A Web-Based Assessment of Bioinformatics End-User Support Services at US Universities

Article excerpt

Objectives: This study was conducted to gauge the availability of bioinformatics end-user support services at US universities and to identify the providers of those services. The study primarily focused on the availability of short-term workshops that introduce users to molecular biology databases and analysis software.

Methods: Websites of selected US universities were reviewed to determine if bioinformatics educational workshops were offered, and, if so, what organizational units in the universities provided them.

Results: Of 239 reviewed universities, 72 (30%) offered bioinformatics educational workshops. These workshops were located at libraries (N = 15), bioinformatics centers (N = 38), or other facilities (N = 35). No such training was noted on the sites of 167 universities (70%). Of the 115 bioinformatics centers identified, two-thirds did not offer workshops.

Conclusions: This analysis of university Websites indicates that a gap may exist in the availability of workshops and related training to assist researchers in the use of bioinformatics resources, representing a potential opportunity for libraries and other facilities to provide training and assistance for this growing user group.

INTRODUCTION

The fields of molecular biology, genomics, and proteomics have increasingly become information-intensive disciplines, generating massive amounts of data and a vast number of databases and software tools to manage and analyze these data [1-3]. With this explosion of information, end-user support in identifying appropriate resources and tools for research applications is potentially needed. Therefore, this study poses the question: on university campuses, what are the publicized sources of services that a user could go to for assistance in the use of molecular biology information resources? This study examines university Websites for the presence of bioinformatics end-user support services because users looking for services tend to begin by searching the university's Website. In particular, the availability of bioinformatics educational workshops is examined as a benchmark to indicate the presence of centralized support services. Several reports in the literature describe bioinformatics educational workshops offered through medical libraries with bioinformatics outreach efforts [4-7].

This analysis provides an indication of the extent of bioinformatics services on campuses. These results may prove helpful in planning and coordinating usersupport services in the rapidly evolving area of genomics research.

METHODS

Sample

Data were collected from the Websites of 239 US universities. These universities had either (1) a medical school, regardless of the presence or size of an undergraduate program (N = 121), or (2) a biology-related doctoral program and full-time plus part-time minimum undergraduate enrollment of 5,000 (N = 118), based on Peterson's data [8]. A random number table was used to select the order in which universities were sampled. If a university's medical school was in a separate city from its main campus, the medical school and main campus were considered to be two separate institutions for the purpose of this study, as a student at one location (e.g., Cornell Weill Medical School in New York City) might not necessarily take advantage of the bioinformatics services at the other location (Cornell University's main campus in Ithaca, New York). The enrollment threshold was set at 5,000 to concentrate on major universities. This threshold excluded a few leading research universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, and California Institute of Technology.

Data collection

Data collection spanned one full academic year, from September 2004 through September 2005. Workshop offerings from sites sampled from May 31, 2005, to September 7, 2005, were reviewed a second time in September 2005 to update information to reflect fall 2005 offerings. …