Eyes on the Prize: Reflections on the Impact of the Evolving Digital Ecology on the Librarian as Expert Intermediary and Knowledge Coach, 1969-2009*

By Homan, J. Michael | Journal of the Medical Library Association, January 2010 | Go to article overview

Eyes on the Prize: Reflections on the Impact of the Evolving Digital Ecology on the Librarian as Expert Intermediary and Knowledge Coach, 1969-2009*


Homan, J. Michael, Journal of the Medical Library Association


Objective: The 2009 Janet Doe Lecture reflects on the continuing value and increasing return on investment of librarian-mediated services in the constantly evolving digital ecology and complex knowledge environment of the health sciences.

Setting: The interrelationship of knowledge, decision making based on knowledge, technology used to access and retrieve knowledge, and the important linkage roles of expert librarian intermediaries is examined.

Methodology: Professional experiences from 1969 to 2009, occurring during a time of unprecedented changes in the digital ecology of librarianship, are the base on which the evolving role and value of librarians as knowledge coaches and expert intermediaries are examined.

Conclusion: Librarian-mediated services linking knowledge and critical decision making in health care have become more valuable than ever as technology continues to reshape an increasingly complex knowledge environment.

INTRODUCTION

I am honored to have been selected as the Janet Doe Lecturer for 2009. I offer a sincere thank you to the jury and to the nominators. Presenting the Doe lecture is something that even in my wildest dreams I never thought would occur, especially in the fall of 1969 when I entered the Graduate Library School of the University of Chicago.

As with other Doe lecturers, I encountered some anxiety in deciding on an area that I wanted to share with you in this lecture. Other lecturers have reported the "terror" of receiving the letter announcing that they had been chosen as the Doe lecturer. As some of you may recall, David Bishop's response to learning that he had been chosen as the Doe lecturer was that "he'd joined the ranks of the dinosaurs" [I]. David's reaction was in the context of reading James Michener's novel Centennial, in which Michener characterizes the dinosaurs, in their environmental adaptations, as one of the most successful animal inventions nature had provided. David suggested that Michener's description of the dinosaurs might not be an exact description of the Doe lecturers, "but it will suffice" [1].

Lucretia W. McClure, AHIP, FMLA, best captured both the anxiety of being selected a Doe lecturer and the joy of finally settling on a topic in her 1985 lecture when she said that the anxiety is eased when a satisfactory topic is selected and "The joy comes from delving into the subject and discovering the many ideas and writings of many thoughtful authors, and this experience far outweighs the anxiety" [2].

It wasn't until January 2009 that my lecture topic started to gel. That month, with the 2008 presidential election having concluded, the television news shows to which I am addicted were turning to the upcoming inauguration of President Barack Obama. On January 11, 2009, I happened to be watching the broadcast of Face the Nation with Bob Shieffer. Shieffer was reminiscing about the fact that Obama's swearing-in would mark Shieffer's twelfth inauguration, and he noted that "Like all inaugurals, it will be keyed to the future, about hope and the expectations to come" [3]. Shieffer was philosophical about the January Obama inauguration and paraphrased Marcel Proust's notion that an unremarkable object such as a tree, or rock, or an experience can unlock a memory long forgotten. For me, this somewhat unremarkable experience helped shape this lecture and spurred me to delve into the events and experiences that have helped shape my journey in our profession and to rekindle a sense of hope and expectation for our profession.

I am neither a historian nor a philosopher, and hence my lecture title includes the word "reflections." As Nina W. Matheson, AHIP, FMLA, stated in her 1994 lecture, "Every Doe lecturer... has disclaimed professional qualifications for writing history or philosophy. Yet each has struggled to... five up to the honor of the lectureship. ...All have written about what they hold nearest and dearest to their professional hearts, seeking to inform, to provide insight, to inspire, and even to entertain" [4]. …

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