Users of health libraries
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Users of health libraries have historically presented their medical information and research needs to medical librarians at reference desks in health libraries. Many different types of library users will avail themselves of information found in a well-stocked health or medical library. The information needs of users are sometimes complex, and include diverse professions such as allied health professionals, nurses, pharmacists and physicians. Other groups that can (and should) be encouraged to use their local health library include dental hygienists, diagnostic medical sonographers, dietitians, medical technologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, radiographers, respiratory therapists, and speech language pathologists. A range of health professionals in medicine, dentistry and nursing as well as some of the aforementioned allied health professionals are potential heavy users of health libraries.
Today, many of the health librarian's typical user groups are self-sufficient in searching for information. This is particularly true if the users in question have had information literacy training. Users who seek assistance and search expertise from health librarians typically ask for assistance when confronting more complex research questions. The trend away from seeking basic reference assistance is linked to the increased use and speed associated with web search engines and with the information phenomenon called satisficing (being satisfied with browsing for content, and not being too fussy with the results). Because health librarians have been actively engaged in the teaching and training of physicians and allied health professionals in information literacy, the number of users who seek out reference assistance has dropped. Some types of reference questions and consultations continue to rise, particularly where major research programs are offered in academia and where systematic reviews are conducted. Often these questions are technical or technological in some way. Some health librarians are concerned that their users are not as well-versed in searching as their users believe and that users often accept whatever they find, much to the detriment of the quality of their research and clinical decision-making.
In the information age, health professionals present considerable training and educational needs to health librarians. With an emphasis on evidence-based health care, and the pressure to assimilate large amounts of information (as well as the need to renew credentials and continuing education credits), health library users have many reasons to seek out the expertise and assistance of health librarians. Members of the health professions should aim to be as proficient in using computer technologies as possible and develop their understanding of medical or bioethics, interpersonal communication, information literacy, human resources and social media, among other competencies.
Health librarians can provide a lot of help in helping health professionals reach their learning goals, but only when they take the opportunity to express them fully in the library.
Reference services on the go
The use of health libraries is changing radically in the Internet age. Health and medical librarians are charged with providing information and reference services to medical students and faculty through in-person and online interactions. Increasingly, virtual reference services are provided to support students in their health programs by having a librarian communicate with them via remote chat and instant messaging technologies. Other on-demand and embedded reference services are being tried all the time, and focus on providing information in situ as well as to groups via mobile devices. Typical questions in this setting include how to find specific print and digital resources, using biomedical databases effectively and accessing electronic and digital collections, images and streaming video. Instructional services provided to health students can range from one-on-one consultation to large group workshops where students are trying to meet the demands of their courses (as well as their own learning needs). Occasionally, appointments are made with subject librarians to work on research projects with an emphasis on systematic reviews.
Print / digital collections
Academic libraries provide their users with access to print and electronic collections. However, the trend is towards electronic access (i.e., eBooks). Most health librarians aim to collaborate with their colleagues in building their library collections; other specialized librarians may need to work to support the acquisition of medical texts, electronic journals and biomedical databases in the health library. As a related, complementary activity, librarians who work within Schools are engaged in teaching health program students about searching for information in databases such as PubMed and Medline. More recently, health librarians have started to provide services using the iPhone and iPad.
PBL instruction & medical librarians
The computer lab is an efficient and effective method for teaching library and information skills to users. Health librarians have increasingly extended their teaching online (i.e., social media), instant messaging and via research consultations. Health librarians may be embedded as informationists and clinical librarians (see embedded librarianship). The "curriculum-integrated" mode of teaching encourages librarians to design classes based on user needs. Information literacy is an effective way to engage faculty in collaboration over a longitudinal program. Some PBL programs integrate librarians into team-teaching with medical faculty. Others make use of web-based tutorials and integrate librarians into cases and medical informatics projects. Online tutorials can be tailored to web-based delivery (i.e. accessible anywhere, anytime). Follow-up hands–on teaching can be scheduled to reinforce the learning objectives in medical informatics. Newer programs in health offer unique opportunities for librarians to collaborate with faculty. Health librarians can support PBL programs by participating on committees as the librarian can listen closely to the needs of users and find effective ways to address those needs.
Recent user studies