Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Elizabeth Ketterman, MLS, Director of the William E. Laupus Health Sciences Library at East Carolina University, and Sean Pidgeon, Publishing Director for Science and Medicine and Oxford University Press.
The second MLA InSight Summit, held in Chicago in September 2018, brought librarians and publishers together with healthcare professionals for discussions on the theme of “Meeting the Evolving Information Needs of Library Stakeholders,” continuing where the first InSight Summit left off. With the proceedings expertly and at times provocatively facilitated by the organizers, Dan Doody and Rich Lampert of Doody Consulting, the participants found much common ground, but also a lack of clear solutions to vexing problems.
Financial support once again came from industry sponsors: American Psychiatric Association Publishing, American Psychological Association, Annual Reviews, BMJ Publishing, Elsevier, F1000, The JAMA Network, McGraw-Hill Education, NEJM Group, Rockefeller University Press, Oxford University Press, ProQuest, Springer Nature, and Wolters Kluwer.
Our keynote speakers kicked off day one by introducing first a quantitative and then a qualitative perspective on readers’ approaches to content discovery. On day two, a panel composed of healthcare professionals discussed their personal information-seeking behaviors. In between, a series of small-group discussions with balanced representation from publishers and librarians drew much inspiration from these presentations. Throughout the event, there was a strong camaraderie and a sense of common purpose, but also a pervasive feeling that “talk is cheap, but it takes money to buy whisky.” In other words, how can our communities work together in collaborative efforts that actually make a difference? We will return to this theme later in the post.
Discovery Methods, Quantified
Tracy Gardner of Renew Publishing Consultants gave us a solid basis for informed discussion by sharing data on the evolving content discovery habits of North American health professionals, comparing the results of a 2018 survey with data collected as far back as 2005. Some noteworthy trends emerged from Gardner’s analysis. The traditional abstracting and indexing services (A&Is) and major search engines continue to dominate as the starting point for information discovery. Library discovery services, though, have peaked, holding a strong position only in the humanities and social sciences. Social media is growing in overall importance, but its uptake as a discovery tool varies greatly by discipline. Google and YouTube are the primary sources for video content, though medical professionals also access videos on journal platforms. And across all sectors, people are primarily accessing journal content on laptops and desktop computers and far less often on phones and tablets. The full report is available for further reading.
Jeff Williams, Director of the NYU Health Sciences Library, shared some thought-provoking ideas on how to convert grudging patrons into power users by reshaping their perceptions of the role of the librarian. Referencing the work of American sociologist Jack Mezirow, who theorized that perspective transformations often begin with a “disorienting dilemma” that challenges the individual’s current worldview, Williams suggested that the unfamiliar experience of working closely and directly with a librarian on a team or project represents just such a dilemma. Those who have had this transformative experience often go on to become library evangelists.
Williams further asserted that librarians “all have the power of this disorienting dilemma” to continue connecting, engaging, and embedding with their users. This is rather intriguing; hold that thought.
A Plethora of User Journeys
The impressive group of clinical professionals who were featured on our day-two panel kept us grounded in the reality that users will do what works best for them in their complex, time-starved working environments, and those choices are often quite divergent from “traditional” approaches to information seeking, such as A&I services. Some standout moments:
- For some clinical research communities, Twitter is a go-to resource (did we hear an audible gasp from the audience?).
- The phone camera has become an invaluable tool for capturing information (slides, clinic handouts, recommendation tables) for later reference.
- Digital resources have largely replaced books as point-of-care references, but textbooks in specialty areas are still vital.
- Mobile apps are highly valued in clinical settings.
A Framework for Action
So, back to those disorienting dilemmas. We were so enamored of this conceptual model that we have adopted it here as a framework for describing some problem-solving initiatives in which the library, publisher, and end-user communities can find common cause. These were the among the most prevalent concerns and challenges voiced during the small-group discussions.
Disorienting Dilemma #1: Patrons do not understand the value of the services provided by the library
Library users have little idea of the cost of subscriptions or the intellectual capital required to provide them with efficient access to timely and authoritative information.
Call to Action #1: How can the library community work with publishing partners to make these investments more visible and meaningful to our end-users?
Disorienting Dilemma #2: We have a poor understanding of how our users find content and interact with one another online
There is a major discrepancy between how librarians search and how healthcare professionals search, as noted in Gardner’s report and reinforced by the conversations among summit participants. Beyond the confines of the traditional library and publisher resources, users have access to a diverse and expanding array of tools to critique scholarly output and promote novel ideas.
Call to Action #2: It is critically important for librarians and publishers to understand these evolving trends in information access. Is there more we can do to share and appropriately contextualize the available data?
Disorienting Dilemma #3: We seem to be helpless targets for pirates
The activities of pirate sites like Sci-Hub are insidious and proliferating. Pirated content is highly discoverable, and there are fewer steps needed to get to it than to subscribed content. Busy end-users, meanwhile, respond more readily to the lifting of access barriers than to ethical appeals.
Call to Action #3: How can librarians and publishers work with search providers such as Google Scholar to make subscribed content as discoverable as possible? How can we simplify the authentication process to encourage users to access the legal version?
Disorienting Dilemma #4: Predatory publishers are taking advantage of a shifting open access landscape
To the untrained eye, predatory journals can sometimes be hard to distinguish from legitimate scholarly outlets. This problem is exacerbated by significant ongoing changes in open access mandates and models.
Call to Action #4: How can we work together to elevate authors’ and readers’ information literacy regarding predatory publishers and their tactics?
Disorienting Dilemma #5: It is challenging to conduct rigorous and reproducible research in the biomedical sciences
The “reproducibility crisis” in biomedicine and other research areas has been well documented in the pages of The Scholarly Kitchen and has become an increasing focus for research funders such as NIH. Lack of rigor can adversely affect an experimental program at any point in the research workflow, from planning and execution to analysis and writing for publication, and librarians and publishers have many touch-points around this workflow cycle.
Call to Action #5: How can we work together to bring our combined resources to bear on this fundamental challenge for the research enterprise?
We hope these calls to action might prove to be useful discussion points for the next MLA InSight Summit.
In their post describing the first MLA InSight Summit, Steven Heffner and Shalu Gillum suggested that this forum must still find its robust growth path from infancy to adolescence, writing that “[t]he formula for success exists; we hope the commitment from all sides can persist as well.” In the view of the present authors, we have reached our metaphorical fifteenth birthday: the world sometimes feels like it’s against us, and we’re still a little too young to buy whisky, but we’re determined to make our mark.