Aug 18

Awesome MedLib Blog: PubMed Search Strategies

This kind of blog is sooooo useful to searchers like me who are clearly less experienced and expert than the author of PubMed Search Strategies, Cindy Schmidt, M.D., M.L.S.

“This blog has been created to share PubMed search strategies. Search strategies posted here are not perfect. They are posted in the hope that others will benefit from the work already put into their creation and/or will offer suggestions for improvements. Librarians who wish to post comments on this blog or who wish to become authors are invited to e-mail me.”

Example post shown below:

pmss

[via: Melissa Rethlefsen and Mark Rabnett]

Jul 14

Watch Nikki Pound Clinical Reader

When I became aware of Clinical Reader (no linky Google-juice for these guys- you can find ’em if you want to), I decided just to ignore them. In previous years, I might have enjoyed pointing out various disappointing aspects of the site (I’m a peevish naysayer, it has been said). There was no need, though. There are more really good MedLib bloggers than there once were, some of whom are far better at it than I have ever been.

To my delight, Nicole Dettmar was the one to do it.

http://eagledawg.blogspot.com/2009/07/clinical-reader-starry-ethics-fail.html

To answer Alan’s question: Probably just stupid, but they still deserve a good smacking. Jerks. “Legal ramifications,” my Aunt Fanny.

Moral of the story: Don’t try to intimidate a smart medical librarian- you’ll not only fail, but she’ll make you look *really* stupid for trying.

Go, Nikki!

______
EDIT: Yet another reason to love Steve Lawson.

Jun 09

CHLA-ABSC 2009

Thanks so much to Laurie Blanchard and everybody at CHLA for inviting me to speak! I enjoyed Winnipeg and it was a treat to finally meet people like Francesca Frati (who is awesome) and Mark Rabnett.

The slides for my talk (which look awful in Slideshare) are embedded below.

To clarify for Krista Clement:

I think anything that removes obstacles between users and the information they want is good. If more fully automating some functions of the library makes those functions less visible, I think that’s great. I don’t think that doing a better job for users will result in decreased funding, but I do think that better automation will cut costs.

Apr 02

Screencast: Introduction to new PubMed Advanced Search

Way behind on sharing this, but better late than never.

The Mayo Clinic Libraries’ Liblog has a screencast by Melissa Rethlefsen on PubMed’s new Advanced Search features that you can embed on your own page:

In case I have not mentioned it recently: Melissa is awesome.

Jan 24

Understanding Evidence-based Healthcare

Rachel Walden points (from both Women’s Health News and Our Bodies Our Blog) to a free online workshop titled “Understanding Evidence-based Healthcare: A Foundation for Action” , offered by the US Cochrane Center‘s Consumers United for Evidence-based Healthcare (CUE).

(Embedded below is a video about CUE. If you are reading this post via a feed reader, you may need to visit the site to view the video.)

Jan 19

Lei Wang’s “Find It Fast” Video Tutorials

Posting about the cool stuff Lei Wang does appears to be a habit for me, but as habits go, it sure is worthwhile.

Lately, Lei has been posting “Find It Fast!” video tutorials on the blog he writes for the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library at the Yale University School of Medicine. These are great and are available as streaming flash or as an .m4v download (suitably sized for viewing on a portable device!).
Click here to see Lei's tutorial, "The Clinical Question"
The most recent ones, The Clinical Question and The Pyramid of Resources aren’t just useful to clinicians- they would make wonderful instructional tools for new medical libraryfolk, too.

Jan 16

Vote for a medical librarian!

For the second year in a row, a MedLib blog has been nominated for the MedGadget Medical Weblog awards.

Please note that Laika has been nominated for Best New Weblog and consider dropping by to vote for her?

What’s not to like about a smart, Dutch medical librarian’s blog?

Please- go vote now.

Sep 19

Congratulations to Mark Rabnett

Mark Rabnett, Pharmacy and Pharmacology Librarian, was the recipient of a 2008 CAUT Dedicated Service Award. Each year the Canadian Association of University Teachers recognizes individuals for exceptional service to their academic staff associations. Recipients are nominated by their association.

Mark served for six years as the Contract Administrator for the University of Manitoba Faculty Association and eight years as UMFA representative for the Libraries Constituency.

[via]

Mark is hereby forgiven for not posting a lot of excellent entires lately on his blog.

Aug 28

T. Scott on ‘Libraries or Librarians’

My favorite parts of T. Scott’s post:

“As I’ve been saying for years the library is becoming less relevant, and no amount of hand-wringing over what we can do to get people to use the library more is going to change that. But librarians are more relevant than ever, if only we can disengage ourselves from privileging our buildings and collections the way that we do and utilizing our individual skills in more effective and relevant ways.”

“The way I see it, the mission of librarians hasn’t changed at all. But we’re not going to fulfill it if we keep worrying about the future of libraries. There’s way too much interesting and fun work to do to waste time on that.”

Go read the whole thing.

Aug 27

Eagle Dawg on Pew’s “The Engaged E-Patient Population”

Nikki (at Eagle Dawg Blog) nails down exactly why I didn’t bother posting about the latest from Pew.

(Typical of my cynicism- the report wasn’t worth blogging about, but criticism of the report *is*.)

If you’re not reading Nikki’s blog yet, subscribe now:
[Eagle Dawg Blog – Feed].

Aug 20

MedLib Blog Badge at I’m Feeling Lucky

I’m Feeling Lucky is written by Brandi Tuttle, an Information and Education Services Librarian at the Duke University Medical Center Library. Brandi writes:

I’m Feeling Lucky grew out of a discussion with my husband (who’s also a librarian). We were talking about the services and databases offered by libraries. My husband laughingly commented on the usefulness of Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. That option has value!! Sometimes people just don’t want to go through the work of looking through a library’s list of helpful links (even if all the links rock). One pretty good link will suffice.

I was fortunate to meet Brandi at MLA 2008 and enjoyed her unique style of saying outrageous (and frequently hilarious) things in a sweet, cheerful voice.

Why is David always on about this badgey stuff? Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!

Previously, I’ve noted the following blogs that display the MedLib Blog badge in their sidebars:

These blogs are:

  1. about medical / health / health sciences / biomedical librarianship;
  2. written by (a) medical librarian(s) or medical library paraprofessional(s);
  3. maintained by a medical library; or
  4. maintained by professional association of medical librarians and/or medical library paraprofessionals.

Hey! My blog has the MedLib Blog badge and you haven’t featured it here!

Sorry! I do try for omniscience, but frequently fall short of this goal. If I’ve missed the badge on your blog or if you’ve just added it, please let me know so I can link to it from here.

Why would I want to add the badge to my blog?

The badge links back to the masterlist of MedLib blogs to indicate the blog’s membership in the growing community (and sense of community) of MedLib blogs(/bloggers). (This should serve also as a reminder to add your blog to this masterlist, if appropriate.)

To add this badge to your own blog, just copy and paste this code:


<a href="http://liswiki.org/wiki/Medlib_Blogs">
<img src="http://tinyurl.com/y32hh8/"></a>

Not sure how to do this with your particular blogging software? Email me at david[DOT]rothman[AT]gmail[DOT]com and we’ll figure it out together. :)

Aug 08

MedLib Blog Badge at MGAS nieuws

Jens De Groot’s MGAS nieuws is normally in Flemmish/Dutch, but an English-language version (which seems NOT to be machine-translated) is also available.

MGAS News is the weblog of the Campus Library Biomedical Sciences (MGAS) of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium). Here we offer information from and about our library (services) and biomedical information of interest for researchers, physicians and students.

Why is David always on about this badgey stuff? Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!

Previously, I’ve noted the following blogs that display the MedLib Blog badge in their sidebars:

These blogs are:

  1. about medical / health / health sciences / biomedical librarianship;
  2. written by (a) medical librarian(s) or medical library paraprofessional(s);
  3. maintained by a medical library; or
  4. maintained by professional association of medical librarians and/or medical library paraprofessionals.

Hey! My blog has the MedLib Blog badge and you haven’t featured it here!

Sorry! I do try for omniscience, but frequently fall short of this goal. If I’ve missed the badge on your blog or if you’ve just added it, please let me know so I can link to it from here.

Why would I want to add the badge to my blog?

The badge links back to the masterlist of MedLib blogs to indicate the blog’s membership in the growing community (and sense of community) of MedLib blogs(/bloggers). (This should serve also as a reminder to add your blog to this masterlist, if appropriate.)

To add this badge to your own blog, just copy and paste this code:


<a href="http://liswiki.org/wiki/Medlib_Blogs">
<img src="http://tinyurl.com/y32hh8/"></a>

Not sure how to do this with your particular blogging software? Email me at david[DOT]rothman[AT]gmail[DOT]com and we’ll figure it out together. :)

Jul 23

MedLib Blog Badge at Laika’s MedLibLog

This blog was started as part of the online course SPOETNIK on NEW (web 2.0) internet communication methods for librarians. I will not only blog the course exercises but will also write about Medical Information, Medical Libraries, PubMed, the Cochrane Collaboration, Evidence Based Medicine etc.. Sometimes in English.

http://laikaspoetnik.wordpress.com

Why is David always on about this badgey stuff? Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!

Previously, I’ve noted the following blogs that display the MedLib Blog badge in their sidebars:

These blogs are:

  1. about medical / health / health sciences / biomedical librarianship;
  2. written by (a) medical librarian(s) or medical library paraprofessional(s);
  3. maintained by a medical library; or
  4. maintained by professional association of medical librarians and/or medical library paraprofessionals.

Hey! My blog has the MedLib Blog badge and you haven’t featured it here!

Sorry! I do try for omniscience, but frequently fall short of this goal. If I’ve missed the badge on your blog or if you’ve just added it, please let me know so I can link to it from here.

Why would I want to add the badge to my blog?

The badge links back to the masterlist of MedLib blogs to indicate the blog’s membership in the growing community (and sense of community) of MedLib blogs(/bloggers). (This should serve also as a reminder to add your blog to this masterlist, if appropriate.)

To add this badge to your own blog, just copy and paste this code:




Not sure how to do this with your particular blogging software? Email me and we’ll figure it out together.

Jul 21

Physician Rating Sites (Guest post by PilgrimTinker)

The following is a guest post written by PilgrimTinker (a pseudonym for a consumer health information librarian who regularly blogs at Learn to Live.
___________________________

So, you need to see a doctor. Or, you have been seeing a doctor for some time and love her, or can’t stand her, or secretly suspect him of not paying appropriate attention to your complaints or wonder if he knows anything about geriatrics. Whatever the initial question, you decide to google him. And you discover that there are dozens of physician rating websites available, ready to help you dig up dirt or make a choice or trash a reputation.

Have you guessed yet that I am feeling ambivalent about these sites? I am. On one hand, it makes perfect sense to be able to research a physician or facility before you choose them for your health care. It’s responsible health care consumerism. On the other hand, doctors aren’t used cars and the complexity of medicine and the nature of the relationship between a patient and a physician cannot be portrayed with a simple matrix.

With these considerations aside, another difficulty in assessing physician rating websites is the large number and variety of choices. Here I offer a sampling, by no means exhaustive but more of a snapshot. I’ve looked at many more and chosen these as fairly representative.

First, there are physician directories, offered by government sources or various medical associations. These will verify an affiliation or specialty, board certifications, and contact information. They don’t offer much or anything in the way of user satisfaction but will verify professional credentials and provide a list of practitioners in a geographic area or at a particular facility. For a good start finding this kind of directory, try MedlinePlus GoLocal, the US Dept of Health and Human Service’s HospitalCompare or the AMA’s DoctorFinder.

Now for that more problematic category, the sites that encourage patients to publish their opinions and experiences and to surf what others have already posted. Let’s take a look at a few.

RateMDs.com makes posting ratings very easy- no need to sign in or create an account. The comments are completely anonymous, though they are read by the moderators and may be removed or edited. This is a fairly common policy on physician rating sites. The site uses a smiley face system, based on 2 questions: Is the doctor helpful and Is the doctor knowledgeable.

The downfall of this simplicity is that the faces become meaningless; as demonstrated by the comments for an obstetrician I saw in another city long, long ago. Several can be summed up by “he save my life, we wouldn’t be here if not for him” while others amounted to “he doesn’t answer questions, I would never recommend him, he is uncaring”. The only way I can imagine a site like useful is if there were thousands of comments per physician before they were displayed and the questions were more skillfully stated, allowing the number of responses to create a trend.

DrScore.com is also easy to use and invited me to rank my doctor on a scale of 0 to 10, with an option to post up to 40 words worth of commentary. They encourage raters to note “particularly good things you noticed about the visit” and that “Ratings and comments submitted to DrScore are designed to give feedback to physicians to help them enhance their medical practice.” This is a different and much more positive twist on the usual protect-yourself-by-digging-up-the-dirt approach to promoting physician rating venues. The process included more questions rated 0 to 10 such as time spent with the doctor, if and how well the doctor answered questions, treatment options offered, treatment success and ease of communication with the entire practice. The search works best for those checking ratings of an individual so it took several tries to get a list of physicians in one city to browse by score. The scores are divided into category and displayed on a 0-10 scale, providing a more nuanced profile than RateMD.com’s smilies.

Vitals also allows for consumer ratings of physicians but gathers information from medical boards, federal websites, hospitals, doctors, surveys, business alliances and third party affiliates. I found this search interface to be the easiest to use and the results display very slick. There are several interactive features that actually work, such as a compare box that displays choices side by side and an alert feature for changes to a profile.

Results are divided into sections including specialty, hospital affiliation, education and publications, with links and mapping features.

The rating feature asked only 7 questions with a final overall assessment; asking patients to respond from disagree strongly to agree strongly. This leads to the same limitations as the other sites data, but there are several reasons I like this site better. One is the 360 vitals view, diagrammed on the about us page. It is divided into thirds for empirical information, consumer ratings and peer reviews. The site encourages consumers to think more broadly about what makes a good physician. The search interface and results were much better than any others I’ve seen. Every feature I tried worked as I had hoped, never asking me to sign in, pay for a report or requiring me to use a series of those annoying drop down choice boxes.

But seriously, what about that elusive quality, hotness? Yes, there is a website for that particular aspect of a physician’s fitness to practice and I found it, thanks to an ad on WebMD. PharmaStats promises plenty, including a special icon to alert us when a hot physician has been identified. Unfortunately, the site didn’t deliver- results only included the most basic yellow pages contact information and the chance to “register for more results”

While we are on the subject of unfair or irresponsible ratings, I can’t quite classify The Healthcare Scoop.com. At first, I thought maybe I wasn’t on the home page but found that yes, it is simply a list of random posts with no format at all. Or, as they describe it, “Real, straight-forward information – written and shared by people just like you – about personal healthcare experiences.” Patients simply create an account and post a story, which is then immediately posted. The site also includes ads and a few search features (by doctor, by facility) but doesn’t organize the collected information in any other way.

There are several websites that charge fees for reports about individual physicians, including Angie’s List and HealthGrades, which wanted me to buy a report to see Disciplinary action, board certification, phone numbers and much more! These seem to be the least useful and most likely to prey on those easily frightened by contorted statistics in headlines.

What exactly do you need to know to intelligently choose a doctor? Their clinical proficiency? Quality of their office service? Bedside manner? Personal experiences and biases? What they learned from their first surgery experience and how they responded to their first death? How many journals they read and if they know about the latest advances in medical genomics? What about if they are willing to prescribe antibiotics over the phone for your niece? Will any of these sites allow you to determine if your physician is well educated, experienced and open minded, willing to listen and think and to use her hands to keep you as healthy as possible for as long as possible?

Surf all day if you like, but I’ll have to default to what is emerging as my personal take on the whole health 2.0 movement- thanks, it is nice and I’m glad to partake but there is nothing like the human touch. Give me my blink moment, when that young pup/pretty face/tanned golfer reveals with an indefinable gesture or prescient connection that they have heard me, and even better, that they have a plan for me. Medicine is practiced face to face, so ultimately, it is the face to face assessment that will convince me of a physician’s worth.

____________

Interested in writing a guest post while David is on paternity leave? Send your submission to:

Jun 19

Medical Librarians in Computers, Informatics, Nursing

Bill Perry’s Notes from the Net Nomad column in the May/June issue of Computers, Informatics, Nursing (PubMed) is pretty much about MedLib blogs. 🙂

Excerpts:

I think nurses are missing something if they haven’t investigated blogs written by medical librarians. Experts in finding and assessing information, medical librarians are an resource underutilized by many nurses.

(…snip…)

Visit a medical librarian’s blog, communicate electronically, or visit one in person. You’ll find colleagues who want to provide you with the right information at the right time to care for patients.

How much do medical libraryfolk love Bill Perry right now?

Jun 16

MedLib Blog Badge at Health, Science & Libraries

For a while there, Jane Blumenthal had me worried that she was going to quit blogging.

Jane is the Director of the Health Sciences Libraries at University of Michigan and I’m really glad she changed her mind- I’d like to see more directors following her lead and blogging.

Why is David always on about this badgey stuff? Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!

Previously, I’ve noted the following blogs that display the MedLib Blog badge in their sidebars:

These blogs are:

  1. about medical / health / health sciences / biomedical librarianship;
  2. written by (a) medical librarian(s) or medical library paraprofessional(s);
  3. maintained by a medical library; or
  4. maintained by professional association of medical librarians and/or medical library paraprofessionals.

Hey! My blog has the MedLib Blog badge and you haven’t featured it here!

Sorry! I do try for omniscience, but frequently fall short of this goal. If I’ve missed the badge on your blog or if you’ve just added it, please let me know so I can link to it from here.

Why would I want to add the badge to my blog?

The badge links back to the masterlist of MedLib blogs to indicate the blog’s membership in the growing community (and sense of community) of MedLib blogs(/bloggers). (This should serve also as a reminder to add your blog to this masterlist, if appropriate.)

To add this badge to your own blog, just copy and paste this code:


<a href="http://liswiki.org/wiki/Medlib_Blogs">
<img src="http://tinyurl.com/y32hh8/"></a>

Not sure how to do this with your particular blogging software? Email me at david[DOT]rothman[AT]gmail[DOT]com and we’ll figure it out together. :)

Jun 04

New ATM & PubMed (via Eagle Dawg Blog)

Nikki Dettmar points to a 25-minute PubMed Review slides & audio presentation from the NLM Theater at MLA 2008. Nikki has a great breakdown of sections, too- in case you want to skip to particular topics.

(Nikki, where’s your MedLib Blog Badge?)

See also: Before and after comparison at the Dragonfly

Thanks again to Nikki Dettmar for the heads-up (via the Medlibs GroupTweet)!

May 08

Blogging MLA 2008

Looks like I *will* be blogging in the month of May, but only from Chicago.

To my surprise, I was approved as an “official conference blogger” for MLA 2008.

All MLA 2008 conference bloggers:

Stewart Brower – Professional Notes

A’Lyn Ettien – The Creature from the Health Informatics Class

Marie Kennedy – Organization Monkey

Maureen ‘Molly’ Knapp – LSUHC New Orleans Health Sciences Center

Michelle Kraft – The Krafty Librarian

Leigh Mihlrad – Leigh’s Little Corner of the Web

Emily Molanphy (Emily has 2 blogs!) – Emily’s Journal – and – Eponymous Blog about Libraries

Bryan Nugent – The Universe of Medical Librarianship

David Rothman – davidrothman.net

Eric Schnell – The Medium is the Message

For reasons I haven’t yet been able to determine, they decided to aggregate all posts about MLA 2008 from each of these blogs on a page at a WetPaint wiki …but don’t provide an aggregated feed. So here’s a feed I slapped together in Yahoo! Pipes.

Here’s that same feed, previewed with FeedSweep:



I’ll put together a feed that pulls from more than official sources (sort of like the one I set up for CIL2008) next week and will elaborate on the MLA2008 GroupTweet I set up that’ll allow MLA attendees who use Twitter to conveniently send a tweet to all other MLA 2008 Twitter users from a laptop, cell phone, or other mobile device.

I’m bringing with me to Chicago these newfangled devices for the digital recording of sound and images (both still and moving)- so expect at least a little of that sort of stuff to appear here between 5/17 and 5/21.

🙂

Mar 31

When the user actually *is* broken (Anna Kushnir and PubMed)

I have distinct childhood memories of asking my mother what one word or another meant. She would point out that there was a dictionary close at hand designed exactly for that purpose and invite me to make use of it.

I remember asking my father to teach me to program in BASIC. He cheerfully agreed and handed me the big brown manual.
basic_manual

So maybe I’m weird and so are my folks, but these memories inform my take on the chatter in the blogosphere and on MEDLIB-L about this post by Harvard PhD student Anna Kushnir in which she expresses her frustration with PubMed. Kushnir writes (in part):

“I hate PubMed. I hate it with a burning passion. For a site that is as vital to scientific progress as PubMed is, their search engine is shamefully bad. It’s embarrassingly, frustratingly, painfully bad.”

[…]

“Why is PubMed so behind the times? Why? How does it even work? Does it search only the abstract? Does it also search the body of the papers that are available online? Why does it get so massively confused by an author’s initials and last name together, in one search? Why can’t it alert me when papers relevant to my work are published?”

I’m the first to admit that PubMed has problems and much room for enhancement, but if Kushnir had bothered to look at PubMed’s help manual or try some of its excellent tutorials she’d have learned exactly how it works, what PubMed indexes, how she can search by author, and that it can alert the user when papers relevant to her work are published via email or RSS.

So while PubMed has real, legitimate problems, Kushnir’s complaints don’t really touch on any of them. She could’ve resolved the problems she notes by flipping through the well-written, clearly laid-out, easy-to-navigate manual.

A number of helpful people who are much nicer than I am left useful comments for Kushnir.

Medical librarian Kathleen Crea offered a clear explanation of how articles are indexed and what MeSH is.

Medical librarian Rachel Walden even offered to help remotely with specific searches if Kushnir didn’t have a Harvard medical librarian handy.

But Kushnir decided that none of this really helped and later commented:

I don’t think I should have to be, or enlist the services of, a medical librarian in order to do a simple search on a literature search engine. PubMed should be an intuitive search engine such as Google, or others. I don’t know of many researchers, either MDs or PhDs, who have had extensive training in computer science or search algorithms. I am going to go out on a limb and say that I am representative of many other biomedical researchers in my struggles with PubMed. I am trained in Cell Biology and Virology. PubMed should be tuned to my needs and my skill set. I should not have to tune to it. Harsh as it may sound, PubMed is most useful for biomedical professionals, not for medical librarians or for computer scientists. Yes, if I devoted an afternoon or more to learning the system I dare say I would become a proficient, but my question stands – why should I have to?

Huh.

The index of biomedical literature searched from PubMed is a vast and complex set of data. Any tool that will search it effectively for very specific needs will necessarily be complex. If Ms. Kushnir doubts this, perhaps she should perhaps try any other interface for the same data. Some other interfaces work better for some purposes and some users, but all are complex.

Using PubMed does not require “extensive training in computer science or search algorithms,” it requires reading the manual. Kushnir actually admits that if she “devoted an afternoon or more to learning the system” she would “become a proficient,” and yet she fails to recognize her complaints as the whining they are.

Kushnir writes at JOVE:

My rant somehow wound up on a medical librarian listserv and they came out in force defending NCBI and PubMed, listing pages and pages of helpful and warm instructions and hints on how to make it do what I need it to do, pages of suggestions, with offers of hands-on assistance and training, which have all been wonderful. Occasionally though, they were biting and harsh, saying that if I only knew what I was doing (and only if I weren’t so ignorant… yup, ignorant), PubMed would seem to me the greatest thing ever.

I’m not criticizing Kushnir’s ignorance and would take issue with those who did. Ignorance, once identified, should alert the librarian to a teaching opportunity- not an occasion for shaming. Criticizing the extraordinary laziness in her refusal to receive help from a librarian or to take a quick look at the manual, though? That’s fair game.

Kushnir continues:

I am a research scientist by long, hard training. I am a fairly web-savvy research scientist, and still, I have trouble with PubMed.

As a medical librarian friend recently pointed out to me, it requires instruction to learn to drive a car. Kushnir is unwilling to read the manual and wants to blame PubMed/NLM for her difficulties. Kushnir talks about having spent hours trying to get PubMed to do what she wants, but declines help from multiple medical librarians who’re happy to teach her and can’t be bothered to invest 30 minutes in reading from the manual because it should, in her thinking, be possible to do without any effort on her part.

Kushnir continues:

The search engine is not made for medical librarians. It’s not made for computer programmers. It’s made for scientists, to be used by scientists, needed most by scientists.

Actually, Medline’s history is that it was made primarily for medical librarians and secondarily for physicians, but that’s not really important.

It should be easy for scientists, goofy, only moderately-computer literate scientists, to use. It should be intuitive (read: Google), it should not have a ginormous page of inscrutable instructions, it should not require the hour-long training sessions, kindly offered at most medical libraries. It should be plug and chug.

I might just as well argue that the tools of virology research should be intuitive to me. After all, I’m a very computer-literate, Web-savvy biomedical information professional. Why should I need her years of training to understand her work? (Hint: Because the work is complex and involves a skill set that grows, with effort, over time.)

“Inscrutable?”
Kushnir also describes PubMed’s help documentation as “inscrutable.” When I was teaching myself how to use PubMed, I found the documentation clear and helpful, so this surprised me. I decided to run the PubMed Quick Start document through Google Docs’ analysis:

Let’s review these scores:

Flesch Reading Ease: 62.97
(A score from 60-69 is considered “standard”)

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 5.00
(Fifth grade)

Automated Readability Index: 5.00
(Again, fifth grade)

So it would appear that the help documentation is written at a fifth-grade level. I find it hard to believe that a PhD student at Harvard cannot read at a fifth-grade level, so I’m left with the impression that Ms. Kushnir didn’t actually attempt to read any of the documentation before declaring it “inscrutable.”

Suggestions for Ms. Kushnir and other research scientists who don’t like reading the instructions:

  • Since Ms. Kushnir is convinced that the Google model is adequate and “intuitive” for searching the primary biomedical literature, I’ve made a Google CSE that’ll allow her to search PubMed using Google. Given how many times I’ve helped people who can’t find what they’re looking for via Google (which can’t really be effectively utilized for very specific information needs without reading the instructions), I’ll be interested to hear how well it works for her.

 

 

 

So the tool is necessarily complex because the data it searches is complex and the user refuses to read the well-written help documentation or accept help from a friendly librarian (even when multiple librarians are reaching out across thousands of physical miles of distance and the gulf of the patron’s unwillingness to learn).

I can only conclude that sometimes the user *is* broken. (See Karen Schneider’s excellent post, “The User is Not Broken”.)

________
Thank you to the two medical librarian friends who read the first draft of this post and offered comments.