NY-NJ Chapter LogoNewsletter
Spring 2002

In This Issue

From the Editors

From the Chair

Spring Dinner 2002

From the Incoming Chair

Kudos for Chapter Members

Web Watch

Brave New World

In the Literature

Technology Review

Hospital Library Notes

RML Update

Advocacy Update

Special Feature:
Focus Groups

Online Newsletter Index

The Newsletter is published for the members of the New York-New Jersey Chapter of the Medical Library Association.

Editor of this issue:

Gail Hendler, Ehrman Medical Library, New York University Medical School, 550 First Avenue, New York, NY 10016, S-10, Phone: 212-263-8925, Fax: 212-263-8196, E-mail: hendler@library.med.nyu.edu.

Site maintained by Webmaster: Robert Dempsey
Posted 4/4/2002
2002 NY-NJ Chapter of the Medical Library Association
Hospital Library Notes
Spoon-feeding the Masses - Dishing It Out à la Librarian

by George A. Wahlert, MSLS, AHIP
Director, Morgan Health Sciences Library
Long Island College Hospital

While in graduate school (Hello Pratt alumni!), I found my professional niche in the multi-faceted world of medical librarianship. Back then, I became wedded to a very keen interest in traditional reference services (of the old pre-Internet type). So, three months after receiving my MSLS, I left a one-person pharmaceutical advertising agency to begin my life as the reference librarian at Long Island College Hospital.

Ahhh, I longingly recall spoon-feeding customers in the good old days. I'm talking about the glory times, my friends, when you ran about 10 searches a day, and yet, part of that job was to show library patrons how to use a printed index. Remember those? Oh, how I loved to watch people line up to do a search. Then, as each satisfied customer left my workspace, I would gleefully shout "next" to help another searcher find that elusive reference. I have always felt that libraries are a service-based industry. And, spoon-feeding is the personal and prized touch we medical librarians add to an expanding list of jobs that were never taught in Library School.

A library mentor and sage once related his theory about two schools of library thought - theory and practice. The theorist studies a book; the practitioner studies how to use a book. The mentor related an example of how his theory manifests itself at the reference desk. If a "customer" asked for a certain book, the theorist would say, "WG 315, go down three aisles and make a left". The practitioner would unchain him or herself from the reference desk and take the person to the shelf to actually locate the item.

Now, as a library manager and a captive jack of all library trades, I still spoon-feed library users. Sometimes, I have to take them by the hand to show them where a journal or book is, or how to read a citation, or how to use the photocopier or an electronic stapler. Other times, I have to explain and repeat . . . and repeat . . . and repeat our library's policies and procedures. Still in all, I really enjoy doing computer searches, and I always manage to look over the shoulder of my end users to ensure that their informational needs are met. A warm body (also known as the masses) is welcomed in my library, and is not counted as just another gate statistic. I'm open and willing to provide what I would call "library services à la book cart".

Why is it that we, the library professionals and administrators, have to sometimes spoon-feed the masses? There are many causes of user codependency and one of the reasons will be discussed in my next column "Living in the Land of Cultural Diversity". Right now, several reasons make our patrons reliant on us in ways we never expected them to be: the "dumbing of America"; social status; and duh(!) human nature, all contribute to the need for spoonfeeding. After having said that, I should put myself on the other side of the reference desk and put away my librarian-colored glasses . . .

I have always supported library and librarian value-added service. But, lately I feel that I am being ambushed for non-traditional library services by a group of library (ab)users. Here are four true "spoon-feeding du jour" vignettes:

  • A gastroenterology fellow asked me to select a subject for him to discuss at a noontime conference, but he proudly stated that he would run the search himself. I guess he doesn't have the "guts" to find something of interest to talk about.
  • A resident came to the library with a stack of hospital letterhead and a disk, and asked me to word-process six copies of each of her seven letters of recommendation. I proclaimed that I am a healthcare professional, and not a word processor.
  • A porter asked me to help his parents fill out their immigration papers. I used the phone directory to help him to contact human resources.
  • A nursing student asked me to proofread her mid-year report. With blue pencil in hand, I did it during my lunch hour.

The above are examples of non-traditional library service. With a staff of only 1.3 FTE, it can be very, very difficult to assist library patrons with all of the traditional library services and spoon-feed them, too. How do YOU manage to serve all kinds of needs all at once? Sometimes, I fantasize installing a "take a number" machine in the library as I dish out my information specials. I think we are all grappling with catering to an increasing demand for traditional and non-tradtional services while we struggle with diminishing resources and budgets. How do we continue to serve and spoon-feed our patrons with that special medical librarian touch, but still retain the magic feeling of shouting out "NEXT!"