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Midwest Matters July 22nd, 2018
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Reflections on Big Data in Healthcare: Exploring Emerging Roles

Posted by on April 16th, 2018 Posted in: Data Science
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In the NNLM Big Data in Healthcare: Exploring Emerging Roles course, we asked participants, as they progressed through the course to consider the following questions: Do you think health sciences librarians should get involved with big data in healthcare? Where should librarians get involved, if you think they should? If you think they should not, explain why. You may also combine a “should/should not” approach if you would like to argue both sides. NNLM will feature responses from different participants over the coming weeks.


Written by: Nicole Montgomery, MISLT, AHIP, Librarian, Assistant Professor, CoxHealth Systems and Cox College, Springfield, MO

I am certain that Health Sciences Librarians should be involved with anything healthcare. This is our job.

I have often teased that we are the bartenders of our institutions. We have a seat in the organization that is unique to any other in that it allows us to interact with everybody. Literally, everybody! From the person who cleans the library, to the CEO of the hospital, or the people who work in financial services, the nurse on the floor, an occupational therapy student, a patient who just learned her baby will be staying in the NICU, or a physician trying to determine the best treatment for a difficult case. We hear people’s stories; we hear their frustrations and sometimes lend an ear when they need one. Librarians are intrinsically user-focused.

We typically get to know our users, and we are able to see the overall picture of the information they are seeking. Because of our familiarity with our users, if a physician needs insight into a nutrition-related topic, I am in a position to know which dietician on staff will likely be able and willing to answer his questions. Or, when the college I work with decides to investigate some cool 3-D equipment, I am able to suggest collaborating with the hospital’s residency program to share the cost and make the most of using the equipment. The real-life examples are endless, but ultimately, we desire to bridge the gap between departments, disciplines and people with like-interests; because we know that working together is usually better than staying in our silos.

What I am not certain of, is to what level we should be involved with big data initiatives. In the light of Big Data, I believe most librarians still have a lot to learn about our organizations before we may answer the question about our level of involvement. I imagine we will all find different answers.

In conjunction to exploring our institutions, I think librarians need to begin discussions in an attempt to answer how Big Data may impact libraries. We need to ask ourselves questions about the future such as: will we still have print books, current journals and stacks of bound serials? Will libraries still exist as brick and mortar buildings? Will all of our materials be delivered electronically? Will the librarian simply become a person behind a computer screen? Will our profession become a fond memory of the past, just like the card catalog? What will the entire publishing industry look like? Krumholz briefly addresses the question about the publishing industry on p. 1169 of his article by saying, “In the future, the products of scientific inquiry may evolve from a static journal publication to a more dynamic platform for presenting and updating results.” Brennan predicts the same at 1:10:21 of her presentation. She says (with an apology to any journal editors), “We’re moving pretty quickly away from journal articles and pretty fast into blogs…and shared knowledge building. In health sciences, the “bread and butter” of our world is journal articles. While we, as librarians, typically pride ourselves on being willing to embrace technology, I think the inception of Big Data into our world may challenge us and may change our profession in a way we cannot yet imagine.

In an effort to give us a place to begin, librarian Elaine R. Martin provides a proposed “Data Management Framework for Librarians.” She says her proposed framework is user-centered and includes five “buckets”: Data Services, Data Management Practices, Data Literacy, Archives/Preservation, and Data Policy. Without delving into explaining each “bucket” within this essay, it is easy to say that each proposed bucket provides familiar concepts to librarians. For instance, the Data Services bucket, “…may include the following activities: assessing researcher needs, performing an institutional data environmental scan, conducting the research interview, designing a suite of services such as assistance with DMPs [Data Management Practices] based on user needs, etc.” These concepts are digestible for librarians and definitely provide us with a place to start.

While my parallel of being the bartenders of our institutions is intended to be humorous, there is quite a bit of truth to this. No matter what changes the future holds, as librarians, we will instinctively do our part.

References:

  1. Krumholz, HM. Big Data And New Knowledge In Medicine: The Thinking, Training, And Tools Needed For A Learning Health System
  2. Brennan, Patti. NINR Big Data Boot Camp Part 4: Big Data in Nursing Research
  3. Martin, Elaine R. The Role of Librarians in Data Science: A Call to Action

Image of the author ABOUT Derek Johnson
Derek is a Minnesota native who relocated to Iowa in 2013. His professional experiences include public health, prospect research, competitive intelligence, and outreach librarianship. Derek and his wife reside in Coralville with their daughter and two dogs (mini goldendoodle and mini poodle)!

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This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Grant Number 1UG4LM012346 with The University of Iowa.

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