The Graduate and Professional School Libraries
Countway Library of Medicine
Report of Isaac Kohane, MD, PhD, Librarian
The Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, one of the largest
medical libraries in the world, serves the Harvard Medical School (HMS),
the Harvard School of Public Health, the Harvard School of Dental
Medicine, the Boston Medical Library, and the Massachusetts Medical
Society. The Countway Library holds more than 630,000 volumes,
subscribes to 3,500 current journal titles, and houses over 10,000
non-current biomedical journal titles. The library houses one of the
world’s leading medical history collections and provides access to many
electronic information resources. Additionally, it hosts an archives and
records management program for the schools of the Harvard medical area
and houses the Warren Anatomical Museum.
The missions of the Countway Library and the HMS Center for Biomedical Informatics are tightly integrated, though each has its own focus as described below.
The mission of the Countway Library of Medicine is to foster the advancement of education, research, scholarship, and professional practice in medicine, biological sciences, public health, and dentistry by
The Harvard Medical School Center for Biomedical Informatics promotes and facilitates collaborative activities in biomedical informatics research and education among faculty at Harvard Medical School and its affiliated institutions. In an era of biomedical knowledge overload, high-throughput biomedical data generation, increasing consumer knowledgeability through information access, and national needs for real-time public health, CBMI will convene and lead research and educational activities to meet these needs.
CBMI’s goal is to be the coordinating and administrative organization to support the above mission, and will be composed of faculty members who are active in biomedical informatics research and education defined broadly as the intersection of biomedicine and the information sciences. We plan to adopt an approach that we have successfully executed at other parts of the Medical School (i.e. the affiliated hospitals), and which has three components:
The Office of the Director includes the director, the deputy director, and a small team of support personnel that work closely with the directors and with the leads of the cells in the matrix shown below. These include a department administrator (coordinates office administrative matters), a staff assistant (manages office calendars, travel, event planning, space requirements), and a grants coordinator (identifies and oversees extramural funding).
Very clearly, the most frequent visit to the library will be via web searches bringing users to various parts of the Countway web site. This site, which is being implemented as a multiplicity of interrelated sites, provides access to all tools and contains the full content of all open-access materials, digitized collections, and the digital content of community events sponsored by the Countway. Annotations regarding authoritativeness and reputation will be added through semi-automated techniques. Working together with other library staff, Informatics Technology staff lead the design and development of these and the other online resources for each of the four focus areas. The head of Informatics Technology also serves as the primary liaison to senior HMS IT staff.
The Bioinformatics team meets the community need for apprenticeships and short courses for the most efficient use of existing bioinformatics tools. This requires bioinformatics specialists and librarians who are both knowledgeable in the use of the current tools and able to teach others, as well as to help customize these tools for particular uses by the apprentices.
The wide variety of bioinformatics tasks, data types, and analyses and tools available requires a team that is experienced and willing to provide the necessary infrastructural support to the community. This team is already constituted and led by Dennis Wall. The team will provide leadership across all Bioinformatics efforts in the four organizational units of the Countway.
Several departments at the Medical School Quad and the affiliated hospitals have expressed enthusiasm for the role of the Countway in maintaining and curating clinical databases (e.g., Medicare claims, HMO medication use). Under supervision of the team in Clinical Informatics, medical informaticians with training in the mining of large clinical databases will work with several “customers” at HMS to provide useful access to these data.
There is a core set of competencies required around the curation of clinical databases. Whether they are public health, health-reimbursement (e.g. CMS databases), or hospital databases, they will also require knowledge of informatics standards for nomenclature and data models. To this end, medical informaticians will develop and/or curate and maintain the necessary databases and provide decision-support functionality as needed. These individuals will work with the medical informaticians responsible for the databases used principally by clinical researchers in the HMS community.
Creating focused electronic and interactive educational offerings based on Countway resources, in collaboration with expert faculty and customized to a variety of audiences, will require a rapid cycle of engagement with the targeted community and design/redesign of these offerings. This requires reference librarians, application developers, and education specialists working together under the guidance of the lead librarian in Outreach and Education.
The broad portfolio of new user communities (patients, basic researchers, real-time epidemiologists) requires that we have ongoing efforts to customize all Countway content (both electronic and physical) to these diverse communities. To this effect, a lead librarian will coordinate all customization and resource management and will work with the Digital Library and Collection and Knowledge Management groups to ensure that these efforts are consistent and cost-effective, monitoring their use for future resource allocation.
Electronic resource management and integration of the various kinds of resources (e-journal subscriptions, bibliome network databases, clinical databases) requires a new set of skills that intersects library science and computing. To this end, librarians comfortable with electronic media, electronic resource administration, and electronic media business contracting will work with application developers to ensure that the appropriate content is made available to all users of Countway services. They will also coordinate their work with the staff in the Center for the History of Medicine.
Perhaps the most significant lacuna in the Center for the History of Medicine is that its curated resources are largely confined to the physical confines of the Countway and its repositories. For this reason, we are initiating an effort that will bring these curated materials to the broader external world via the Countway web portal to the Center for the History of Medicine.
The Bioinformatics team will work with the librarians in the Center for the History of Medicine to work on curating bioinformatics databases that are of archival interest as well as documenting the pioneering work in bioinformatics arising from the HMS community.
Given the leadership since the mid-20th century of HMS investigators in clinical informatics, a perspective on recurrent themes in these investigations is of timely relevance, particularly given the large investments in this area now contemplated locally and nationally. To this effect, librarians at the Center for the History of Medicine will work with medical informaticians to identify relevant documents of early medical computing applications at HMS.
In order to make the Center for the History of Medicine an even more dynamic and relevant presence, locally and nationally, and to enable it to generate its own funding sources, we have recruited a faculty head for the center. The position includes an academic appointment in the HMS Department of Social Medicine. The new center head will work with staff to bring the treasures of the Countway to the view of investigators and beyond (through their interactions with the Digital Library team).
Existing and new Countway personnel fit very well into the four infrastructural units. New staff members have been hired to head each of these units.
With the overlay of the four focus areas, all personnel will have the opportunity to participate in the transformation of the library as it becomes a major player in this age of high throughput data and knowledge management.
Recent activities of each of the units are described below.
The Countway/CBMI Informatics Technology group supports both library operations and research activities. This group works closely with the HMS IT and AV groups, with the Harvard University Library’s Office for Information Systems (HUL OIS), and the University Information Systems (UIS) teams in order to efficiently develop and manage resources that are needed by the Countway Library, its patrons, and the CBMI research team. Delivered services include: desktop computing, classroom computing, class/conference room AV, public computing, public printing and scanning, research computing, and operational systems for the library.
In the past, the library has housed a server room that has supported both research and library operations. Over the last year this server room has been decommissioned, with services being moved to platforms supported by HMS IT and HUL OIS. This move has allowed the Countway/CBMI IT team to focus on improving library services and operations, along with developing the library’s capability to perform informatics research. Specific projects that are under way include
It is the goal of this team to ensure the reliable operation of library services while developing new tools that increasingly improve the ability of the CBMI and the entire HMS community to perform sophisticated informatics research.
Access and Public Services
The Access and Public Services division of the Countway Library is composed of three library departments—Reference, Circulation, and Interlibrary Loan—the parts of a library that are the most visible to the library user. Under the purview of this division lies responsibility for educating library users to take full advantage of information tools that are made available through the library; answering the many questions that are directed to the library from research and clinical faculty, staff, and students of the Medical School; and ensuring that the multiple different sources of information from the Harvard libraries and elsewhere are easily accessible. The staffs of all three departments have been a pleasure to work with through a year of transition, with real changes in the direction of the library made manifest with the hiring of new leaders in Access and Public Services, Collections and Knowledge Management, and the Center for the History of Medicine.
Three new staff have been added to the Reference department this year. Although two of them (the new Access and Public Services librarian and the new Digital Resources and Services librarian) have major duties elsewhere in the library, these additions, along with the excellent work done by staff from throughout the library at the newly instituted service desk, have allowed the Reference department to expand the number and frequency of information literacy classes being taught. Three classes in Bioinformatics topics (“BLAST Tips and Tricks,” “Functional Discovery,” and “Genome Browsing”), three classes on drug database searching (“Natural Medicines: Researching the Literature on Herbs and Dietary Supplements,” “Beyond PubMed: EMBASE,” and “Clinical Drug Resources”) and a class on a new clinical medicine database (DynaMed) have been added to the offerings of the department. The success of these new classes is attested by the rising attendance in each session and by followup conversations with attendees who seek out the class instructor for further in-depth exploration of particular research questions.
Outreach efforts in the department have also expanded. One of the new reference librarians, Julia Whelan, has met with the medical student organization and discussed with them what the library can do that would benefit them the most. Several good suggestions were made, and Julia has been following up on those suggestions. She was given access to a group e-mail address for the medical students to keep them informed of new happenings at the library.
Members of the reference department have also taught classes in PubMed searching and EndNote to groups across the Medical School campus and affiliated hospitals; e.g., the anesthesiology residents of both Brigham and Women’s and Beth Israel Deaconess hospitals; the pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics department of Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Harvard Medical International, a self-supporting not-for-profit subsidiary of HMS whose role is to extend internationally the School’s tradition of improving the quality of health care through excellence in clinical medicine, medical education, and biomedical research; the Osher Institute; and several others. We have also begun a consumer health outreach initiative with the librarians of the Boston Public Library.
Countway Library is fortunate to have an efficient and stable staff
working in the Circulation department. The fact that there has been no
turnover of personnel in circulation for the past 2.5 years has given
both the library and the Circulation staff the ability to undertake new
initiatives. One example of this is the service desk, staffed by people
from throughout the library, but with the majority of the coverage by
members of the Circulation staff. With periodic training by members of
the Reference department, the Circulation staff has been able to relieve
the Reference staff of answering many of the simple access questions
that arise in the library every day. Thus, the Reference staff has more
time to teach and to do research consultations. The training that the
Circulation staff has received also allows them to answer questions
asked by library users more satisfactorily at night and on weekends when
Reference staff are not available.
The staff of the Interlibrary Loan department has also been quite stable and is experienced with all aspects of interlibrary loan software and operating regulations. The level of interlibrary loan activity fell dramatically when a fee was instituted for loans that originated from outside of Harvard, but, unlike what many may think, not everything is available online and the demand for materials not available at Harvard has remained strong. However, one frequently asked question in Reference is, “How do I get this article/book that Harvard does not have?” People frequently are not aware of the services provided by interlibrary loan departments. David Osterbur, head of Access and Public Services, has been charged by the Public Services Committee to look into ways to make these services more visible. A committee of the heads of interlibrary loan departments from libraries across the University has been formed for this purpose and the work is ongoing.
Collection and Knowledge Management
The Collection and Knowledge Management group has been involved in several major projects aimed at making the collections more accessible through digitization, making space for new programs, and focusing collection development policy on meeting the needs of current users. The projects included clearing the library’s fourth floor of its non-circulating, pre-1960 collection of monographs; planning for the Google scanning team, the University Library’s Open Collections Program, and NEH-supported digitization projects; and de-accessioning duplicative and out-of-scope material. Work was also done on drafting an update of the library’s collection development policy, and on providing online access to a broad range of resources.
The Harvard Libraries have embarked on initiatives to enhance collaboration in collection development. There has been a University-wide survey, to which the Countway responded. Because Countway currently collaborates not only within Harvard, but also with other institutions (through the New England Research Libraries consortium and with the hospital libraries), the library was selected for a follow-up interview, which was completed. Collaborative collection initiatives have been identified as a very high priority within Harvard libraries, and it is highly likely that Countway’s participation in future initiatives will be solicited.
The collections of the former Biological Laboratories Library in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences are being dispersed, though many monographs will remain on site in Cambridge, at least temporarily. A group of science librarians, including representatives from Countway, met and agreed on where the various journal holdings would go.
Countway entered a collaborative agreement with the hospital libraries to purchase a subscription to AccessMedicine, providing online access to a variety of standard medical texts and reference works. Negotiations resulted in a two-year contract supported jointly by the library and by affiliated hospitals.
Work has been ongoing on a re-draft of the Countway’s collection development and management policy, which was last revised in 1995. The new draft takes into account the shift in user expectations with regard to online access and other changing priorities of our user base.
Countway accepted a donation of approximately 1,100 books from the Center for Population Studies Library in the Harvard School of Public Health, as that library was closing. At Countway, these books will be cataloged and added to the collection.
The Health and Human Rights departmental library also closed, and Countway accepted five boxes of AIDS reports from the collection. This material will also be cataloged and added to the library’s collection.
has been ongoing on a project to transfer library material printed in
Cyrillic script to the National Library of Medicine. Though the work has
slowed, due to the need to focus on other projects and to the lack of
staff with expertise in this area, we will continue to work to effect
New Electronic Resources
In addition to adding 50 online serial titles during 2006, the following digital resources were purchased:
Elsevier ScienceDirect Backfiles
Oxford University Press Medicine Archive (39 titles)
Springer Historical Archive Collection—Medicine (127 titles)
New Additions to StatRef Package:
Center for the History of Medicine
Center for the History of Medicine and its staff took a larger role in
the work of the library this year. The Archives for Women in Medicine
staff planned and executed five events in March and April 2006 while the
library hosted “Changing the Face of Medicine,” a traveling exhibit
from the National Library of Medicine. Staff curated an exhibit drawn
from the Hyams Collection of medical Judaica and assisted in the
associated symposium; and the center hosted the exhibit of its first
artist in residence, Dorothy Simpson Krause. Center staff took on less
glamorous roles as well, covering shifts at the service desk on the
library’s first floor and helping to review books from the fourth-floor
collection as that floor was cleared for construction. These activities,
while reducing time available for more traditional work, brought the
center greater visibility within and outside the library, building
relationships among colleagues, community members, and partners that
will benefit the center and the library in the future.
year 220.8 cubic feet of records were accessioned into the school
archives. Among the notable accessions were records of the HMS Dean’s
Office created during Daniel Tosteson’s tenure. This completes the
archival record of the Dean’s Office to the current administration.
Harvard Medical School: Office of the Dean for Academic and Clinical Programs
Harvard Medical School: Office of Educational Development
Harvard Medical School: Department of Cell Biology
Harvard School of Public Health: Affirmative Action Committee
Acquisitions comprised 84 cubic feet and included significant collections added to the Archives for Women in Medicine, such as those of surgeon and scientist Patricia Donahoe, MD, and pediatric pulmonologist Mary Ellen Wohl, MD. Highlights include:
Warren Anatomical Museum