Why a librarian is better than a robot / computer / volunteer [delete as necessary]

1 10 2012

As the furore about replacing professional public library staff with volunteers continues, I was this week faced with a similar misunderstanding of our profession in the health sector.

During a presentation to doctors and nurses about the value of taking library and knowledge services beyond the walls of the library and having librarians on the ward, one of my audience asked me, “Why do we need librarians on the ward when I can just use UpToDate?”.  For those who aren’t aware, UpToDate is an online clinical decision-making tool that aims to provide doctors with immediate reference to a summary of the best evidence with a few clicks of the mouse. 

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I have been asked this question before, and I was ready and armed with my response.  I thought it might be useful to share my reply for anyone else who is forced to justify their existence in the face of cost cutting exercises.

So, here goes: why a librarian is better than a robot / computer / volunteer [delete as necessary]:

• Librarians offer a personalised service, where the information provided that is tailored to the needs of the individual.
• The librarian offers a human interface that can engage with health professionals and forge relationships with customers that can bring about culture change.
• If a librarian doesn’t know something, they will know where to look, whereas if you can’t find what you want on a clinical decision-making tool, you’re likely to give up.
• A librarian will consult a wealth of specialised resources in order to answer your question rather than just one.
• A librarian will save the health professional the time (and associated cost) of searching themselves.
• From my experience having a librarian involved in the clinical team results in a number of additional spin-off projects (e.g. support for audit, Journal Clubs, continuing education) that a clinical decision-making tool just couldn’t!
• Clinical decision-making tools provide a valuable snapshot of the latest evidence, but don’t substitute a full literature search.
• Having the presence of a librarian in the team encourages everyone to adopt an evidence based practice mindset and encourages discussions about the evidence among clinicians.

I’d love to hear other suggestions to add to this list, or if anyone else has experienced similar direct questions!