Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Medical Librarians Get Healthy Dose of Social Networking

MLA 2.0," said Medical Library Association President Mark Funk, "will be about communication, community, openness, participation, and connecting." Kicking off MLA's May 16-21 annual meeting and exhibition in Chicago, the head of resource management and collections at the Weill Cornell Medical Library in New York City told 2,484 enthusiastic attendees that new technology decreases isolation if we learn to use it right.

Repeating several times that "we have always done it that way" is the worst possible justification for doing anything, Funk said that "social media are all about participation" but admitted that there needs to be more room in associations for passion, ingenuity, and self-direction.

According to Funk, bureaucracies are changing, becoming less hierarchical and opening up through blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, and podcasts. Delivering the annual McGovern Lecture, futurist Andrew Zolli explained that "innovation is the creation of new forms of value in anticipation of future demand" and bolstered Funk's view that organizations have the insights and the tools available to them for shaping their future.

Breakout sessions throughout the conference reflected the emphasis on social networking. Also on the agenda were a number of "Connections: Bridging the Gaps" (the conference theme) programs. A "Technology Showcase" and a series of "Sunrise Seminars" enabled top vendors to demonstrate their newest products and services. The conference also included an update from the National Library of Medicine and a number of section seminars devoted to specific areas of medical specialization.
Incoming President Mary L. Ryan said the top priorities for her presidency will be recruitment and retention of library professionals, advocacy for the profession and its issues, and the efficiency and effectiveness of association operations.

The conference also featured the association's first live webcast of a plenary session, "Web 2.0 Tools for Librarians: Description, Demonstration, Discussion, and Debate." David Rothman, information services specialist for the Community General Hospital Medical Library in Syracuse, New York, observed, "The Web isn't just for geeks anymore," as he urged librarians to "be web creators, not just consumers."

Other members of the Web 2.0 panel were Amanda Etches-Johnson of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Bart Ragon of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and Melissa Rethlefsen of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota, who talked about how librarians are using social networking applications to create online communities. "This is our future," Ragon said. "We're not going to be programmers, but we are going to be talking to the programmers."

Delivering the annual Janet Doe Lecture, Thomas G. Basler gave the conference theme a different spin. Director of libraries and learning resource centers and chair of the Department of Library Science and Informatics at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, Basler observed that the golden age of medical librarianship is over, and gone with it are its "giants," the professions's pioneers. Today, "it's not about being a librarian," he said, "it's about being a part of your institutional team."
L.K. "Medical librarians get healthy dose of social networking." American Libraries 39.7 (August 2008): 32(1).