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The Informationist’s Role in 21st Century Medicine Margaret Gross, M.A., MLIS, AHIP and Victoria H. Goode, MLIS

The changing landscape of the medical world impacts everything from how physicians treat disease to how researchers access information. Our human genome era offers the potential to revolutionize healthcare through personalized medicine. Genomicsbased medicine and other fields that study protein isoforms encoded by the human genome will affect medicine in the near future through efficient diagnosis and more effective, targeted treatments.1 Diseases can be mitigated with specified treatments targeted to the individual, and the researchers in these fields need information support that focuses on these personalized needs. As we are well aware, our post-Google environment offers researchers, medical professionals, and patients vast quantities of information—freely available on personal computers, iPads, and smart-phones. User-friendly Internet search engines have transformed information access and created alternatives to visiting a physical library. So how does a library serve the needs of these researchers? The Welch Medical Library on the Johns Hopkins University Medical Campus has responded to these changes by adjusting resources and services. In response to a 2010 Welch Library survey, patrons indicate frequent use of the library website; 73 percent use it daily or weekly. Survey respondents also reported an increased use of other information gateways such as Google: 91 percent use such search engines daily or weekly.2 Foot traffic, however, has decreased over the past decade; 62 percent of users indicated that they used resources on library premises quarterly or never.2 On average, slightly more than 100 people enter the library daily whereas about 35,000 articles are downloaded from databases that users access remotely via the library website.3 Clearly, library patrons’ information-seeking behaviors, attitudes, and needs have changed. Welch Library and the informationist service model it supports face the bleeding edge of change, resisted by some and embraced by others. The library has chosen to focus more on value-added

services for the information consumer in customized ways that are more useful to individuals, research teams, and labs. In 2002, Welch Library created a team of librarians called informationists. In a journal editorial a decade ago, Davidoff and Florance first proposed the “informationist” concept as a new role for medical librarians that combined subject-specific domain expertise with the expert searching skills of an information professional.4 Today, library informationist services are offered at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Vanderbilt University, as well as Johns Hopkins University. Unlike the librarian from our childhood memories—who gave us our first library card, checked out books, and took our overdue fines—informationist librarians in an academic setting serve the research and information needs of assigned clinical, public health, and basic science departments. For example, the first author works several days in an office in the microbiology department for deeper collaboration and interaction with faculty and students. Her office, across the hall from the microbiology and biochemistry research labs, is perfectly situated for spontaneous conversations and reference questions. By interacting directly in their work flows and within their teams and committees, Welch informationists provide services based on an evolving understanding of how scientists and clinicians use information. Informationists are encouraged to take graduate classes that deepen their subject knowledge related to the departments they serve. In fact, the second author’s commitment to lifelong learning inspired her to take courses in how to conduct clinical research. Concentrating on how the medical and scientific professions use information and manage data means less time and money spent on maintenance of the physical building housing some of that information. This paradigm shift facing the library profession has been a welcome change for Welch informationists, who now interact in a broad array of knowledge management activities beyond library walls. Maryland Medicine

Vol. 13, Issue 1 27

Maryland Medicine; Vol 13; Issue 1  
Maryland Medicine; Vol 13; Issue 1  

Maryland Medicine, published by The Maryland State Medical Society