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Medical Librarians Research “Outside the Book” to Support University Needs

A photo down a row of books in the library with the words "National Medical Librarians Month" over top
 By Vivian Mason

October is National Medical Librarians Month.  In 2015, the Medical Library Association marked the month with a poster that proclaimed: “When you need to be right, ask your medical librarian.”  Two years later, the poster quietly announces: “Provide better care. Make better decisions. Save costs. @sk Your Medical Librarian. Your expert in ….”

Have you noticed them? Medical librarians are an important part of the healthcare team. They act as collaborative partners by connecting healthcare professionals with personalized information, services, and resources. This month’s observance is a time to increase awareness of the important role of these information specialists who help healthcare practitioners stay current with advances in their specialties; show students, faculty, and staff how to find and evaluate information; and provide support for investigators searching the medical literature for evidence-based research. When confronted with a mountain of medical information, consider medical librarians your excavation experts.

A view from the second floor looking down. A student walks up the stairs and another student sits in a second level study cube
View of the first and second floors of the LRC.
(Image credit: Patrick Breedlove)
At Uniformed Services University’s (USU) James A. Zimble Learning Resource Center (LRC), there are four medical librarians, as well as specialists in archiving, collections, and applied medical informatics (or AMI). A talented general staff rounds out administrative and technical support. Together, the LRC team serves as the gateway to databases, electronic books and journals, information management, search training, reference services, print resources, archives, and more.

For USU’s medical librarians, finding the right information for their users is mission critical. One of their biggest challenges is staying abreast of the changes that technology constantly brings to scholarly communications. Alison Rollins, LRC’s acting director, explains: “While technologies change the way our patrons work, particularly with the adaptation of electronic resources and online communication, the LRC remains committed to our essential functions—providing access to high-quality and robust information sources, offering assistance and instruction on how best to use those sources, fostering a welcoming environment for individual and small group study, and preserving access to unique materials.”

“For the medical students, we developed a ‘Medical Student Portal’ that provides quick access to resources the students would need [e.g., textbooks, clinical tools, exam prep, medical research, training resources, etc.],” added Rhonda Allard, LRC’s reference/instruction librarian.  “In addition, we have developed other research guides, such as a Dental Student Portal and nursing research resources, to support the information needs of students, faculty, and staff.” The LRC also offers support for the citation management software EndNote and access to a host of peer-reviewed databases, including CINAHL, PubMed, PsycINFO, and Scopus.

“As long as you have a LRC username and password, you can access all of the LRC’s electronic resources [eBooks, eJournals, databases, etc.] via its website. Clinical databases, such as UpToDate, are very popular. Our PowER Search tool allows users to search by keyword, DOI (digital object identifier), or article title to locate full-text items in our collection. For items we don’t own, users can easily submit a material request,” said Allard.

Six people stand with a sign that says Quiet Zone in the library
Some of the LRC staff. Bottom row: Daniel Chang and Alison Rollins. Top row: Megan Sunday, Marie (Cindy) Dambreville, Conan Matthews, and Arthur Liu. (Image credit: Patrick Breedlove)

Information retrieval can be complicated and time-consuming. Most medical librarians have extensive training, becoming very proficient researchers who not only “dig deep” to conduct a comprehensive search of the available medical literature, but who can also refine a search for efficiency. Students and researchers who consult with a medical reference librarian often find that they can significantly reduce the time spent gathering and evaluating citations and research articles. Unlike popular search engines that access only 7% of available health-related information, these “informationists” can use a controlled medical vocabulary, keywords and phrases, and extensive limits to uncover exactly what you need.

USU’s medical librarians really know their stuff. The LRC’s reference staff have a significant amount of education and experience. They understand how medical/health education works, and they comprehend the process of becoming a doctor, graduate level nurse, or other healthcare professional and they produce effective results.

On any given day, USU medical librarians answer questions on a wide variety of health topics, find and locate materials and resources, assist with research, supply database support, teach classes, provide training, collaborate on systematic reviews, help with dissertations and book chapters, give tours, participate in orientations, provide computer support, assist with reference services, work on data sharing and data management issues, as well as countless other duties.

Being able to produce information on demand like they do is a difficult job, but one that benefits everyone - ultimately the patient.

Come visit the LRC and celebrate these unsung heroes of the medical community. There’s no need to use your inside voice this month.