Bioinformatics Opportunities for Health Sciences Librarians and Information Professionals*

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Universities and medical research institutions are hard at work training researchers in bioinformatics, a rnultidisciplinary field comprising molecular biology, genetics, mathematics, and computer science. Bioinformatics specialists with undergraduate and graduate degrees find their skills are in high demand in a range of research and development environments, including universities, teaching hospitals, and the industrial sector, including pharmaceutical, vaccine, and biotechnology companies. Researchers in bioinformatics currently receive strong support from library and informational professionals in geographic areas where biotechnology corporations are established. However, stronger support and collaboration will be necessary as the field matures. Health information professionals and science librarians with backgrounds and aptitudes in biological, chemical, and computer sciences; genomics; proteomics; and data analysis are ideal candidates for professional involvement and specialization in bioinformatics.

Professional librarians seeking to contribute their talents to the field of bioinformatics must also expand their depth of knowledge in the biological and computer sciences. Additionally, interested librarians need to systematically evaluate and expand traditional roles and services to include the new resources and tools that are emerging worldwide. The aim of this brief communication is to assist health sciences librarians with finding training programs and to give examples of how some libraries are currently expanding services to support bioinformatics research. The authors have identified six key areas of responsibility where information professionals can expand beyond traditional roles to meet the information needs of bioinformatics researchers. These core areas include communication, collection development, knowledge management, education and training, writing or publishing, and intranet systems development.

THE ROLE OF THE HEALTH INFORMATION PROFESSIONAL AS "INFORMATIONIST"

Two very different roles exist for health information professionals supporting research and development efforts in bioinformatics. The first is the more traditional role pursued in academic health sciences libraries and corporate libraries. In this role, professional responsibilities typically focus on collection development and teaching, although these activities require additional education or training for the librarian supporting bioinformatics clients. The second role is more often seen in research and development facilities or clinical settings, where the information professional is actively involved in the research process and project management. Responsibilities of this role may include involvement in searching the primary literature or genomic sequence databases, data and knowledge management and communication, and collaborative technical writing. Significantly, this second role most closely resembles that of the "informationist" as set forth by Davidoff and Florance [1], where the information professional possesses both significant domain knowledge in information science and specific technical or biological skills, including an understanding of applied knowledge in the research or clinical setting.

TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES

Specialized training and continuing education will enable health information professionals to reach beyond traditional roles. While it is still easier for librarians with science backgrounds to advance into the field of bioinformatics, new degree programs, fellowships, and workshops are increasingly available for information professionals of any background. The Education Web page of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) [2], the Resources Web page of the Molecular Biology and Genomics SIG of the Medical Library Association [3], and Alpi's article, "Bioinformatics Training by Librarians and for Librarians: Developing the Skills Needed to Support Molecular Biology and Clinical Genetics Information Instruction" [4], offer additional information about training and education opportunities. …