Monday, January 7, 2008

Knowledge Navigators Combat Information Overload

One of my greatest challenges in 2008 is information overload. 700 emails a day on my Blackberry, RSS feeds, Facebook, Instant Messaging, LinkedIn, MySpace and Second Life all create a pummeling amounts of data.

With email and other information sources escalating year to year, we all need a knowledge navigator to help us sort through all this data and ensure that we triage our incoming information flows into that which is important and that which is just FYI. I've started to build a team of navigators beginning with my medical librarians.

In my CIO role at Beth Israel Deaconess, I oversee the medical libraries. In the past, Libraries were "clean, well lighted places for books". With the advent of Web 2.0 collaboration tools, blogging, content management portals, on demand publishing, and digital journals, it is clear that libraries of paper books are becoming less relevant. By the time a book is printed, the knowledge inside may be outdated. Instead, libraries need to become an information commons, a clean, well lighted lounge for digital media staffed by expert knowledge navigators. In my institution, the librarians have thinned the book collection, migrated paper journals to digital media, and spent their time indexing digital knowledge resources to support our search engine optimiziation efforts.

The end result is that the Medical Library has been renamed the Information Commons and the Department of Medical Libraries has been retitled the Department of Knowledge Services. Librarians are now called Information Specialists.

Here's a few examples of how they turn data into knowledge:

Every day Harvard faculty generate numerous new presentations for students, residents and the medical community. Since all Harvard courseware is web enabled, all these presentations are placed online. It's not enough to free text index these materials because search engines, even Google, are only helpful for exact matches of text, not searching concepts. Our Knowledge Services staff apply metadata tags using the National Library of Medicine Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) concept hierarchy to these presentations. For example, a presentation may be about neurons which are part of the brain, but the word brain may not appear anywhere in the text. As user searches from articles about the brain, any presentation containing a part of the brain is automatically included.

Our web portals contain hundreds of links to journals, books, databases and collections of medical references. The challenge with using any search engine is that they page rank based on popularity, not necessarily authorativeness or value to the patient. Just because a certain diet is popular does not mean it is medically sound. Our librarians ensure our links and resources are dynamically updated and refer to the most credible resources, not the most popular.

Every day I receive advertisements about new web-based and mobile knowledge resources. Our Department of Knowledge Services is laboratory for testing these products and we deploy those which are most relevant to our stakeholders. One of their recent projects was acronym resolving tools and developing quantifiable standards for abbreviations.

Although we keep 5000 journals online, we also have access to many pre-digital resources. Our Knowledge Services folks respond to requests for complex historical literature searches with desktop PDF delivery of scanned articles.

Finally, our information commons, formerly the medical library is now an array of desktop computers, printers, wireless access points, scanners and staff to assist users with the technology.

Ideally, we'll all have software agents in the future that turn data into information into knowledge into wisdom, but the first step has been building a department of Knowledge Services within my institution staffed with Knowledge Navigators. Because of them, I'm optimstic that in 2008, I'll receive more wisdom and not just more data.


Owusu-Nkwantabisa said...

Good piece. I'm curious though as to why you will change the name from Medical Library to Information Commons. I support the Information Commons concept. However, I believe retaining the name library will help eliminate the stigma attached with Libraries and instead allow our patrons to associate the word with modern technology and quality information.

John Halamka said...

You are correct. The title used on the new signs is actually "Medical Library and Information Commons"

trenchcoat77 said...

Nice post, John. I'm glad to see a healthcare CIO not only work closely with medical librarians, but also publicly acknowledge their value. But while this post is being passed around in medical libraryland, the irony is that a lot of librarians will be unable to read it at work. That's because many hospital IT departments block access to social networking web sites such as blogger. See my blog posting that summarizes a survey done on social networking blockades affecting medical librarians.

The Medical Library Association is attempting to increase the use of Web 2.0 technologies so that our members can better connect with each other - sharing best practices, tips, and procedures. But with IT blocking these technologies, librarians find it difficult not only to connect with each other over professional matters, they sometimes have difficulties in retrieving medically relevant information for their users. As you point out, there is a huge amount of digital knowledge resources out there, and not all of it is in traditional journal or database packages. Looking for a video on vaginal tape vault surgery for a doctor or patient? Sorry, YouTube is blocked.

While we understand the need for the protection of a network and the necessity of protecting patient records, blocking the library's access to useful web sites seems to be a rather Procrustean solution. Perhaps you can help. What can librarians do to convince their IT departments that it is OK to make exceptions for their access to "forbidden" web sites? I will gladly share your advice with my colleagues.

Mark Funk
President, Medical Library Association

mcoletti said...

Mark, I think that in conversations we have with our CIO's regarding Web 2.0 we should reference John's previous post, Web 2.0 for the CIO. As John points out, it's a mistake not to focus on the individual as content publisher. "2008 will include a major push to catch up and broadly deploy Web 2.0 collaboration and publishing tools throughout all my organizations."

mcoletti said...

Mark, I think that in conversations we have with our CIO's regarding Web 2.0 we should reference John's previous post, Web 2.0 for the CIO. As John points out, it's a mistake not to focus on the individual as content publisher. "2008 will include a major push to catch up and broadly deploy Web 2.0 collaboration and publishing tools throughout all my organizations."

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