A Management Case Study: Challenges of Initiating an Information Service in Molecular Biology and Genetics

Article excerpt

The explosive growth of molecular biology and genetics research, and its pervasive presence in the activities of leading academic health sciences centers, has highlighted the need to develop specialized information services to support researchers, students, and clinicians in these areas. Similarly, the growing array of complex bioinformation management software packages suggests a new role for libraries. Information professionals with varied academic preparation and experience are already skilled in providing instruction and consultation, licensing electronic resources, and developing Websites and teaching materials, yet few possess the subject knowledge to offer reference and consultation services in this rapidly evolving subject area.

Library managers, who rarely have subject expertise in this area, face unique challenges in developing institutional support and a working structure for new information services in molecular biology and genetics. The University of Pittsburgh Health Sciences Library System (HSLS) has initiated an active and wide-ranging program (described by Chattopadhyay et al. elsewhere in this issue). In this editorial, I share my perspective on the successful planning and management of such programs, in the hope that my experience might serve as a roadmap for others.

Because the University of Pittsburgh has a well-supported research program in the basic sciences, top administrators were receptive to the idea of a new information service to provide specialized support to researchers in molecular biology and genetics, staffed by an information specialist with expertise in molecular biology and genetics as well as library and information technology. But the details of how such a program would actually work were unclear.

Generation of institutional support

The management team began with several activities designed to identify the target user community and pique their interest. First, HSLS hosted a two-day bioinformatics-focused conference taught by staff from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Next, we identified a program at the University of Washington Health Sciences Libraries that was similar to the one we wished to develop and invited its leader to Pittsburgh as a consultant. While in Pittsburgh, the consultant gave a presentation about his work to an invited group of faculty and administrators who had been identified as key stakeholders and potential champions of such an information service.

We then assembled a nine-person planning committee composed of senior library managers and faculty leaders in basic research, computational biology and bioinformatics, and human genetics. These stakeholders had varying ideas about the scope and services of a bioinformatics support program. Though several models were considered, the group ultimately decided that the program should be library-based given the library's expertise in information management and user support. It was clearly recognized, however, that the success of this new service would depend on input, support, and guidance from a variety of departments, centers, and individuals in other areas of the health sciences.


Key roles planned for the information specialist in molecular biology and genetics included:

* developing the service in coordination with the existing programs and services of HSLS

* developing relationships with appropriate departments, research programs, faculty, researchers, postdoctoral associates, and graduate students to understand their needs

* employing the knowledge gained from these contacts and a review of available information resources to initiate consultation and training in molecular biology and genetics and to recommend purchase or license of commercial bioinformatics software

The library anticipated that the experience and credibility gained in the initial phase would generate support for a more comprehensive information service. …