A Current Perspective on Medical Informatics and Health Sciences Librarianship

By Perry, Gerald J.; Roderer, Nancy K. et al. | Journal of the Medical Library Association, April 2005 | Go to article overview

A Current Perspective on Medical Informatics and Health Sciences Librarianship


Perry, Gerald J., Roderer, Nancy K., Assar, Soraya, Journal of the Medical Library Association


Objective: The article offers a current perspective on medical informatics and health sciences librarianship.

Narrative: The authors: (1) discuss how definitions of medical informatics have changed in relation to health sciences librarianship and the broader domain of information science; (2) compare the missions of health sciences librarianship and health sciences informatics, reviewing the characteristics of both disciplines; (3) propose a new definition of health sciences informatics; (4) consider the research agendas of both disciplines and the possibility that they have merged; and (5) conclude with some comments about actions and roles for health sciences librarians to flourish in the biomedical information environment of today and tomorrow.

Summary: Boundaries are disappearing between the sources and types of and uses for health information managed by informaticians and librarians. Definitions of the professional domains of each have been impacted by these changes in information. Evolving definitions reflect the increasingly overlapping research agendas of both disciplines. Professionals in these disciplines are increasingly functioning collaboratively as "boundary spanners," incorporating human factors that unite technology with health care delivery.

INTRODUCTION

In 1994, the ever-prescient Matheson delivered the American College of Medical Informatics Distinguished Lecture at the 18th Annual Symposium on Computer Applications in Medical Care. Exhorting her peers to consider the central challenge for the fields of medical informatics and librarianship, she advocated forming a new organization to lead the development of postmodern digital knowledge management systems for biomedicine [1]. Much of what Matheson predicted in her lecture has either come true or soon will, in particular the advent of university- and discipline-specific digital repositories representing the intellectual capital of academe and the fundamentally transforming paradigm shift now being experienced as the roles of libraries and scholars evolve as a result of the widespread digitization of scholarly communications. The organization that she called for, however, has not materialized.

A year after Matheson advocated merging fields and interests, Frisse et al., writing from a library perspective, argued that

The birth of new forms of institutional and corporate knowledge created from aggregate data raises the potential for a new form of librarianship that will require a synergistic reformulation of the roles of both the medical informatician and the librarian. [2]

Both Matheson and Frisse et al. focused on roles and interests, and both advocated combining professional agendas to develop and deliver digital knowledge management systems to advance the health sciences. In the eight years since the Frisse et al. article and the nine years since Matheson's lecture, how have definitions of medical informatics evolved and changed in relation to health sciences librarianship and the broader domain of information science? Where do the scopes and research agendas of health sciences librarianship and medical informatics overlap, and where do they diverge? Also, what progress has been made in articulating and realizing new roles for biomedical librarians in relation to the developing professional discipline of medical informatics?

DEFINITIONS

Frisse et al. defined medical informatics as being at the crossroads between biomedical science and information technology, with a focus on developing and delivering information systems that support health care, decision making, databases for outcomes analysis, and health sciences research and administration. Health sciences librarianship was viewed as theorizing about and applying organizational and management technologies to biomedical scholarly communications. The authors noted that their definition of informatics focused on tasks for the field and did not encompass informatics' intellectual scope, so that their description of librarianship was in fact relevant to both librarianship and informatics as the disciplines then existed. …

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