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Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries

September 19, 2012 Leave a comment

In January of this year (2012) the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) published what most academic and medical librarians now know of as “the code.”  Within copyright there’s an allowance known as fair use.  Since this is a gray area, the ARL interviewed hundred of librarians and came up with a code of best practices in fair use so that all academic librarians can put up a united front against the publishers who basically way too frequently think that there is no such thing as fair use.  I had the opportunity to attend two of the panels presenting the new code and information on fair use.  One was at MIT and the other was at Northeastern University.  This post will consist of my notes as well as links to the code’s website, guides, and contact info.

What is the Purpose of Copyright?

  • To promote the creation of culture by giving people who create it a perk with limited monopoly and encouraging new makers to use existing culture.  The human process of creating culture is collaborative at its base.

Biggest Balancing Feature:

  • Fair Use–legal, unauthorized use of copyrighted material–under some circumstances

So what is fair use?

  • a space for creativity
    • for lawyers
    • for users
    • for judges
  • created in the 1840s by judges but not in writing til 1976

Four Factors of Fair Use

  1. Reason for the use
  2. Kind of work used
  3. Amount used → is it appropriate?
  4. Effect on the market

The Good News

  • Judges love it and love using the factors
  • Supreme Court: fair use protects free speech
  • Judicial interpretation has shifted greatly since 1990

Things Judges Ask

  • Is your use transformative?
    • Are you adding to the culture
    • Are you an innovator
  • Did you use the amount that is appropriate to satisfy the transformative use

Transform?

  • use of works in scholarly study when they’re not intended for scholarly study
  • PLUS custom and practice of individual creative communities especially when well-documented
    • When judges hear a good story about why what you’re doing as a community is transformative, they want to side with you

Best Practices Codes

  • Communities that use them:
    • documentary filmmakers
    • scholars
    • online video
    • dance productions
  • principles not rules
  • limitations not bans
  • reasoning not rote

Why Fair Use Matters to Librarians

  • Libraries preserve culture. To keep them alive means copying especially digital.
  • Patrons need answers now.
  • Can libraries stay relevant to the future by serving patrons from a distance?
  • Projects/needs that seem important aren’t getting done or are being abandoned because of risk aversion (fear of getting sued).
  • Put legal risks into perspective “mission risk.”

The Code of Best Practices
“Nobody really wants to sue. They just want to scare you.”
“Fair use is like a muscle.”
The more people who expressly go forward with fair use, the more protection we all have.

  1. eReserves
    It is fair to provide access to teaching materials (digitally) for students and professors.

    1. Spontaneity is not the law.  You can reuse course reserves (repeated use).
    2. The 1976 Guidelines are not the law.
    3. If you’re not in the class, you don’t get access. Passwords.
    4. Are you making a good faith effort to limit the use to fair use?
    5. There’s a difference between access and distribution.
  2. Exhibits both physical and virtual
  3. Digitizing to preserve at-risk items, but only when you can’t buy it and it is in a format that is becoming outdated but not yet obsolete.
  4. Digital collections of archives and special collections
  5. Access to research and teaching materials for disabled users.
  6. Institutional repositories, for example dissertations, theses
    Writers of dissertations/theses have a right to deposit their work in the repository without getting copyright rights from those whose work they’ve quoted/cited.  This code aims to help libraries stand by authors and help places like ProQuest understand fair use.
  7. Data-mining/Finding aids.
    1. When you google, you’re not searching the internet.  You’re searching google’s copy of the internet.  This is legal under fair use.
  8. Making topically-based collections of Web-based material.
    1. You’re collecting for a particular reason for a different use than the original creators had.

General Advice

  • Libraries are not liable for bad things that their users do.
  • Get your counsel involved when things aren’t in crisis mode.  It will help them understand you and your needs for potential future crises.
  • Bring the code of best practices to the counsel as a conversation piece.
  • Reliance on code of best practices is good evidence of good faith.
  • Librarians need to own fair use reasoning and get students and professors to do it too.
  • This is a free speech right.  We need to empower patrons and move them to agency.
  • A library can avoid or reduce liabilities by having proactive staff.  Develop fair use practice standards in your community.
  • You can create your own culture that doesn’t view fair use as risky.
  • In the context of fair use, the perfect document with all the answers is unattainable.
  • Key questions to ask:
    • Is it appropriate?
    • Is it reasonable?
    • Are you using it in good faith?
  • It is not the case that by asking for permission you waive your fair use rights.
  • Sometimes asking for permission can even strengthen your fair use claim.
  • Checklists make rote something that is inherently fluid.  Instead you should simply be able to articulate if asked why it is an appropriate use.
  • We should be able to explain fair use to our people in plain language.  No legalese.

The Georgia State Case
Basically, a publisher sued Georgia State for their use of eReserves.  Read up on the case and the ruling here and here.

  • Classroom Guidelines created in the 1970s were intended as a floor but interpreted as a ceiling.  1990s cases against coursepacks found coursepacks aren’t fair use, so now they pay a use fee.  Code of Best Practices is the first to look at it from a library perspective.
  • What happened at GSU?
    What was at issue was not the software (ie Blackboard) but the amount of info on Electronic Reserves.
  • Publisher’s argument:
    * should have sought and paid permission for every item on Electronic Reserves
    * argued fair use checklist is weighted to fair use
    * GSU could have subscribed to annual access
  • Library’s argument:
    *  use of excerpt from books in this setting is fair use
    *  checklist properly used
    *  If GSU had an annual license from CCC, Cambridge University Press is not part of it anyway.
  • So how much is fair use?
  • CCC is contractually obligated to let publishers know if they think an infringement is going on.
  • If you’re arguing market impact, you have to show it.
  • 75 cases were submitted, of those only 5 instances of infringement found.
  • Court declined to issue injunction and ordered plaintiff to pay defendent’s legal fees.
  • Is the use transformative?
    *  using it in a new way
    *  the obvious exception is straight reproduction for classroom use
    *  the things that teachers use to teach are not usually created with the intention to use to teach, so this use is innately transformative.
    *  non-transformative use is 10 to 20%
    *  transformative use can be the whole thing.
    *  Textbooks are not transformative (made for teaching) so less fair use leeway.
  • The actual damages to the publisher was $750
  • Licenses “must be easily accessible, reasonably priced, and that they offer excerpts in a reasonable format.”
  • “We’re creating a situation where fair use will disappear if we don’t use it.”
  • The lawsuit is really just about scholarly nonfiction books.
  • This case isn’t precedent for anyone but GSU.

You can find much more information, including contact info for the panelists, on the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use website.

 

Friday Fun! (Teaching, Fitness, Blog Tour)

July 13, 2012 2 comments

Hello my lovely readers!

I hope you all had great weeks. Mine has been incredibly busy but in a fun way.  The teaching sessions at work have been increasing since medical schools and medicine in general run on a calendar that starts in June (except for the first year students who start in August).  I was warned things would get busier, but I must admit it still has been a bit of a shock for me!  But I’m a person who enjoys being busy, so I’m loving it.

In fitness news, I had plateaued for a few months. I took a few tips from other fitness folks to increase intensity across the board.  Well, this week I decided to check my measurements (I don’t weigh myself), and in the last 1.5 months I’ve lost half an inch (1.27 centimeters) on my waist! Also an inch (2.54 centimeters) on my chest and hips, but the waist is the important factor!  You’re supposed 33 inches or under around the waist (for women) for cardiovascular health, and with the heart disease that is strongly prevalent in my family, that is one of the things I keep tabs on for my fitness. (source)  I’m so happy to be half an inch closer!  I now only have two inches to go.  🙂 Also this means that the changes I made in my fitness routines are working, so yay!

In other exciting news, today is the first day of the official Waiting For Daybreak blog tour!  I’ll be adding links to features as they come in, but I also will be mentioning the features in every Friday Fun post for the duration of the tour, since not everyone will be clicking through to the blog tour page.  Since today is the first day of the tour, there isn’t too much to talk about this week, but I do want to call attention to the reviews and interviews that have gone up that were not a part of the official tour.

The Chronicles of an Enamored Soul is running an international giveaway that ends July 17th, so you have plenty of time to enter!

Kelsey’s Cluttered Bookshelf says, “This book is recommended for Zombie fans, there are some sexual scenes and violence, but it’s not over the top which is good. This was a great first debut book for the author.” Be sure to click through to see her whole review.

Waiting For Daybreak was also reviewed on Beauty in Ruins, who said, “The writing is solid, the dialogue creatively engaging (even with Freida’s silent cat), and the novelty of the personality issue alone definitely makes this worth a read.”

Nicki J Markus says, “The pacing of this piece is well managed and the tension was maintained perfectly from start to finish.”

And Reflections appreciated Frieda, “Even though Frieda has a personality disorder and periods of extreme depression, the character was still somehow easy to relate to.”

Finally, in addition to a review best summed-up with the great phrase, “Wonderful book!” Love, Literature, Art, and Reason also interviewed me!  Be sure to check out the interview to find out everything from how I deal with writer’s block to why I decided to give Frieda Borderline Personality Disorder.

Phew! No wonder I’ve been feeling so busy…..Evidence-Based Medicine, fitness, and book tours. Oh my!

Happy weekends all!

Evidence, Bias, and Use…Oh, My! (MLA12 Seattle: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Section)

So at the meeting, librarians present their papers that were accepted to the conference.  These are organized into groups of four sponsored by one of the MLA’s sections.  I’m pleased to say that on Monday I made it to an entire session.  Complementary and Alternative Medicine includes everything from yoga to special diets (veg*nism, gluten-free) to acupuncture to traditional Chinese medicine to etc….  I appreciate CAM because it tends to look at the patient as a whole instead of just the diseased body part.  Plus I was curious as to what the presentations would have to say.  One thing that it is important to know.  Cochrane is a database of systematic reviews.  A systematic review is a study of the studies done.  It then summarizes what we know so far.  Think of it as centralized scientific study information.  The other thing to know is that in Western medicine, a treatment is come up with and then tested before it is used with people.  In CAM, the treatments are already in practice, so traditional randomized control trials (RCTs) used in Western medicine aren’t super-applicable.

“Cochrane Complementary and Alternative Medicine Systematic Reviews: An Analysis of Authors’ Comments on the Quality and Quantity of Evidence and Efficacy Conclusions” by Robin A. Paynter

  • CAM limited by RCT-driven evidence-based practice
  • 10% of database are CAM topics
  • Cochrane has a project to develop a classification scheme of CAM topics.
  • 47 out of 53 Cochrane groups have at least one review on a CAM topics
  • Treatment ares cover everything from vitamins to yoga
  • dietary intervention has 37 studies
  • Cochrane expresses concern over poor study designs.
  • Difficult to determine active content in plant-based meds
  • Significant groupage of comments around insufficient evidence and no effect.
  • cross-cultural issues

“Alternative Research Education in a Post-R25 World: Assessing Acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM) Student Attitudes Toward Research and the Scientific Method” by Candise Branum

  • Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine–AOM
  • R25 grants intend to develop research literacy and view research as a bridge between Western medicine and CAM
  • Acupuncture Practitioner Research Education Enhancement (APREE)
  • AOM student interest in research declined with years in school, a 2006 study found
  • Do students recognize the benefits of AOM research? Overwhelming yes.
  • Students at schools without dedicated research departments were very unsure about the impact of research.
  • Feelings about research slope toward the negative over time.
  • Students see the benefits of research but that doesn’t necessarily mean they like it
  • A lot of students want to stay alternative and not become complementary
  • If they don’t want to be attached, they’re not gonna want to use the bridge of research.

“Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s (CAM’s) Research Agenda and Its Unique Challenges” by Jane D. Saxton

  • In 2007: 38.4% of adults used CAM over the previous 12 months.  Also, adults spent $33.9 billion out of pocket on CAM.
  • NIH funding to CAM is only 0.5% of the overall budget.
  • CAM is individualized not standardized.  (It’s adjusted to fit the patient not one standard applied to all patients).
  • Whole Systems Research (WSR) is a term coined in 2002.  It is an approach to studying non-linear, whole systems of care.
  • Use of pragmatic RCTs: measure effectiveness, don’t use placebos, patient-centered outcomes (transformational change)
  • CAM is the opposite of Western meds.  The treatment is already in use, whereas Western medicine is proposed, tried, then used.
  • You don’t need to know the biological mechanism in order to know its effectiveness.
  • MeSH terms currently available: complementary therapies, nonlinear dynamics, systems integration
  • We need more funding, different approaches, Whole Systems Research!
  • Please take a moment to check out the libguide of this presentation.

“Hitchhiker’s Guide to One Corner of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Universe” by  Ron LeFebvre

  • Vitalists are more interested in information (they “know” it works).
  • Empiricists value EBM but may not be great at finding what they’re looking for.
  • Chiropractors don’t like to be associated with medicine.  Use terms like “health care” and “practice” with them.
  • A good chiropractic search string: spinal manipulation OR chiropractic OR manual therapy
  • New graduates are more likely to be EBP savvy.
  • “There’s nothing that makes you more skeptical about research than studying it.”
  • There is no widely-used, well-regarded point-of-service tool to serve chiropractic interests specifically.  They do use Dynamed though.
  • PEDRO–database for physical therapy/exercise therapy that is also useful to chiropractors

Q and A

  • Diet is odd.  Sometimes it is viewed as an alternative medicine, sometimes not.  If it’s a non-western diet, though, it’s considered alternative.
  • NIH funded PROMIS is focused on patient-reported outcomes, particularly in treating anxiety/depression.
  • N-CAM databse has outcome scales and measures

Friday Fun! (New Job! *Confetti*)

February 24, 2012 8 comments

Hello my lovely readers!

I am so incredibly happy to get to give you all a big update in the life of moi this week.  Tuesday morning after the long weekend, I got a phone call offering me my first professional librarian job!!! Although I’ve been doing the work of a librarian for quite some time now, this position actually requires an MLIS and is in the exact same area of librarianship as my interests.  I don’t like to name exactly where I work on this blog, because this blog represents just me and not my workplace.  Suffice to say, then, that I will be working in educational librarianship in a library that supports one of the medical schools in the Boston area.  The library is the ideal mix of medicine and academia, and I’m so stoked to start work there in mid-March.

This of course means that my life over the next couple of weeks and at least through March is going to be crazy (crazy in a good way).  I’ll have a new schedule, new commute, new health insurance, new paycheck schedule, new….well everything!  It’s all wonderfully exciting and still kind of hard to believe after over a year of job hunting.

Of course this means that other things, like my writing and this blog, are going to have to be pushed to the back burner for a bit until I adjust to all the newness.  One thing I know about me is that I can sometimes push myself too hard, and I don’t want to do that this time around.  So, I’m going to push the release of Waiting For Daybreak back to May or June.  You can also probably expect a few less posts a week here, although I will be doing my best to write up everything for all books finished that week over the weekend and schedule them ahead of time for the next week (Wow, did that sentence make sense?)  There will also be slower responses to comments.  These are all good things, though, because this just means this blog has returned to being my hobby instead of what I’m doing to keep my sanity while job hunting, lol.

I do hope you guys will keep following along, because I’m still the same me, just a far far happier one now. 😀

Friday Fun! (Tiffany, Wii, and Websites at Work, Oh My!)

March 12, 2010 6 comments

Even though this week was spring break from grad school, I still had to work full time and of course managed to be super-busy outside of work as well.

My friend Tiffany from my days of interning with Americorps/the National Park Service has been in town for training for her job.  She lives in Virginia, so this was pretty darn exciting.  This was her last week in Boston, so she came over to my apartment so we could visit in relative quiet as opposed to the noise of a restaurant or pub.  It was so lovely to get to catch up after all this time, and I was glad to discover that in a relatively short time we were chit-chatting just like we did when we lived and worked together at the park.

This week I discovered that having the tax return money to buy a Wii and tv is one thing, finding places that have them in stock is another entirely.  I won’t even go into the debacle that was the store brand tv purchased at Best Buy (needless to say, it was returned), but I will say what the hell, Nintendo?  You have an insanely popular gaming system, and you’re not meeting demand?  That just doesn’t make sense to me.  After much searching, genius finally struck me in the form of Walmart.com, which had a few consoles in stock.  Huzzah!  It arrived on Wednesday, and I’m enjoying it just as much as I thought I would.  My tv arrived from Walmart.com yesterday, but I have yet to set it up.  Fingers crossed that we’ll be able to make Netflix stream on it!

Work has also been very busy as this is the time of year when I update our website.  Long story short, with hospital privacy concerns, one person has control of all of the websites connected to the hospital, which means we get to update our websites once a year and that we have zero to very very little control over the appearance.  This is frustrating to me as it limits what I can do.  (For instance, I’ve been having to use tables. TABLES).  Since we can only update once a year, that also means a bunch of our links are broken by the time that comes around, so I spend a lot of time hunting down the good ones.  Thankfully, this will soon be in the past as the hospital is organizing an intranet, which means I will get to be webmaster of our websites! (And the nurses’ websites, which I’m actually a bit nervous about).  So as soon as I finish this update to tide our patrons over until the intranet, I’ll commence working on the intranet.  You guys, I’m nervous, this will be the first time I’ll be using my real web programming skills for work. Eep.  *crosses fingers*

I’m excited for the weekend!  Be expecting more reviews of old and obscure books as the Audiobooks app is a good companion to web design.  Happy weekends!

What Public Libraries Should Be

February 2, 2010 8 comments

There is a debate going on about what public libraries should be.  So far, the librarians seem to be presenting a near united front, repackaging the library as a social place.  A place filled with programs such as speed-dating, Rock Band night, rent a person events, and more.  A place where you can rent newly released movies and videogames.  A place where, “Books are being pushed to the side figuratively and literally.” (source)  The few detractors from this mindset are generally portrayed as old, crotchety patrons who just don’t understand the times.

Well, I am a young librarian, and I don’t like where public libraries are headed.  To be clear, when I say young, I’m 23 years old.  Additionally, although I spent one summer working in a public library, most of my experience is in academic and medical libraries.  However, I think this puts me in the semi-unique position of understanding some of what public librarians deal with, but also being a member of the general populace they are seeking to serve.

I’ve made some rumblings about how I don’t agree with certain aspects of this modernization of the library.  The response from other librarians is generally a truly puzzled, “What’s wrong with it?”

What’s wrong with it?  When did public libraries turn into community centers instead of centers for life-long learning?  In a democracy, it is vitally important that the populace seeks to self-educate, to question, to delve into matters themselves.  A key element of that is literacy, and of course it is important to draw reluctant people into literacy in creative ways.  To this end, I’m supportive of libraries containing genre fiction, romance novels, graphic novels, etc…  However, whatever happened to the materials that truly make people think?  I used to frequent the public library, but last year, I just got sick of the junk I was seeing in the “nonfiction” section.  Autobiographies of the most recent reality star and not a single one of Albert Einstein, for instance.

Public libraries are not only supposed to encourage literacy but also thought and learning.  True, deep thought about serious issues.  I remember stumbling upon a book in high school in my public library about the controversy surrounding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  It presented a fair portrayal of multiple sides of the controversy, and I was floored to see such intelligent debate.  It made me think about the mores and ideals I was raised with, and questioning their own validity in much the same way.  This is the kind of experience literate patrons should be having at a public library, not digging through book after book about the last 20 years of pop culture and coming up empty-handed.  If I, a person trained in reference, can’t find thought-provoking books, what makes anyone think that untrained patrons will just happen to stumble upon them?

The public library is also supposed to be about equality.  Anyone who lives in the district can have a card and access the sources.  Now though we’re seeing libraries hosting various features that patrons must pay an additional fee to use.  An example of this is the Nevada libraries that now have Redbox vending machines.  Patrons must pay $1 a night, plus tax, to rent a DVD.  Some say this is fine, but I say, what about the homeless kids who come into this place that purports to support the idea that educating yourself is a right, only to see more things they can’t afford?  I’m sure it is disheartening, and it is contrary to the principles of a public library.

It sickens me to see the public library going from a place revered in the community as a place of literacy, learning, and equality to a bastion of the non-thinking, pop culture junk we’re fed by those who don’t want us to actually better ourselves.  You may as well be handing out Soma with the library cards, and if you don’t know what Soma is, try reading Brave New World.

Medical Librarian Appreciation Month

October 20, 2009 1 comment

According to the National Library of Medicine, October is medical librarian appreciation month.  Yay!  Now, I’m not just pointing this out because I’m a medical librarian myself (*blush*), but I have noticed a dire lack of knowledge even among librarians about just what a medical librarian does all day.

A medical library, contrary to popular belief, is not just a public library inside a hospital.  It’s more akin to an academic library, but even that isn’t a fair comparison.  The medical library exists to serve doctors, researchers, lab technicians, and nurses in keeping on the cutting edge of scientific knowledge.  It also helps them practice evidence-based medicine.  When your doctor tells you that she wants you to take a certain drug because that drug has proven to be beneficial to people like you, in all likelihood your doctor found an article about a study supporting that information in her hospital’s medical library.

A medical librarian doesn’t generally deal with typical reference questions.  Although we get the “where’s the bathroom” and “how do I photocopy” just like any other librarian, our reference questions are much more often something like:

  • “I found this citation at the end of this article in the current Archives of General Psychiatry.  Can you help me find the original?”
  • “I’d like to set up a recurring search on PubMed for anorexia in men, how do I do that?”
  • “The hospital is getting a VIP patient soon, and I need all articles in the last 10 years on handling VIP patients.”
  • “I have a patient who I believe is presenting with symptoms of schizophrenia, but that is not my expertise.  Can you help me brush up on it?”
  • “We have a patient presenting with delusions, tremors, and missing hair.  Can you run a search in Ovid on those symptoms and see what comes up?”

As you can see, medical librarians, likes subject area academic librarians, need to have a general knowledge of the type of medicine their hospital deals in.  Medical librarians need to speak scientists’ lingo so their patrons won’t get slowed down explaining what they mean to the librarian.  Medical librarians deal with highly educated patrons who generally think with scientific-oriented minds.  They are intelligent, but busy.  The medical librarian is a part of the hospital team.  She is one of the many cogs that exists to provide quality patient care.  She must stay up to date and trained in utilizing scientific databases, in what research is going on in her hospital, and in current medical knowledge and terminology if she is going to help her patrons efficiently.

You won’t find a medical librarian presenting a story hour, themed reading week, or a summer reading program.  You will find a medical librarian skimming the new medical journals cover to cover.   She may have been assigned specific doctors and researchers.  She knows exactly which area of medicine they specialize in and keeps her eye out for new information to forward to them.  They know her by name and stop her in the hospital halls to ask her to find things for them.  A medical librarian may be called upon to conduct a search on a certain condition in a certain type of patient asap for a patient in critical care.  Unlike a public librarian, a medical librarian’s job isn’t to encourage reading or continuing education for the pure fun of it.  Unlike an academic librarian, a medical librarian’s job isn’t to educate people on how to conduct good research.  A medical librarian’s patrons may or may not enjoy reading for fun, but that’s none of her business.  Most of a medical librarian’s patrons already know how to conduct good research.  A medical librarian’s job is simply to provide exactly the type of information her patrons need when they need it.  Sometimes even before they ask for it.  In this sense, it probably makes a lot more sense to call a medical librarian an information specialist.  Indeed, many hospitals are moving toward calling their librarians “informationists.”

I’m taking the time to write all of this simply because I feel medical librarianship is one of the many misunderstood professions.  I suppose this is fine for the general public, but if you are a librarian or a library student, you should understand what it is your medical librarian colleagues do.  Simply not having to explain over and over again that we are not like public librarians would, frankly, be all the appreciation we need from other librarians.  As for any doctors, researchers, nurses, lab technicians, etc… who might be reading this–I know you’re busy.  You may not have ever even gone into your hospital’s library yourself, but your librarian works hard.  Please take the time to tell her or him thank you.  Even if you just happen to spot her in the cafeteria.  Please tell her thank you for being part of the team.  Medical librarians truly enjoy helping you, but we really appreciate being recognized as part of the team.

Library Advocacy and Promotion

October 6, 2009 2 comments

Libraries exist to serve specific populations but, contrary to popular belief, their demand for their local library is not guaranteed.  Without enouogh patrons and usage, a library will be closed down as undesire or irrelevant in its community.  This idea of advocating for and promoting the library in the community it serves has come up quite a bit lately both in my classes and at my job.  I like to think of advocating and promoting as the double-edged sword of keeping the library an important part of the community.

I took an online workshop for my job about advocating for your library in the community.  This essentially means garnering support for the value of the library to the community first from the people primarily responsible for keeping it open.  For medical libraries this is the hospital board of directors.  While public libraries must prove that the community utilizes  the library enough to justify the budget, medical and special libraries must additionally prove that they are not just a budget drain on the institution.  This means librarians must do things like compile statistics of usage, of what specific evidence-based medicine instances they helped with, of how much they are considered an asset in a teaching hospital, etc…

Advocacy goes beyond just statistics though, and I think this is the part many librarians could do better at.  Advocacy means being on friendly terms with both those responsible for keeping the library open and those utilizing the library.  Librarians can’t afford to be the hermit of the community.  If we are on a first-name basis with stakeholders we put a face on the library for them.  Additionally this gives us more informal opportunities to casually mention elements of the library.  The library becomes a facet of the stakeholder’s life instead of some budget-draining other.

Promoting the library is the other edge of making the library an important part of the community.  No librarian wants her library to be empty and devoid of patrons.  We got into the profession to help people find information.  In this age of ever-increasing amounts of information, not to mention types and methods of retrieval, this means we have far more eduating to do than before.  It used to be that a community knew to go to the library to get a book or to look at an encyclopedia.  Now we must outreach to our community to show all the non-conventional, non-traditional information resources we have to offer.

We can’t just limit ourselves to reaching out to those in our community who are already regular users.  They are the easy ones to reach with workshops, readings, etc… There are also the potential and lost users.  (Lost users are those who used to use the library but stopped).  There is some debate as to how exactly to go about this, and even if both groups should be pursued equally.  Obviously the answer to this is different for different library types.  In medical libraries potential users are generally new employees.  Including a brief blurb during orientation and in orientation packets about the library would certainly be a step in the right direction.  I would consider lost users in a medical library to be any employee employed at the institution for longer than six months who does not use the library, whether she once did or not.  For these people I would say there is probably some misconceptions about what exactly the library has to offer.  I admit I am at a bit of a loss as to how to reach these people.  We all know how quickly all-employee emails get deleted without being read.  However, I have faith that these people can be reached.  Maybe this goes back to the friendly librarian I was discussing earlier.  If she meets a lost user in the cafeteria and informs them she is one of the librarians, this could easily lead into a “what do you do all day?” conversation with the lost user.

Sometimes in all the hub-bub of economic downturn, budgets, and emerging technology advocacy and promotion get lost in the shuffle.  Libraries only exist because of the people in the community.  We need to remember that the main goal of a library is to help people and start humanizing the institution within our respective communities.

Medical Libraries

August 5, 2009 1 comment

When I tell people I’m a librarian, they ask for which town.  I respond, “Oh, I’m not a public librarian.”  They then promptly want to know which university or college I work for. “Oh I’m not an academic librarian either.”

Well what on earth else is there?  Special libraries.  The general public isn’t highly aware of special libraries, which usually consist of coroporate, law, or medical.  Like other libraries, special libraries exist to serve a community, only a much more tightly defined one.  Also, our community is generally out to make a profit, so we must prove that we’re helping with that end goal.  An often stress-inducing issue for special library directors is to prove to the company that we help them gain capital and aren’t an easily thrown-away bonus for employees.

So what exactly are the benefits that medical libraries provide to hospitals?  Hospitals are dedicated, through ethics and legislation, to evidence-based medicine (EBM).  EBM means that a doctor needs to back up her decisions with clinical studies and/or published research.  Doctors are human beings, not robots.  They cannot possibly perfectly remember every study they’ve ever read on, say, schizophrenia.  So a patient comes to an appointment with schizophrenic symptoms and the current drug isn’t working.  The doctor wants to try a new one.  She needs to find the studies done on the efficacy of that drug on schizophrenia, if it isn’t the normally prescribed one.  This is where the medical library comes in.  We are the repository of this evidence.  If a doctor comes in wanting a study on schizophrenia and a specific drug probably done in the late 1990s, we search for it for her.  This is a large part of a medical librarian’s job.  It is even possible to get a rush request for an article.  In academic libraries, this means a paper is due soon.  In medical libraries, this means there is quite possibly a life and death situation.  I am not exaggerating.  Doctors need the information to make the right decision now in some cases.  One of the things that I enjoy about the medical library community is when one of these requests come in, we can directly call another medical library that will drop everything to fill our request asap.

Many hospitals, particularly here in Massachusetts, are also teaching hospitals.  This means that they are affiliated with a medical school of some sort and train interns, residents, lab techs, nurses, etc… In these hospitals, the medical library is even more important.  Interns and residents needs a resources and a place to study in their often long hospital rotations.  These medical librarians then also need a touch of academic librarian skills, mainly in teaching medical students that Googling won’t work for their papers or for practicing reliable EBM.  We help them find resources for papers, educate them on using PubMed and Ovid, and educate them on the importance of EBM.

An even smaller number of medical libraries are also open to the public.  The public will come there for higher-tech, more in-depth resources on medical issues.  I have no personal experience working in such a medical library, but a librarian I know told me that the main challenge is to not let the public start treating you like a doctor.  You provide information, but not advice.

Even medical libraries that are not technically open to the public end up interacting with patients and families and friends of patients.  Hospitals are easy places to get lost in, and a cozy library with a big reference desk looks like a promising place to ask for directions, or for the best place to wait, or even just to find someone to talk to.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve looked up a doctor and scoured the hospital map to help a patient find the location of their appointment.  Similar are the phone calls from people who call the first number they manage to find on the hospital website and immediately start telling you their entire case history when you answer the phone.

Patients are the main reason for the final difference between medical libraries and public or academic libraries: privacy laws.  Yes public and academic libraries are concerned about the privacy of their patrons, but medical libraries are subject to the patient rights privacy acts.  This means that our laptops we check out to doctors have to be encrypted, our wifi is incredibly limited as to what it can access.  I can’t talk about anything a patron is researching, even if I don’t name names.  What if I mention it and someone else at another hospital goes with it and makes an important discovery before my patron at my hospital does?  I could have cost my patron and my hospital millions of dollars.  Similarly, if a public librarian finds say a tax document in a returned book that doesn’t belong to the patron who returned the book.  She can just shred it.  If I find patient information in a book, I have to report the patron to their supervisor for failing to protect patient privacy.

This truly points out the main difference between medical libraries and public or academic libraries.  Public and academic libraries attempt to present an open inviting image.  They are out to help everyone for the greater good. Even though this is not technically the case, as not just anyone can acquire a library card from them, it is still the image given.  Medical libraries are largely about privacy.  We’re a refuge in the hospital for our patrons.  We protect the hospital’s interests.  We assist our doctors with providing the best care possible so that patients will choose to come to us when they’re sick instead of a competing hospital.  Yes, we’re working to help people, but we’re also a business.