Several times each month I hear from librarians new to collecting health information who are looking for advice on developing a consumer health collection. These librarians are rarely looking for a detailed policy, nor are they looking for a bibliography per se. Rather, they tend to seek some guidance about quickly updating or developing a collection that will be accessible to their patrons without breaking the budget.
Because so few librarians have a health science background and because the subject matter is often very personal--you are directing patrons to information they may use to make decisions about their health and medical care--many librarians feel uncomfortable making judgments about what content to add. The two most frequent questions I'm asked are: "How do I know if the health information I am purchasing, and eventually directing patrons to, is good or not?" and "Who are the best vendors, publishers, etc. to purchase health material from?"
There is nothing worse than a patron stating that he or she has just left a health provider's office after being told that the information provided by the library was not only incorrect but potentially harmful. This leads me to my first question for you: How good is the health information you're providing? Instead of assessing whether the information in your collection is bad or out-of-date, I suggest you ask: Is the
information to which I direct patrons either scientifically based or evidence-based (which are two different issues)? If the answer is "yes," then you've done a credible job of building your health collection. Even the often-requested integrated (a.k.a. alternative or complementary) medical information request can be answered using scientifically based books.
Most librarians should purchase their health books from the same vendor from which they purchase their other books. Although other vendors may have stronger health collections available in their catalogs, reliance on a vendor catalog is probably not a sound approach to collection development. Most book jobbers will special-order any title, which is usually easier than adding a new vendor to your purchasing system's approved list. Additionally, most librarians have established relations (hopefully positive) with the staff members of their library's main vendors, making special orders and personal assistance a smoother process.
Just what the doctor ordered
To quickly build and/or update consumer health collections, I often recommend that librarians purchase several consumer health series that are recognizable and respected. These series are from publishers that are well known in the health library world as well as to acquisition librarians across many disciplines--and sometimes to the general public.
What follows are several consumer health series that you can confidently use to build any collection. These book series can be reviewed on each publisher's website or in your book vendor's catalog (all the better if your vendor adds editorial information to the items contained in its catalog). Remember, a series is something that continues in perpetuity, and publishers constantly update these titles with new editions and add new titles to each series.
1 Johns Hopkins University Press. A quick-and-dirty search from the JHUP website (www.press.jhu.edu) with the word "health" will yield most of the consumer titles this press offers. Browsing the medical titles will lead to a more comprehensive listing, but will include clinical titles. The popular Johns Hopkins White Papers, an annual staple, are published by Medletter Associates, and are often available through your book vendor.
2 Oxford University Press offers several good consumer health series, and its United States website (www.oup.com/us/?view=usa) allows browsing by series. Among those worth looking at is the Facts series, consisting of over 30 health titles written specifically for laypeople. …