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How the medical library—and its chief librarian—changed with the times

Posted By Sladjana Markovic On April 15, 2016 @ 11:21 am In Uncategorized | No Comments

In December 2015, Arlene Greenberg paused to reflect on the highlights of her career, just as she was about to retire as Chief Medical Librarian of the JGH Health Sciences Library.

When Arlene Greenberg launched her career in 1970, her world was vastly different from the one she left when she retired this past January as the JGH’s Chief Medical Librarian.

No internet. No smartphones. No laptops. No desktops. No databases. No digital technology of any kind at the consumer level.

The only recourse was for a librarian to conduct a search of the literature, which consisted mainly of printed journals and books. It was the librarians who assembled the library’s collection, borrowed material from other libraries, and tracked down whatever information the professionals needed.

Arlene Greenberg is shown in 1983, consulting McGill University’s catalogue on a microfiche reader in the JGH Health Sciences Library. Use of the reader was a major advance that enabled librarians to track down a wider range of medical information in the years just before online catalogues were introduced. [1]

Arlene Greenberg is shown in 1983, consulting McGill University’s catalogue on a microfiche reader in the JGH Health Sciences Library. Use of the reader was a major advance that enabled librarians to track down a wider range of medical information in the years just before online catalogues were introduced.

It’s an era that was fondly recalled by Ms. Greenberg, who joined the library of the Lady Davis Institute in 1970 and became the JGH’s Chief Medical Librarian in 1978. However, she added, today’s instant availability of information was worth the trade-off, because it has meant improving the speed and quality of the care that patients receive. Ultimately, this has had a direct impact on the care that patients receive.

“Losing those many, many bound volumes, journals and stacks enabled us, as librarians, to gain access to a treasure-trove of resources, including more than 8,000 e‑journals, databases and e-books,” she explained. “In health care, where time can be a critical factor, patients reap the benefits if we can find what we’re after in a matter of minutes or even seconds.”

Another major change was making the Health Sciences Library available to patients who need reliable facts about a particular illness or condition. In 2002, the Patient and Family Resource Centre (jgh.ca/PFRC) was launched to steer patients to trusted websites. That led to the Patient Education Network, introduced in 2012 to help patients search the PFRC collection, locate relevant books or articles, and even browse healthcare materials developed by JGH professionals.

Among the other changes that Ms. Greenberg oversaw:

  • 1991: A consortium was formed to provide affiliated teaching hospitals with access to McGill University’s resources.
  • 1992: CD-ROMs went into wide use to speed up and simplify database searches.
  • 1994: McGill’s digitized Medline database became accessible through an internet connection.
  • Late ’90s: CD-ROMs were replaced by direct online access to databases.
  • 2007: The extensively renovated Health Sciences Library opened. Users got digital access, while the number of books and journals was cut significantly.
  • 2009: To mark the JGH’s 75th anniversary, a librarian and related resources were dedicated to archive the hospital’s physical and digital artifacts in a more systematic and easily accessible manner. A touring exhibit was also created. For the 80th anniversary five years later, the archivist created a new exhibit for the main lobby.
  • 2010: Librarians began attending clinical rounds in General Surgery, Colorectal Surgery and Neonatal Intensive Care to improve support in decision-making by the patient care team. Four years later, they began attending clinical rounds with the Hematology staff, and tumour board with staff of Head & Neck Oncology.
In the pre-digital era, books and journals—on towering bookcases that have disappeared from the JGH Health Sciences Library—were the primary sources of medical information. [2]

In the pre-digital era, books and journals—on towering bookcases that have disappeared from the JGH Health Sciences Library—were the primary sources of medical information.

Ms. Greenberg called the opportunity to serve in the Health Sciences Library “a great privilege and an honour. Working with such a talented library team motivated me to do my best for our healthcare professionals and for the patients who need us.

“Not many people can say they’ve worked in a single place for nearly five decades, but I’ve done just that. I’ve always felt that as the library continued to grow, I grew personally and professionally, right alongside it.”


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