Published April 6, 2022
Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one. — Neil Gaiman, Author
When most people think of librarians, they picture the stereotypical older woman with glasses and a bun who shushes them for talking too loudly. In the past, librarians were the keepers of information but have now evolved to become navigators of information. Although information available online seems to be unlimited, finding what you are looking for hidden within the noise of search results is not always easy. Further, high-quality online medical information is not always free. How can a medical librarian support doctors in training and throughout their careers?
Several studies have shown the value of librarians in patient care. In one large survey, physicians reported that the information they obtained from the library led them to different decisions about patient care. Another study found that including a medical librarian on the clinical care team notably impacted patient care; 79% of survey respondents reported that that information provided by the librarian changed treatment decisions. In a randomized-controlled trial, a handheld device provided to primary care physicians to allow them to send clinical questions to librarians had a positive effect on clinical care.
Even when medical librarians are not embedded in care teams, they can help with patient care. One recent example involved a patient who presented with bilateral lower-extremity discoloration, pain, and purple mottled legs after ankle surgery. The medical team could not determine the cause of the discoloration and asked the librarian for help. The librarian searched the literature using case details provided by the team and found a case report of a similar presentation that was attributed to an adverse reaction to levofloxacin. The patient improved with discontinuation of levofloxacin.
Although PubMed and UpToDate are often go-to resources for doctors, they are not always the best tool. A search in PubMed only scans the abstract, title, and index terms, but not the full text of an article. Although UpToDate is a powerful clinical tool with more than 10,000 topics in more than 20 specialties, it lacks information about some topics and specialties and cannot be used for research in the same way as PubMed. Every database is designed differently and requires tailored search methodologies. Medical librarians have been trained in information retrieval and use medical databases and resources on a daily basis. They know the nuances of different databases and resources, what they were designed to provide, and how to effectively search them. Medical librarians can find obscure or hard-to-find research from citations, reports, dissertations, conference abstracts, patents, or narrow results to clinical trials or evidence-based research
Medical librarians can expedite the research and publishing process and can be key partners in finding source material for systematic reviews, grant proposals, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and Institutional Review Board proposals. Recent reports found a correlation between including a medical librarian as an author or team member and higher quality systematic reviews ( J Med Libr Assoc 2016, J Clin Epidemiol 2015, Qual Life Res 2016).
Librarians also have a lot of knowledge about different publishers and can help you identify the right publication for your manuscript or recommend a list of publications appropriate for your topic. Librarians can alert you to journals and publishers who falsely claim to have peer review, editorial boards, and impact factors and help you find reputable journals to publish your work.
When it comes time to formatting and adding citations, librarians can save you time by providing tips on using citation software and reformatting references to match a journal’s style.
Residents rarely complain about having too much time on their hands. If you don’t have time to go to the library, the library can come to you! Most librarians are happy to consult by email, text, or phone. Think of it in the same way you might contact a specialist consultant or a research mentor. Working with a librarian can contribute to your knowledge base, save you time and money, help advance your research career, and most importantly, help you provide the best possible care for patients.