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May 19, 2011 / Christian M.

A Day in a Hospital Library

On April 1st, I visited William B. Glew, MD, Health Sciences Library at the Washington Hospital Center. I spent the day shadowing the hospital’s library staff. I was hoping to get a first-hand view of how a hospital library functions, and also develop a better idea of what type of internship(s) I should pursue. So I’m just sharing my observations and some of what I learned about this particular library.

This library is for hospital staff only, and you must have an ID badge to come in. The librarians work regular business hours, but hospital staff have access to the library 24/7. In addition to materials, computers, seating and study space, the library also has a small video conferencing room.

Chairman’s Conference

I started the day attending the Chairman’s Conference, which is a meeting for physicians and medical students to discuss case studies relating to the treatment and management of illnesses. The reference librarians attend to keep up with new health information; they do not participate in the discussions.  The focus of this conference was geriatrics, and the topics included depression in the elderly, breast cancer screening guidelines for elderly women, and health issues of elderly gays and lesbians. The conference lasted about an hour.

ICU Rounds

While I was attending the conference with one reference librarian, another was attending ICU Rounds. There are two parts to Rounds: the first is a meeting, and the second is the actual walking around to see the patients. The librarians are there to take note of any issues/questions that they can research on behalf of the doctors or patients.

Reference Services

Some of the reference work involves literature searches, which is a search for specific journal articles, or a search for resources on a specific topic. I was allowed to perform a few literature searches in PubMed and Ovid, which are online databases. The librarians also provide instruction in the use of the website and databases. Most of the doctors at WHC who request assistance, either need articles through ILL, or need the librarians to help research a certain topic or medical condition. One of the reference librarians told me that he recently spent two weeks assisting with one research project.

Inter Library Loans

There is a librarian whose sole responsibility is the ILL. There is an ILL fee (I guess sort of a processing fee), plus there can be a fee for the article itself. Articles older than 2006 are free, but newer articles can cost up to $50 each! This library covers all ILL fees and does not pass this expense on to staff.

Technical Services

The cataloging librarian has the responsibility for acquisitions, cataloging, and weeding. She receives input from some of the doctors to assist in collection development. There are no books on the shelf older than five years old, unless they contain basic information that is unchanging. They are making the transition to providing more serials online instead of print. She demonstrated for me how to copy catalog a bibliographic file from OCLC.

Measuring Success

I was curious how this library measured the success of their services to the library since not many items are “checked out,” and there are many electronic resources that can be accessed outside the library.  Some of the ways they accomplish this is by tracking the number of information requests they receive, the topics they research, which journals are used most, the number of people signing up for universal password to use journals remotely, and through surveys.

It was a very enjoyable and informative experience. The librarians told me that I am welcome to come back for a practicum. I will definitely keep that in mind for next school year. Hopefully, I can participate in a spend-a-day with an academic medical library as well. I know every medical library is different, but I like having this opportunity to observe and gather a general idea of responsibilities and expectations….. and also having the opportunity to network and receive advice.



Leave a Comment
  1. Lesley / May 19 2011 1:13 pm

    Sounds like an interesting day! Yay!

  2. Variegated Stacks / May 20 2011 9:49 am

    Awesome! You may have just convinced me to change my specialization to Health Informatics afterall. LOL.

    • LibGirl09 / May 20 2011 10:42 am

      Totally awesome! The more, the merrier. LOL

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