Archive for February, 2011

An eye on the door: Welcoming connection

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

Whenever I’m on my information desk shift I always keep an eye for movement near the door. Most students, staff and faculty breeze on in without making eye contact and that’s fine. A few do then I turn my friendly gaze into a genuine smile. Smiling is important to being a librarian like that, but (seriously) keep it real or you’ll get even more cranky.

Then there are the ones I make a focused effort to lure inside in a non-freaky-stalker librarian way.

You know the type – hesitant, bewildered, a slow unsteady pace, body language all but screaming that they really should turn tail and run instead of come inside The Library of all places. I had one recently that I coaxed inside with my full attention, a sincere smile, and a warmly authentic ‘Hi!’ when she was within earshot.  Initially she had the I am lost in this awfully designed building look, perhaps trying to find a meeting room on one of the floors that’s accessible by the stairs & elevator over here but not the ones over there.

Instead, she began her story with a tone I recognized well from my own 2003-05 Bachelors re-entry: certain this was a totally ridiculous question to ask but… she was a new Masters student, had not studied in a university since the 1980s, and was trying to figure out how to write the paper her professor had just assigned with online resources other than Google and Wikipedia.

After ten minutes of talking with me about electronic databases, subject guides and our writing center she literally beamed, placed her hands in an anjali mudra gesture, then shook my hand and said I had totally made her day. I think she might have hugged me if there wasn’t a large desk and university professionalism in the way.

I doubt she knew these are the moments librarians live for.

The majority of my time at work does not involve face to face assistance though. Lately I’ve been thinking of how to authentically welcome connections online and figure out the non-verbal nuances of such a heavily text-based communication channel. How do I convey friendly eye contact and a sincere smile 140 characters at a time on Twitter? “:-)” does not cut it. Am I truly getting the message when one of my distance learning students is totally confused by the course platform, the material, or me? Can I look beyond the data of a website usability study or Google Analytics report to measure real connection?

I’m not certain, but I know information professionals need to stay on top of this especially where online health communities and health information is concerned. If you think that’s not our realm, think again after reading this quote:

There is a real opportunity for marketers to help patients connect with each other to learn and share information as well as give them essential sources of good credible information.

Did it startle you to think of marketers doing your job? It should. That is our opportunity that we can do without trying to sell patients anything. Read the rest at KevinMD and think about what you can do to better connect.

Who’s on first? NLM and Google health searches

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

3/2/11 edit – please see What’s on second? PubMed Health for an update.

MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine (NLM) is not a catchy name but is a catchy site for patient health information especially since last year’s redesign. Check out this great tutorial (which would make a perfect narrated screencast) on searching keywords on MedlinePlus right from the start in Google. (hat tip Mark MacEachern)

Most medical librarians are well aware of and promote MedlinePlus as a source of quality, unbiased, advertising-free health information to others. There’s still quite a ways to go in having everyone else be well aware of and promote MedlinePlus, especially since a recent New York Times print Sunday magazine article missed it entirely while cautioning against using WebMD.

In October 2009, Eric Rumsey covered the Google Health One Box listing MedlinePlus, Mayo, WebMD and its own Google Health link first for health information searches. There was an important distinction between Google Health (listing Symptoms first) and MedlinePlus (listing Causes first) even though both were drawing upon the same source medical encyclopedia information from A.D.A.M.

In August 2010, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Middle Atlantic Region (NN/LM MAR) and Michelle Kraft covered the launch of PubMed Health as a source of health information for the public from NLM, noting that Google searches for certain drugs were already leading to PubMed Health pages. There was promise of an NLM Technical Bulletin writeup with more detailed information when it launched but I haven’t seen one to date.

Currently, PubMed Health (that is a direct link to popup information that you can find by clicking the logo on a PubMed Health subject page) does not have a direct URL. If you attempt to backtrack from a PubMed Health information page, say for misoprostol (… seriously not reviewed since 2008?) to, the same information as the main home page ( is displayed. There are no links to PubMed Health from within PubMed itself, MedlinePlus, or other NLM resources that I can identify.

Fast forward to last week, 2011. Without any announcement I can find online, Google Health One Box appears to have vanished and most Google health information searches have a brief blurb on the top and a link to…. PubMed Health, containing A.D.A.M medical encyclopedia information? Eric Rumsey is again on the case with great coverage highlighting this change.

Michelle Kraft (congrats by the way!) was prescient on this one back in August:

I just worry about possible confusion with this new resource.  If it is for consumers then calling it something very similar to an already established consumer database is going to be confusing IMHO.

Even more confusing now is this latest development. Where did the Google Health One Box and the MedlinePlus link go for health information searches? How did this NLM and Google arrangement happen? What is PubMed Health now that it’s incorporated A.D.A.M in addition to the initial pharmacy information? What other consumer health resources are on the horizon for PubMed Health? Why are we supposed to promote MedlinePlus if PubMed Health information is what people will find as a result of Google health information searches?

Who’s on first, MedlinePlus or PubMed Health? Google says PubMed Health: that is what the public is now seeing and we as information professionals need to be prepared to respond to inquiries about information from it. What do you say?

Get ready for your Snapshot, Washington libraries!

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

Apologies for a massive posting frequency delay due to permasick*

A day in the life of Washington's medical libraries

On Tuesday, April 12, 2011, Washington will join over 30 states that have participated in the American Library Association’s (ALA) Library Snapshot Day project.

Don’t miss out! Check out the WA Library Snapshot wiki, join on Facebook, and medical & other health libraries sign yourselves up at I fully expect to see many medical librarians in action while attending rounds, answering complex research questions, tackling they want an arm AND a leg?! electronic resources budget increases, teaching and generally being full of awesome.

*Permasick: A pervasive state of malaise that has sucked out nearly all my brain raison d’être energy with coughing, congestion, fever, coughing, wheezing AND rales, coughing, and general bleh from mid-December until now. It is not pertussis or a sarcoidosis relapse, so I’m thankful for that. Bonus: Two distinct rounds of permasick for our son, where the second round resulted in a double ear infection with enough fluid backup to affect his hearing, conjunctivitis, and the beginning of bronchitis. That relapse combo resulted in him having antibiotics for only the second time in his 8.5 year life and missing a big family wedding. Permasick is not the flu nor a simple cold, and the coughing doesn’t seem to ever go away.