Magazine article Information Outlook

Why the Information Age Demands We Change the Profile of Medical Libraries

Magazine article Information Outlook

Why the Information Age Demands We Change the Profile of Medical Libraries

Article excerpt

IT and the KAT Hospital in Athens

THERE IS AN URGENT NEED TO DEFINE PRIORITIES IN THE MANAGEMENT OF HEALTH-SCIENCE INFORMATION. For the health-information industry, the key to managing the increasing amount of scientific and technological data can be found in the use of integrated and advanced information management systems. In an environment where there will be a continuing demand for more efficient and robust automated systems, which will in turn compel health-care facilities to participate in the changing and complex information technology (IT) marketplace, librarians will play an exciting and crucial role in helping the users of medical libraries take full advantage of these new technologies and the benefits these offer.

Today, we stand at the threshold of a world where there are libraries without walls and, indeed, libraries without books-at least in the traditional sense. Most assuredly, however, this is not a world without books, or the information contained in them. The "books," so to speak, are just being housed differently, in what is called "cyberspace." All the information that is contained on the traditional printed page is now being adapted by IT to its new home in cyherspace. This information is being automated into integrated computer systems that, in turn, offer important and improved stock-management information. Technology, then, is very obviously a catalyst for change: one embraced fully by the General Hospital, KAT, as we accept the challenge of combining direct practice and research in the medical sciences

The traditional brick-and-mortar library typically affords a user no easy way of knowing just what specific articles are stashed on the library shelves, no easy way of knowing what books are available at the time the user visits the library, and no direct indication of when a book or manuscript will be returned if it has been checked out by another user. Because of information technology, however, the expectations of users of medical libraries have changed in recent years, and the associated challenges to librarians to meet their customers' growing expectations have correspondingly expanded. The growing presence of IT, and its ever-increasing sophistication, therefore, demands a level of professional knowledge of and experience with these technologies. In the future, there will need to be a way to support "virtual patrons" of libraries. We need, therefore, to change libraries' profiles regarding technology, emphasizing automation and networks that lead to more and better information that can be obtained with less effort. In creating these "libraries without walls" through IT, however, its cost-effective implementation should always be kept in mind.

As we enter the new century, new technologies have become thoroughly integrated into our work environment and, specifically, the culture of the library; meanwhile, further technological changes approach at a dizzying rate. No wonder we can hardly catch our breath! The scope and rapidity of these changes, then, frame the challenge the KAT library faces: how it can become a model electronic health science library in time for 2004, when the Olympics come to Athens.

Medical Libraries in Greece

The hospital industry in Greece is under the auspices of three different ministries: Education, Health, and Defense. Some hospitals are under the guidance of both Education and Health Ministries. "Education," in this context, generally means universities, and a substantial amount of the education budget therefore goes to research and to the education of medical students. (In general, hospital budgets in Greece are relatively low when compared to those in Western European countries.) This means that medical libraries are usually the last recipients of the residue of those budgets, once these other claims on them have been made. Nonetheless, almost all the medical libraries in Greece are controlled by the state.

At the national level, hospitals and all other health-care units have libraries within their organizations. …

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