The uniqueness of health librarianship

8 04 2013

Health librarians are unique ‘Identity’

I’ve always been conscious of the huge variety of roles there are in the library sector.  My skills and experience as a health librarian are so different to someone who has worked their entire career in, say, public libraries.

Two speakers at a recent LIHNN Clinical Librarians Group meeting made it even more apparent to me how unique health information is, and how our skills as health librarians have to be specialised accordingly.

First of all, Jon Brassey (@JRBtrip), founder of the TRIP database, satisfied the inner geek in all of us by giving an overview of how the database started and his ideas for future development.  Secondly, Emma Thompson, Business and Management Librarian at Liverpool University, gave us a glimpse of information beyond health, into the equally specialised world of business information.

Jon explained how TRIP started out as one enormous spreadsheet before it was developed into a web interface. Jon asserts that clinical journals do not do a very good job of providing answers for busy clinicians.  He says that “having poor content makes it harder for the clinician to find what they want”.  In developing TRIP he hoped to make it easier for clinicians to ‘find evidence fast’.

He considers TRIP’s success to be in part due to the fact that he listens to users and takes on board their suggestions.  Some parts of TRIP, including the PICO search, were developed as a direct result of user feedback.

What is the future of TRIP?  Jon is working to produce a database of Randomised Control Trials taken from data in Pubmed and Mendeley.  He also wants to try to introduce links to institutional journal holdings where available.  He is in talks with Dynamed to link to their content when a user has a Dynamed subscription, and he wants to develop a case reports section that links into the Biomed Central case reports database.  He is also tentatively exploring the concept of transforming some areas of TRIP into an ‘answer engine’, so that when you’ve put your search terms in you get a bottom line answer rather than a list of results.

Jon is exploring other ways to fund TRIP and one suggestion is a ‘freemium’ version of TRIP, where you get a basic version for free but then have to pay for additional features.  He’s looking for suggestions from librarians about what features might be included in a freemium version.  I was really impressed by how open Jon was to incorporating suggestions from TRIP users and his passion for the wider sharing of information was clear.  I use TRIP a lot in day-to-day searching, and I am particularly interested in how Jon is exploring the ‘answer engine’ concept since a lot of my searching is to answer questions for direct patient care.  I think that incorporating content from Dynamed and UpToDate would be a good first step.

In health we are used the debate surrounding open access research, so it was fascinating to hear next from a librarian working in the world of business, where a different attitude is adopted.

Emma Thompson (@libraryemma) is a Business and Management Librarian at Liverpool University.  She delivers library services to business and management students, and other subjects including economics and accounting.

In her day-to-day role, it is unusual for her to do a structured search, as we might do.  Her searches are usually free text using buzz words and phrases, and there is no structured vocabulary like we have in health.  Questions that she might be asked to answer are, How many companies develop widgets in Hungary? and What is the market share of L’Oreal in the UK?

In health we are accustomed to training our users to consider the quality of information; searching for “cure for cancer” would retrieve vastly different results if you searched in Medline rather than Google.  In business information, it seems, there is no hierarchy of evidence; practitioners recognise good quality business information by how relevant it is to their needs (though if something features in the Harvard Business Review it is considered better quality).

What became apparent early on during Emma’s talk is that most good business sources are not free!  A couple of free ones that she suggested are Zanran (good for figures) and Duedil (useful companies information).  She also recommended the British Library Management and Business Studies portal which is aimed at entrepreneurs.  She suggested Bized for business studies resources aimed at A level students.  Case studies are the main type of information that she searches for in business.  The Times 100 Business Case Studies is great for case studies and is free.

Following Emma’s talk, business librarianship is looking more attractive to me.  The specialised nature of it is really appealing, and I love that you have to be creative in the way that you search for information.  Although there is not the same sharing culture in business that there is in healthcare, business librarians have an active Business Librarians Association network, so it seems a librarian is always a librarian, wherever they are.