Submitted by Nadine Dexter, AHIP, Harriet F. Ginsburg Health Sciences Library, University of Central Florida–Orlando; Deborah Harris, F1000, London, United Kingdom; Emma Cryer Heet, AHIP, Medical Center Library & Archives, Duke University, Durham, NC; Michelle Kraft, AHIP, Alumni Library, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH; Andrea Lopez, Annual Reviews, Palo Alto, CA; Elizabeth R. Lorbeer, AHIP, Library, Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, Western Michigan University–Kalamazoo; Rob McKinney, NEJM Group, Waltham, MA; and Rich Lampert, Doody Consulting, Philadelphia, PA
The MLA InSight program was developed to create a forum in which librarians and vendors can discuss topics of mutual interest in a collegial environment. Much of the time at InSight Summit 2, held in late September, was devoted to small-group discussions of issues that both librarians and vendors regard as challenging, with each group consisting of equal numbers of medical librarians and vendor representatives. This is the second of two articles that synthesize key points from the discussions.
The theme for the MLA InSight Summit 2 was “Meeting the Evolving Information Needs of Library Stakeholders,” following closely on observations at InSight Summit 1 that both librarians and information providers needed to focus more intently on users. After a discussion by a panel of health sciences library users—from trainee through professor in medicine, nursing, and allied health—attendees turned to the challenge of how information providers and librarians can collaborate in explaining to users why licensed (and often costly) content has real value to them.
One concern, which has been heard frequently in different MLA InSight Summit sessions, is that many users think that information is “free from the library.” Perhaps the banner text on many pages of information should read “Information paid for by…,” rather than “Information provided by…”
Based on some discussion comments, students might be the most challenging group of users when attempting to explain why information is valuable. To many students, the primary value of information is to help them pass their certifying exams: United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), NCLEX, and so on. These people may be more attuned to the value of features like adaptive learning than scholarly rigor.
Some participants said that users need to understand that most “free” content is best suited to quick look up, while licensed content is curated and often best suited to careful study. As discussed in the earlier groups, making this point early in a student’s career may be the way to have the most impact. One discussion group suggested that information along these lines be included in materials that students receive in their early orientations.
The notion of curation, for many of the participants, called peer review to mind. Users may not understand the effort and intellect that goes into peer review, and the contribution that peer review makes to the effectiveness of curation. One way to get users to understand the value of peer review is to teach young researchers how to be peer reviewers themselves, and this is an area where journal publishers and librarians can work together. Based on the earlier discussions about user needs, the instruction needs to be offered in small bites, not necessarily an in-depth curriculum. Other aids to curation include altmetrics, which can demonstrate to a naïve user whether a journal article is or is not widely trusted, and ORCID, which can confirm that an author name belongs to a trusted authority.
Another important distinction between free and curated material relates to open access: It is free to the reader, but it is not free. The author (or a funding agency or an institution) pays to provide the access. This is sometimes eye-opening to a young researcher who aims to publish a first paper in an open access journal.
Talking about open access to users often segues into conversations about predatory publishers. Users need to understand the harm that predatory publishers do to legitimate literature, not to mention the potential harm to patients from poorly sourced information. One group pointed out that portable document format files (PDFs) downloaded from a pirate site can also contain malware. In addition, when users provide their login credentials for an ostensibly innocent purpose, they might also provide access to their other campus accounts. These are important messages, and both librarians and vendors have a role in spreading them.
Both librarians and vendors need to be aware that professional societies also provide curated and highly trusted information. This information is generally accessed outside the library collection, but it has earned the respect of many clinicians and scientists. When librarians encounter groups of users who do not engage much with the library, it is certainly worth learning more about the information sources that these professionals do trust.
One of the user panelists who spoke before this discussion session mentioned that she keeps up with important research via Twitter. This was news to many of the participants, and it raises the question of how libraries and publishers can communicate via Twitter, and how they can keep up with scholarly influencers or perhaps influencers among a group of library users.
Publishers and providers of discovery and management tools regularly introduce new features to their products. Librarians argue that it is important for these vendors to provide as much advanced notice and user information as possible, so that librarians can publicize the new availability and be prepared to answer questions. In addition, it would be helpful if a library could opt out of a functionality because it would not contribute to a positive user experience in that particular context.
Once again, librarians, in particular, focused on the need to engage directly with users, particularly those who are key influencers. If those people find great value in certain resources, they can spread the word.
Both of the MLA InSight Summits have identified areas where collective efforts by information providers and libraries could provide better service and user satisfaction. Perhaps the next challenge for a gathering of librarians and vendors is how to implement some of these insights.
MLA’s InSight Initiative is supported by the following organizations: Annual Reviews, American Psychiatric Association Publishing, American Psychological Association, BMJ, Elsevier, F1000, The JAMA Network, McGraw-Hill Education, NEJM Group, Oxford University Press, ProQuest, Rockefeller University Press, SpringerNature, and Wolters Kluwer