Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Peer Training in Expert Searching: The Observation Effect

Academic journal article Journal of the Medical Library Association

Peer Training in Expert Searching: The Observation Effect

Article excerpt

Objectives: The purpose of this study is to determine if searchers' observing each others' search processes is an effective training method and if sharing through observation can strengthen search skills.

Method: A shared email account was established among all public services librarians conducting literature searches at the Ehrman Medical Library. Three questionnaires were sent to the public services librarians soliciting input on the shared-search process. The results were analyzed for this study.

Results: The shared-search process has helped searchers become more effective in searching. Colleagues' viewing of the search results is a major factor influencing the searchers' performance.

Conclusions: Easy to implement, the peer-training model is an effective way to train searchers as well as help keep skills up to date.


In a 1987 evaluation of qualifications sought by employers in health sciences libraries, Stroyan identified experience or training in online bibliographic searching as requested in 38% of library administration positions and in 86% of reference or information positions [1]. By the late 1990s, clinical librarianship resurfaced in the literature. In preparation for training for clinical rounds, Guise et al. discussed how indepth training was provided for clinical librarians at the Eskind Biomédical Library. Senior librarians, who were considered expert searchers, were responsible for evaluating the filtering skills of clinical librarians [2]. In 1998, Guise et al. discussed how the Eskind Biomedical Library reorganized its traditional divisions and departments and began focusing on specific projects and initiatives for various areas: clinical medical librarianship, informatics filtering, DIALOG, and digital libraries. The four modules required "expert-level" skills, and training modules were developed as a result [3]. Atlas illustrated that as users have become searchers themselves, the volume of mediated searches has been reduced [4].

The easier searches, author searches, and single-subject searches have been replaced by more demanding and complex searches, requiring sophisticated search skills and subject knowledge. Thus, the Public Services Department of the Ehrman Medical Library has recognized that continuous training is required to become an expert mediated searcher in the field of health sciences librarianship. The challenge for today's librarian is in maintaining and growing search skills while working on fewer, but more complicated, searches. Whereas practice makes perfect, the librarian today seeks perfection with less practice.


Institutional setting

The Frederick L. Ehrman Medical Library serves the New York University (NYU) Medical Center, a complex institution consisting of the NYU School of Medicine and two hospitals, Tisch Hospital and the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. Tisch Hospital includes four major treatment and investigative units. The NYU School of Medicine includes the Post-Graduate Medical School, the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine, Sackler Graduate School in Biomedical Sciences, the Kaplan Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Institute of Environmental Medicine, and the Center for AIDS Research. The NYU Medical Center is also affiliated with the Hospital for Joint Diseases, NYU Downtown Hospital, and, most notably, Bellevue Hospital, America's oldest public hospital.

Library setting

The Ehrman Medical Library is a major academic health sciences library. The library serves the information needs of medical and doctoral students, faculty (both clinicians and basic scientists), nurses, and staff throughout the NYU Medical Center, including the dental school. With a staff of sixteen faculty librarians, six librarians are in the public services department and are responsible for mediated searching.

Search services in the Public Services Department

For over 15 years, the Ehrman Medical Library has conducted mediated literature searches. …

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