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Dome - Have laptop, will travel

September 2010

Have laptop, will travel

Date: September 3, 2010

A new generation of Welch librarians makes house calls.


Librarian Blair Anton
Librarian Blair Anton is out of the library and into the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism as its first embedded informationist.

When The Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism welcomed Blair Anton as its first “embedded informationist,” the early expectations for her contributions were modest.

“Initially I anticipated that she would help faculty who wanted to do a literature search on a single topic, or who wanted to develop a database of references,” division director Paul Ladenson says of the Welch librarian.

But Ladenson and other faculty quickly recognized Anton’s knack for mining data tucked into obscure digital troves.

Along with Ladenson, Sherita Golden and others, Anton joined a team preparing a comprehensive review of the literature regarding the epidemiology of endocrine and metabolic disorders. She earned co-authorship on the paper, published last year in the prestigious Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The acknowledgement was well deserved, Ladenson says. The review “simply would not have been of the same caliber without her help.”

Just as digital technology has allowed researchers and clinicians to gather information without going to the library, it has also given Welch librarians a reason to expand the services they provide to Hopkins Hospital and the schools of medicine, nursing and public health.

The successful transition to the informationist model, coupled with a decrease in onsite patronage, has prompted an evaluation of whether librarians will vacate the Welch’s 81-year-old limestone building on Monument Street in coming years.

The informationist is in

When Welch director Nancy Roderer came to the library in 2001, the digital revolution already had reduced patronage of the building itself, making it pointless to tether librarians to their desks.

It also was clear to her that the mounting glut of digital information would only increase demand for librarians’ expertise in retrieving, using and managing data.

From Roderer’s deliberations, a nimble, new model for delivering information services emerged. Why not place librarians where they could be of immediate service?

In 2002, Roderer and her staff launched a 10-year plan to embed informationists in nearly 100 settings that she dubbed “Welch spaces.” To develop strong working relationships with patrons, each of 10 librarians was assigned to work closely with a handful of departments grouped by medicine, basic science and public health.

With enhanced responsibilities came their befitting new title. The term “informationist” recognizes a new generation of librarians trained to meet specialized needs and provide customized services, such as giving psychiatric nurses a primer in Google Docs or aiding residents with clinical questions in the Emergency Department.

Researchers attribute successful grant applications to the exhaustive efforts of embedded informationists. A growing number of journal articles bear the names of Welch staff as well. Stella Seal received co-authorship on a paper that appeared in the Journal of Reconstructive Microsurgery in July. Her colleague Claire Twose was listed as a co-author on a review of urban health research in Baltimore that was published in the Journal of Community Health in April.

Day to day, informationists also lend expertise to safety-improvement measures. For a nurse working on a plan to decrease specimen labeling errors, Catherine Craven unearthed important data on human factors that contribute to the problem.

Should the Welch library building cease to function as a core library facility, books required for courses will circulate from the Armstrong Medical Education Building. Only the Library of the Institute of the History of Medicine will stay on the building’s top floor.

Meanwhile, Anton and her cohorts will be circulating from one “Welch space” to another in the pursuit of sound medicine. Each project will prepare them for the next. “Because of her first global survey, Blair has developed a much deeper knowledge of the content of our subspecialty,” Ladenson says. “And that, of course, reinforces her ability to help and contribute intellectually to future projects.”

Stephanie Shapiro

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