Health Sciences Librarians are Not the Only Ones With “Changing Roles, Changing Goals”

June 7, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Posted in Professional Development | 1 Comment

Thank you to NAHSL for the scholarship to attend MLA in Boston this year. It was my first MLA meeting, and although overwhelming at times, it was a rewarding experience. There is so much we can do from afar in the Digital Age, but I don’t think anything compares to meeting with people face to face!

On Monday, May 6, I attended a lunch sponsored by McGraw Hill at the Colonnade Hotel which featured a presentation by Joseph Loscalzo, MD, PhD. an editor of Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. Dr. Loscalzo is a Cardiologist and Head of the Department of Medicine at Bringham and Women’s Hospital and at Harvard Medical School. He has been an editor of Harrison’s for a number of years. He also told us that his wife is a librarian, so he couldn’t refuse this speaking opportunity! His talk was titled, “Life as a Textbook and Journal Editor: Changing Roles, Changing Goals”.

He gave a brief history of medical journals and textbooks and their evolution to electronic format today. Dr. Loscalzo emphasized that when he was in medical school, the goal was to learn as much as you could and have that knowledge in your head to recall when needed. The way to achieve this goal was a straightforward path through core textbooks and journals. Medical students followed “the path” of knowledge to becoming a doctor. Now, there are many paths of knowledge and a student no longer needs everything in their head, they now need to know how to find the information quickly.

That was the point that struck me the most in his talk: medical students need to know how to find accurate information quickly. Wow, doesn’t that speak to the importance of health sciences librarians? Who else better than us to teach the skills necessary to find the right information quickly so that students can become great physicians?

Dr. Loscalzo also allowed time for a Q&A session. One attendee asked about the trend of textbook publishers including the references only in online versions and not in the physical textbook. She asked if he has seen that trend and if Harrison’s was leaning that way. After a clarification of the question, he simply stated that Harrison’s was not including references at the end of chapters in the next edition.

I have never seen a roomful of librarians be in such shock and react so strongly! There wasn’t much time left for him to continue about that question, but my interpretation of his defense was to say that the “Further Readings” references at the end of each chapter became out of date quickly and were fairly arbitrary. The editors are picked for their areas of expertise and the strength of the text lies with them. Time may have run out and the event was over, but the attendees were still abuzz as they walked back over to Hynes Convention Center. It will be interesting to see what the wider reaction will be when the new edition of Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine is released.

Lori Bradshaw, MSLIS, AHIP
Dr. William E. Finkelstein Health Sciences Library
Saint Mary’s Hospital
Waterbury, Connecticut


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  1. Hi Lori,

    Sounded like a very interesting session. I was really struck with the idea that in the future references will be available only online. I can totally understand “recommended reading”, but references? I was really disappointed when I saw this a couple of years ago in one of the standard pediatric surgery texts. Doesn’t EBM imply that you can verify the data/information? The positive part of the talk was the role of the librarian in information navigation. I agree that we need to position the profession in this direction.

    Alison Clapp

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