Last Thursday a group of medical librarians got together online via Twitter to discuss the issue of change in libraries. Specifically they discussed evaluating the sacred cows in libraries and librarianship within our institutions and whether they should be continued (successful programs) or killed (unsuccessful programs).
I thought I would briefly summarize the discussion for those who were unable to participate. Transcript is available here.
We had 30 people who participated in the chat and each participant tweeted an average of 11 tweets. (Lively discussion.)
In an effort to set the tone or get some context for the discussion. Nikki Dettmar (@eagledawg) reminded us of Mark Funk’s (@funkme77) 2008 Presidential Address, where the gist, “We Have Always Done It That Way” is not the way we want to continue the business of libraries.
Several librarians gave examples of sacred cows they have either killed off or would like to kill off in their libraries. These include:
Many had various thoughts on each of the above topics. For some getting rid of the refernce desk was a sacred cow that was killed or needed to be killed. However, for others, their library’s reference/front desk was still doing a brisk business and killing it would be unwise.
The topic of cataloging while a lively topic at other discussion venues didn’t draw as much ire or skepticism. Several thought small hospital libraries with solo librarians may want to re-consider the idea of an online catalog in favor of something easy, agile, and less time consuming. Almost everyone agreed that the act of cataloging could be done much more quickly and simply that librarians stop fussing with minute details of cataloging and look at user tagging/catalgoing. Tony Nguyen (@TonyNguyen411) mentioned he was “Totally ok with collective cataloging. Original, just the easiest access points to get it quickly on the shelf.”
The rise of electronic collections caused many in the group to discuss alternatives to book and journal purchasing, collection development and management. Teressa Knott (@tlknott) mentioned their circulation numbers has caused her to start thinking of a “strictly e-book collection.” I mention how our institution got rid of our reference section. Reference books were shelved next to the circulating collection. Patrons don’t have to go to different shelves or locations within the library to find books on a topic depending on the book’s loan rules (which patrons don’t know). All of the books are together making them easier to find. A red dot on the spine indicates the book doesn’t leave the library.
The library classes seemed to be a bit of a problem among the #medlibs librarians. As Amy Blevins (@blevinsa) stated, “(I) have mixed feelings about schedule classes. Love them when people randomly show up. Not so much when 0 show.” This seems to a problem shared by several in the chat. There were some librarians who got rid of their scheduled classes and only taught classes by appointment while others tried to get rid of them but had to bring them back because “admin wants to bring (them) back b/c other AAHSL libs do it.” I am not sure whether Stephanie Schulte’s (@s_schulte) referrence to admin was institutional administration or library administration.
In the second half of the hour the discussion seemed to venture away from the library and on to the profession itself and sacred cows within the profession such as:
Besides our job title of librarian, I’m not sure how much impact we have in with the other sacred cows within the profession. Additionally there were many that said the issue wasn’t the title of “librarian” but it was people’s out dated notions of librarians. The issue of librarian vs. informationist, vs PubMed Whisperer, vs information specialist is probably a larger issue that could be discussed on another Thursday.
Overall it was a very interesting and fun discussion. I challenge all librarians, not just the 30 on the chat, to think about our sacred cows. I want to quote Mark Funk’s last Presidential blog post, “Remember that ‘We have always done it that way’ isn’t an answer, it’s an excuse. Boomers didn’t like that response in the 1960s, and we shouldn’t like it now.”
A top story for this year has got to be the Crispr-CAS9 technique for targeted gene editing. Many of you will be aware of this exciting development in genetics. It’s gotten a fair bit of breathless and sometimes incomprehensible science media coverage lately (Crispr, or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, were discovered in bacteria back in the late 80s but considered “junk DNA”; seminal research on use of the Crispr-associated enzyme CAS9 in gene editing was published by Jennifer Doudna and Emanuelle Charpentier last August; since then it’s been tested on numerous different organisms; as of earlier this year, that list includes human cells).
In the Independent, Craig Mello, (co-winner of the 2006 Nobel for Physiology or Medicine for his work on RNA interference), was quoted for example as saying of the new Crispr technique that “It’s one of those things that you have to see to believe. I read the scientific papers like everyone else but when I saw it working in my own lab, my jaw dropped. A total novice in my lab got it to work.”
Sounds too good to be true, but breakthroughs in genetics techniques can quickly revolutionize the entire field of study, as Mello’s research did.
Crispr seems to be a dramatic improvement upon previous cumbersome or haphazard DNA-cutting techniques: modified viruses, zinc fingers and Talens. It allows for targeted editing of the human (or another) genome using an RNA molecule programmed to match a unique DNA sequence—along with the DNA-cutting enzyme, CAS9, that helps target the specific sequence of interest in the DNA. Once the RNA aligns with the target DNA strands, CAS9 cuts both strands of DNA at the target location—at which point new DNA can be inserted right at that spot, or defective DNA can be removed.
The nucleotide-level precision that is possible with this technique raises the possibility of safe, simple gene therapy for many hereditary diseases, both in patients in advanced stages of illness and going as far back as into the egg or sperm.
The Independent has simplified graphic that makes the process fairly straightforward.geneticshereditary diseasesresearch
Join us tomorrow for what is sure to be a lively discussion on killing sacred library cows on #medlibs this Thursday at 9pm Eastern.
As I mentioned in my post on the #medlibs blog…
The library environment has changed drastically and is continuing to do so. The library of 5 years ago is different from the library today. For example, the iPhone had just been released, there were no iPads and the idea of a “downloadable” ebook had just been introduced by Amazon Kindle. There were a very limited number of Kindle and certainly not intended for medicine. Yet many of us are doing the same things we did as librarians 5, 10, 15, 20 yrs ago. We were stretched thin back then, so there is no way we can now add things to our repertoire without giving up something in return. We must look at what we do in our own libraries and evaluate whether it is necessary, whether it helps our patrons or helps us. To really evaluate our services we need to look at EVERYTHING including the sacred cows of the library. We need to ask ourselves, do we need to check in journals, catalog books, make copies, eliminate the reference desk, fuss with circulation, etc. The right answers will depend on the library. A large academic library might need to still do cataloging but does a small solo hospital library with 4 shelves (not ranges) really need a catalog system much less spend time cataloging books? Some of these ideas are dangerous and even somewhat heretical librarian thinking, but I feel we need to discuss them. For more background on sacred cows and heretical librarian thoughts check out my summary of my keynote address I gave at the Midwest Chapter annual meeting.
We need to look at, evaluate and slaughter some sacred library cows. IT makes no sense for us to spend our time doing things that are no longer relevant or used by our patrons. That isn’t to say that we should have never done them. Everything has its time and place. It might be hard to give up, but we can’t just do things because we always have. We need to think like our patrons and for many of us that means completely taking off our librarian hat and looking at ourselves from a patrons view point. That may mean we come up with answers that are uncomfortable, that borderline on librarian heresy. But that is what is needed.
This Thursday’s #medlibs discussion at 9pm Eastern will discuss the idea of thinning the herd of library services so that we can grow healthy new opportunities.
Molly Knapp (@dial_m), Amy Blevins (@blevinsa) and I (@krafty) will be moderating the discussion. As always we will be using the hashtag #medlibs but if you want to further the discussion before/during/or after the regular Thursday night time use the hashtag #moo.