E-JASL: The Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship


Date of this Version

Fall 2004

Document Type



Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship (Fall 2004) 5(2-3). Also available at http://southernlibrarianship.icaap.org/content/v05n02/lappa_e01.htm.


Copyright 2004, the author. Used by permission.



A number of previous studies have collected data on a hospital’s use of databases and the librarian’s role in the process. These studies express common themes and suggest activities for librarians wishing to promote the use of new technologies.

The first theme: While it seems clear that some physicians are competent and satisfied users of new computer search systems, many more, unfortunately, are unaware of the potential time saving features and powerful search capabilities of their search systems. Health sciences librarians have been advocating the use of indexes and abstracts for as long as these products have been available. More than twenty years ago, the National Library of Medicine pioneered online access to the literature with the introduction of Medlars online (Medline). Medline initially consisted of a subset of 236 of the top medical journals indexed in Index Medicus and was viewed as an interesting supplement to manual searching; it now is used routinely as the preferred method of access by thousands of Librarians and health care professionals. Some faculty, though, still rely on the traditional methods of asking a colleague, scanning a personal copy of a journal and, of course, going to the library. Traditionally, CD-ROM systems were only available in the library and doctors and librarians met each other there to discuss problems for searching.

The results of a Canadian survey indicated that physicians in Ontario made little use of Libraries because they had no time to search for information beyond that they could obtain quickly from colleagues or from reference material in their own collections. Other studies found that the primary reason of a clear preference for hospital libraries, either medical school or medical society libraries where information was used for both clinical and research purposes, was that the library was the most important place of locating printed sources on which doctors still rely for browsing the literature.

Over the past few decades, the role of the medical librarian has become increasingly complex, due to the explosion of information, and the way information is now digitized, libraries are increasingly virtual. Now the additional problem is that clinicians need information but not any information. They need evidence from high quality research. The information is available, but they may have not time to search effectively. To meet their needs, the librarian must adopt the role of going out of the library to meet the clinicians, themselves.