Prominent Medical Libraries in New York City Observation

By chinos

On October 20th 2017, I had the opportunity along with others from Pratt Institute to visit the Kim Barrett Memorial Library at the Hospital for Special Surgery(HSS) in New York. The tour was given for information profession students to observe the roles, responsibility and functions of Medical Information librarians and centers. During the visit there was a gracious warm introduction by Rie Goto, Medical Librarian, at Kim Barrett Memorial Library in Hospital for Special Surgery. The Tour was also  preceded by a short Pre-tour talk by Terrie R. Wheeler, AMLS, Director, Samuel J. Wood Library and C.V. Starr Biomedical Information Center. In her brief tour introduction, Terrie talked about the role of information Librarians specifically in the medical field and the important role they play and the value they bring to the medical field. She gave insight to unforeseen things like grant writing and data retrieval speciality positions that information librarians have played over the years and are still growing into. The Medical Information tour then proceeded with us visiting the 3 other prominent information centres neighbouring the Kim Barrett Memorial Library for further observation. The other Information Libraries visited were Myra Mahon Patient Resource Centre, Weil Cornell Medical Samuel J Wood Library and The Rita and Frits Markus Library, Rockefeller University.  

The tour of the Myra Mahon Library, was facilitated by the Information Librarian who gave us a recap of the responsibilities of librarians at the center. The responsibilities as we observed during our visit ranged from answering the phone for inquiries from patients and their families on Medical information to guiding patients that come into the Information center on how to retrieve information from archives that are now digitally stored. While we were there we observed in realtime patients retrieving information for themselves.  After our Myra Mahon visit, we also visited the Weil Cornell and Rockefeller Libraries were we also observed the patients retrieving information before returning to the Kim Barrett Library at HSS.

On our return back to the Kim Barrett Medical Library, the Librarian continued the session with showing us remodeled spaces that had once been areas for stored hard copy papers, books and Journals that had now been digitized. We were then led into the Kim Barrett Library where we were shown the Labs where the Medical students and doctors retrieve information on the database and from book shelves. Surprisingly, there were not a vast amount of hard copy books in the book cases as Rie Goto, Medical Librarian, attested to and confirmed most information had been digitized. Rie explained the digitization of the medical documents had helped increase accessibility and reduced time to deliver the information of the Library materials.


Archived documents 5



Rie, also presented archived medical documents going back all the way to the early years of the hospital, which was interesting to see the way information was archived in the past.

Archived documents 2

She also presented physical artifacts, medical tools that had been used in the earlier years that had now been archived and only used for historical reference.


Archived documents 1

We were able to observe students use the Medical Library to retrieve data from the database while we were there. Rie had also explained the role Medical Librarians currently play in the Hospital.  She mentioned how the Librarians assisted in conducting systematic reviews of data and information and were consulted by doctors at times for literature for their patience or the children. One of the challenges Rie talked about that Librarians had faced in the past and were still facing to a degree was the challenge in some cases of no way to retrieve institutional history that was not properly archived in the past, to identify documented people in old pictures on files.  One of the interesting stories Rie told behind the importance of proper documentation of pictures for the information medical centers, comes from the actual story of how the Medical Library got its name. She explained that on August 3, 1947  there was a fire and the library was almost destroyed. The Librarian on staff was a female named Ms.Barrett. After the fire the story has it that she, Ms. Barrett, single-handedly sifted through the burnt remains of documents like books and Journals to save what was left. Years later in 1977 after the Library had been rebuilt, the Alumni association named and dedicated the medical library in her memory.


Archived documents 4

However at first the process of naming the library was a little challenging task as the documented name on the file for the Librarian was not found in the records of the Hospital. After further research her proper name was discovered and the rest is history, it also turns out she was the first and only section of the library to be named after a woman. One might say her contribution led her to be a recognized pioneer of females in the information professions. Which sheds light on the ongoing topic even today of the under representation of the contribution of women in the information profession as a whole, in a public way.

In Hospitals and medical institutions, Medical information professionals also play a major role in retrieving information from databases for medical teams and doctors. They can play a key role in helping out in the design and structuring of medical databases. According to Rei there are still no general widely accepted standards to documenting data and she suggested Librarians can play an instrumental role in creating acceptable solutions since they deal with both the data and those seeking information from the databases on a regular bases.

In summary of the observation session that occurred at the medical information centers , it was evident to see as witnessed in person that the role of medical informational professionals have evolved over the years from the typical archivist to adding values in growing ways to medical information centers like training of patients to research and grant writing. The art of grant writing is a major task and huge source of  fund raising for research in medical centers and Medical information librarians are center to this as they are  knowledgable to information that can support proposal requests. With this being said, Medical Librarians and information professions have come a long way but definitely still have more to actualize and see be done in their field.

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