An Ode to Library Science

Colin T. Son, MD


September 30, 2009

It's a quick lesson to learn in medicine and, I imagine, any other data-heavy field: The most important people in the world are the ones who can help you find the information that you need. This includes the IT guy who knows the electronic medical record inside and out, the nurse who knows where everything is in the patient's chart, and the librarian who can find even the most obscure medical journal article.

If you are doing medical research, Laika Spoetnik, the pseudonymous Dutch medical librarian writing at MedLibLog, is someone you should know. Ms. Spoetnik provides blog readers with up-to-date information on medical journals and online research tools, such as those mentioned in her posts PubMed: Past, Present And Future, Part I and Part II.

She has even questioned the reliability of some online health information, such as in the post The Trouble with Wikipedia as a Source for Medical Information Ms. Spoetnik covers a lot of ground on MedLibLog. She's thorough, knows what she is talking about, and is often cited.

MedLibLog hosts Grand Rounds
on September 29, 2009.

Colin Son, MD: Tell us how you got involved with medical librarianship.

Ms. Spoetnik: Unemployment during my first pregnancy prompted me to reorient myself. I thought medical librarianship might be an interesting job. I followed a postdoctoral library program and subsequently hip-hopped between library and scientific jobs until I switched to what is now my first permanent job ever [as a medical information specialist at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam].

Dr. Son: You have a PhD in biology and previously worked as a research scientist. How has your science background and your previous work in biology aided your current work?

Ms. Spoetnik: It has helped in several ways. First, as a scientist you learn to be analytical. Second, my background helps me to more easily understand a biomedical question. Third, having a similar background, it is easier to communicate with doctors and researchers. Fourth and most important, I understand the needs of researchers and I'm aware of the pitfalls of searching; in other words, I know now what I did wrong then.

Dr. Son: I'll admit it: As a physician, I use Wikipedia all the time to look up health information on the fly. What are the problems with using a collaborative resource as opposed to the old, tedious "expert" model?

Ms. Spoetnik: I have nothing against Wikipedia if you use it as a starting point. In theory, I like the idea behind collective "intelligence," but in practice Wikipedia still lacks credibility. In my humble opinion, medical subjects should be written primarily by experts, with input from others. I welcome initiatives encouraging medical students and researchers to contribute to Wikipedia or other wikis.

Dr. Son: You must work with individuals all over the world. Give us your favorite example of how you think Medicine 2.0 and the Internet has made the world smaller.

Ms. Spoetnik: Yes, it has made the world smaller for me; I now "know" many people all over the world -- librarians, doctors, researchers, patients. What I do like about Web 2.0 (and especially Twitter) is that it is so easy to connect and to keep abreast of new information. Three small personal examples: I met someone via Twitter with whom I will be presenting a workshop on Web 2.0 at the Cochrane Colloquium. Last week, someone mailed me a question that was answered within minutes by several people on Twitter.

I even made a spreadsheet of  Tweeting Journals.

Grand Rounds is hosted by MedLibLog this week. Known as "The CliffsNotes of the Medical Blogosphere," Grand Rounds brings together the best online writing from physicians, nurses, medical librarians, researchers, patients, and others to one place where it's easy to read and explore.


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