HealthOctober 19, 2021

The hybrid medical library is here

By guiding and empowering residents, clinicians, and researchers, medical librarians help chart the path to evidence-based care. From California, Washington, D.C., and Tennessee, three librarians reflect on how the past year has transformed library services and what comes next.

If it takes you more than 10 minutes to find anything, you are wasting time. Finding what you need, no matter how obscure, is what we do.

This is the motto of the medical library at Valley Children’s Healthcare, in Madera, California, where Brian Baker manages services and coordinates the literacy program as the medical librarian and with a library assistant. Like many, they went back to the hospital this year. “Usage has risen across the board, says Baker, “and we are back to being closely integrated into the Graduate Medical Education program, working with and teaching residents on how to do effective research and how best to use our services.”

This renewed appreciation and demand for in-person and virtual library services is also felt by Layla Heimlich at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in D.C., and by Michael Lindsay at The University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine and UT Health Science Center in Knoxville.

All agree that hybrid models are here to stay and that remaining flexible in how library services are provided, while a challenge, is a must in the face of the continuing pandemic.

Heimlich is one of the medical librarians at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, a large urban hospital in the nation’s capital. In her opinion, the past year “has really highlighted how important it is to take care of our caregivers, who spend so much time and effort to take care of everyone else.” For National Medical Librarians Month, the library has partnered with the Wellness Committee to provide resources to caregivers, like tablets with wellness and meditation apps, a wellness-centered book club, books on mindfulness, and information displays on resources like yoga and mindful journaling classes.

While librarians primarily serve clinicians and researchers engaged in patient care, research, and education, academic medical librarians are expected to contribute to the literature. Lindsay, who heads collections and access services at the Preston Medical Library in Tennessee, already has an idea for new research. “I am fairly convinced that the quantity and quality of library scholarships has improved in the past year.”

In the end, our interviewees agreed that budget cuts are always a concern. They believe, however, that the need for quality library services has shined through during the pandemic. “In many libraries, acquisitions can take up half of the library budget or more; that is why we really have to get it right,” insists Lindsay.

As Chair Elect of the Hospital Library Caucus of the Medical Library Association, Baker hears these concerns from many members. “In an era where misinformation is rampant, libraries and librarians are necessary to advance evidence-based research and care.” I know we will be working closer with researchers as we learn and develop advanced data curation skills,” he concludes.

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