Super Searchers

Katie Lobner and her fellow informationists search for — and find — the tiniest needles in the mightiest haystacks of scientific and medical knowledge.

Katie Lobner on a digital, glitchy, collage style background.

Illustration by Alex Williamson

Hundreds of millions of times each day, internet users around the world use common search engines like Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo to find everything from socks to how to change an oil filter. Everyone, it seems, is an amateur search expert.

But Katie Lobner and her fellow “informationists” based at Johns Hopkins’ Welch Medical Library are on another level.

She and her colleagues search for — and find — the tiniest needles in the mightiest haystacks of scientific and medical knowledge. When Johns Hopkins clinicians, researchers or students set out to conduct a systematic review, they collaborate with a Welch informationist as a key team member to perform much of the heavy lifting in a review’s methodology.

Lobner, who works closest with the Department of Emergency Medicine, the Department of Pediatrics and, increasingly, the Department of Radiology and Radiological Science, was one of seven authors of a recent systematic review published in Journal of the American College of Radiology. The article explored whether simulation-based training might lead to better

management of adverse reactions to the contrast dye used in many radiological procedures.

She has co-authored dozens of similar journal articles in her years at Johns Hopkins on medical subjects ranging from infectious diseases to pediatric surgery.

Unlike librarians, the 12 informationists at Welch are embedded with divisions and departments across the Johns Hopkins schools of medicine, nursing and public health. They’re active members of research teams and are often credited among a journal article’s authors.

Clinicians at Johns Hopkins frequently tap Welch informationists to consult on patient cases, looking to them at morning rounds or during case conference discussions to provide real-time precision searches to find clinical evidence. Researchers also turn to them for help in finding and managing federal and private grant funding.

“I’m not a scientist,” Lobner says, “but I studied biology as an undergraduate, and I’ve picked up some knowledge in this job. I get to learn from a lot of very smart people.”