Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hospital libraries - reflection in response to the Krafty Librarian

Like so many medical librarians I subscribe to the Krafty Librarian, Michelle's excellent blog. Today she reflects on the sad state of hospital librarians, expressing her concern but also talking about problems she'd seen as a hospital librarian herself.

I'm also a former hospital librarian, and I'd like to take issue with a part of what was said, while agreeing with other of her statements. I too have observed shoddy practices, or libraries and librarians which are little more than collections and their caretakers - not just a 1980s perspective, but something far older that goes back to the earliest years of medical librarianship, when hospital libraries were merely in-house repositories of physicians' own private collections, and the clerical staff hired to take care of them, dragons at the gates.

However, it seems far too simplistic to dismiss this latest loss of funding as the fault of victims who have failed to grow and change with the times. After all, the same can be said of libraries in any other setting. Hospital libraries and librarians are widely diverse, and many have done some very fancy footwork in the past several decades - integrating themselves with resident and medical student objectives; with quality assurance initiatives as Six Sigma consultants; taking the lead on new technologies (like the PDA). Yet Michelle may reflect the sentiment of others in the profession in saying
Now days academic medical libraries are feeling the pinch of the economy and they are being asked to do more with less. How they respond will predict their outcome. If they become complacent or ignore the future issues, they will encounter many of the same problems as hospital libraries and librarians have been dealing with for quite a while.

There is so much more to be said and done here. I do not feel that we can walk away from colleagues (even in print, even for a moment) without taking the time to acknowledge, even to explore and speak out about, their contributions, their tremendous importance - and to ask how we as researchers, faculty, associations - can understand this crisis. Because it is certainly that, and unless we do take the time to understand in more depth, we may inadvertently do injury to the entire profession. Otherwise, it sounds like we've begun to prepare an eulogy Alas poor Yorrick - I knew him well! when in fact, we knew nothing well at all - certainly not whether the actions of a shoddy few have rung the knell for those many who serve so excellently well, and who still are worth our attention and support.