Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dear Med Student

Waiting, in vain, for a month hoping to get a reply from a 4th year med student who complained about our library catalog, I think I need to say something. Here is the email we received about a month ago:

"I am a 4th year med student and think the new library catalog format is garbage. I cannot get on pubmed or uptodate like I used to and when I search the catalog even simple basic medical concepts return little to no results. This is severely affecting my ability to gather information and is very discouraging when compared to other institutions access to appropriate research/educational material."

This kind of message would make every medical librarian restless and want to offer the best help they can. The student's complaint about the library catalog didn't worry me much because the new search interface is really simple and easy to use. I tried searching PubMed and UpToDate, both showed up in seconds at the very top of the search results with links to the databases. What struck me the most was something underneath the complaint--the student's information literacy skills and knowledge of researching the library. Obviously, the student had a hard time finding information he needed to complete his course assignments. Let me guess. He didn't know the difference between an online database and the library's catalog. It happened quite often when students with a list of readings from their professors came to the library to retrieve the full text articles, they started searching the catalog by entering the article titles to conduct the search. Of course, nothing came out. Another possible diagnosis. The student had a research topic for a course project. He wanted to know what literatures are available out there. He started searching the catalog. Of course, it would retrieve a list of books and journals, which made him frustrated because he couldn't go into each item to view the content.

Dear med student, if you could spare some time with a medical librarian either by phone, by email, by Live Chat, or drop by the library, your life would be much easier. The librarian would orientate you navigating the library and its resources and point you to the right direction where to look for what you need. Dear med student, don't let this happen again, contact your librarian.

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