvent themselves in various ways. They have updated their skills as well as their technological know-how and begun to offer new, important services that are synchronized with the new models of medicine. They have immersed themselves in perfecting their abilities, in conducting searches for evidence based medicine and systematic reviews. They are looking for niches to help with maintaining electronic health records. They are learning about copyright rules and regulations in order to assist researchers with their publications. In fact, they are playing a greater role than ever in publishing ventures, often serving as co-authors of medical papers. In addition, they are looking for other options and opportunities and are even reaching out to the community for grants and funding resources.
There are a number of factors at play in this scenario. Budgets are becoming more and more constrained. With the current easy access to online information, users are becoming more and more independent. Thus, concerns about Google, Wikipedia and other Internet information sites replacing the professional medical librarian must be taken seriously. Academic and hospital libraries also suffer from the every-increasing costs of the journals that are essential to the study of medicine.
The future of medical libraries undoubtedly depends on sharing resources by means of institutionally-based collaborative efforts such as a “digital commons”. This system would emphasize efficient access to high quality information on a “just in time” basis. Whether or not the medical librarians will be heavily involved in this equation is a question that can only be answered with the passage of time.
Post written by Anna Schnitzer with support from Michelle Bass