MLA Position Statements and FAQs
Essential Library Support for Distance Education
The physical setting of the health sciences library is no longer the exclusive center of a student's universe of independent learning and the enrolled health profession school is no longer the exclusive domain of the learner's universe. Many health profession schools, hospitals and health centers, companies, professional associations, and healthcare organizations have already heavily invested in distance medical education. The Medical Library Association (MLA), a professional organization representing more than 1,200 institutions and 3,800 individuals involved in the provision of health care information, and the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL) believe that only when distance education is augmented by robust services and resources will education at a distance be as effective as face-to-face education.
Considerable time and effort have been invested in designing strategies to deliver education and training over distances by means such as broadcast, cable and two-way interactive TV (compressed or full motion), audio graphic systems, videotaped lectures, online Internet chats, and simple email. More than 200 web sites providing more than 4,000 courses offer some form of continuing medical education to medical professionals, students, and caregivers. The International Data Corporation forecasts that by the end of 2002 more than 2.2 million students will be enrolled in distance learning courses. While the instructional challenge is great, there remains the less-well-addressed problem of providing a full continuum of student support services, especially library services.
The Association of College and Research Libraries' Guidelines for Distance Learning acknowledge that "access to adequate library services and resources is essential for the attainment of superior academic skills in post secondary education, regardless of where students, faculty and programs are located." Information literacy instruction is critical for life-long learning and is a primary outcome of higher education. Therefore, although services for distance education participants may differ from, they must be equivalent to, services available from the traditional campus.
How are comparable library services achieved in a distance education environment? Health science libraries employ a variety of models for distance education library services:
Library services for distance learners are more labor intensive than on-campus services. Campus students use the library in a self-service mode, but providing documents to remote locations requires library staff retrieval and shipping. Distance learners and faculty often need training in network systems and protocol. Provision for local collections, electronic reserve systems, document delivery software, and bandwidth to support image and graphical applications incur additional costs. Electronic information resource dissemination is a form of publication that demands copyright clearance and compliance policies and procedures and creation of technical safeguards. The disparity between well-developed urban networks and the less-developed rural networks poses additional challenges.
Librarians are experienced in expediting the transition to distance education and information access, with more than a decade of experience in providing access to a wide variety of remote electronic resources often for which the library is not strictly accountable (i.e., online literature indexes, cataloging of useful and up-to-date websites controlled by parties beyond the campus). Health science libraries are moving beyond just providing access to remote resources, to arranging for services for their students at partnering institutions in distant locations. Librarians, with their strong tradition of inter-institutional cooperation and outreach services, are in a unique position to advise, lead, and contribute to these efforts.
Healthy People 2010 identifies opportunities for health communication to contribute to the improvement of personal and community health during the first decade of the 21st century and notes that often people with the greatest health burdens have the least access to information, communication technologies, health care, and supporting social services. The Medical Library Association and the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries encourage key stakeholders, including health professionals, researchers, public officials, and the lay public, to collaborate on a range of activities to reduce disparities in underserved communities that often lack access to crucial health professionals, services, and communication channels. We also support recommendations of the Web-based Education Commission chaired by Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Vice Chair Representative Johnny Isakson of Georgia, especially the following:
Prepared May 2002 by
For more information, contact Mary Langman, 312.419.9094 x27.
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2007 June 22