Design and Implementation of a Library-Based Information Service in Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh

Article excerpt

Setting: In summer 2002, the Health Sciences Library System (HSLS) at the University of Pittsburgh initiated an information service in molecular biology and genetics to assist researchers with identifying and utilizing bioinformatics tools.

Program Components: This novel information service comprises hands-on training workshops and consultation on the use of bioinformatics tools. The HSLS also provides an electronic portal and networked access to public and commercial molecular biology databases and software packages.

Evaluation Mechanisms: Researcher feedback gathered during the first three years of workshops and individual consultation indicate that the information service is meeting user needs.

Next Steps/Future Directions: The service's workshop offerings will expand to include emerging bioinformatics topics. A frequently asked questions database is also being developed to reuse advice on complex bioinformatics questions.


In the wake of the explosion in volume of research, database, and discovery tools in the biomedical sciences [1], life scientists face a difficult task in maintaining awareness of advancements in their fields of interest. Researchers and developers in the field of bioinformatics, the branch of science connecting biology with information and computer science, are creating intuitive tools to assist biologists in browsing, analyzing, and deciphering sequence information. To maximize research success, however, biologists require both access to these information tools and proper training in their use. This paper describes the Univrersity of Pittsburgh Health Sciences Library System's (HSLS's) development and implementation of an information service in molecular biology and genetics to meet these needs.


The HSLS at the University of Pittsburgh provides collections and services to meet the information needs of the educational, clinical, and research programs of the schools of medicine, dental medicine, pharmacy, and health and rehabilitation sciences and nursing and the graduate school of public health, as well as the seventeen hospitals of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (LJPMC). The University of Pittsburgh has a strong biomedical research program and has ranked as one of the top ten universities in both National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) funding.

After an extended planning process comprising a survey of researcher needs and ideal skills for filling a dedicated support position, HSLS initiated the information service in molecular biology and genetics in May 2002 with the hiring of an information specialist in molecular biology and genetics to lead the program. The information specialist had extensive training in the basic sciences, a bachelor's degree in chemistry, master's and doctoral degrees in biochemistry, post-doctoral research in signal transduction, and experience with the development of commercial literature retrieval software. Shortly after joining the HSLS staff, the information specialist attended the "National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Advanced Workshops for Bioinformatics Information Specialists" (NAWBIS)" course [2] to gain experience in public domain bioinformatics resources and strategies for developing related workshops.

To determine offerings for this novel service, the authors consulted articles describing the University of Washington's seminal molecular biology/genetics-focused program [3]. The information specialist also drew on previous research experience and information needs. Based on this analysis, the information service in molecular biology and genetics includes four main components: (1) hands-on workshops in the use of bioinformatics databases and software, (2) bioinformatics consultations with researchers, (3) licensing of commercial bioinformatics products, and (4) a molecular biology Web portal comprising information about services, workshops, and available information resources and tools. …