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The library and data

Over the past year I have had the privilege to serve as a mentor in a major leadership program in which academic health science library directors work with mid-level library managers who want to be library directors. Some of you may have seen or met with William Olmstadt, associate director for Health Sciences Library at LSU Health in Shreveport, Louisiana, my fellow, during his two visits to A.T. Still University (ATSU). Last month I attended the program’s graduation in Washington, D.C. While in Washington we spent a day at the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Library where we received a preview of future directions in services and resources provided by health science libraries.

One major area is access and use of data. As the NLM director, Patti Brennan, stated recently in her blog, “The ultimate goal is for NLM to do for data what we have already done for the literature—formulating sound, systematic approaches to acquiring and curating data sets, devising the technical platforms to ensure the data’s permanence, and creating human and computer-targeted interfaces that deliver these data sets to those around the world who need them.”

This move towards organizing access to and use of data has major possibilities for an institution such as ATSU. Think about what it was like to research the medical literature before Pubmed/Medline. You had to sit at a table and pull out volumes of Index Medicus (ask me if you do not know what Index Medicus was) and look for articles using single search terms. If you found relevant article citations, you either had to photocopy the articles, or request copies from your library’s interlibrary loan service. If you were lucky, you would get the article within a week to 10 days.

Now look at trying to access data sets to research specific, clinically related topics. Either you have to write a grant to support your collecting of the relevant data, or search for NIH generated data sets that might help you test your hypothesis. Now look ahead five years. You access your library’s website and access Datamed. Your library liaison will be able to assist you in, not only locating relevant datasets, but in downloading them and setting them up for effective analysis. He or she works closely with the University’s research support components, to assist you in hypothesis formulation, data analysis, and writing up the findings.

In the late 1950s using computer-based indexes for searching the published literature seemed as impossible as the above scenario seems today.

I am initiating in the library a planning process so that we can begin exploring the emerging world of publicly available data sets (both big and specific research-based data) so that we can begin developing the skills and services over the next five years to support your access to and use of data, as we now do for the publish research literature.

Stay tuned!

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