The Heart of the Medical Center
Miner’s leaders envision the technology, the space and the resources to maintain a great library in the digital age.
When Randy Rosier, M.D., Ph.D., was a student at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in the 1970s, he spent most of his time outside classes and laboratories in the Edward G. Miner Library. He foraged in the stacks. He searched for pertinent journals and reports. He studied.
Slideshow of Miner Library - then and now
“Everyone spent most of their time at Miner. There was some socializing, but Miner was meant to be a quiet place and everyone was trying to keep it quiet because most people were trying to study and read,” said Rosier (M ’78, Ph.D ’79), now a professor of orthopaedics at the Medical Center.
The Miner Library of the 1970s was a terrain that had not really changed since the School of Medicine and Dentistry began in 1925. Archival photographs of the library illustrate the solitude of study and research, even when another person is seated a few inches away. The 1987 renovation that transformed the original lobby of Strong Memorial Hospital into Miner’s handsome reading room did not alter the library’s concentrated quiet environment oriented to books and journals where most medical students and other library visitors worked on their own.
“Think of what the world was like in 1987,” said Julia Sollenberger, associate vice president and director of Medical Center libraries and technologies. “There were no electronic journals. There was no easy Internet access. There were no laptops using wireless signals. There was no collaborative learning. There was no food or drink in our library.”
Today, medical students, researchers and physicians get online access through Miner Library to journals, databases and up-to-date diagnostic information from anywhere in the Medical Center or from their homes, offices or a patient’s hospital room. Laptop computers have replaced stacks of books on library tables and desks. Students watch videos of grand rounds on their computers, and sometimes listen to music through ear buds as they study. They also work in pairs or groups, discussing research or class assignments in open areas of the library. Visitors to Miner often eat a snack or a meal in the library. A soda vending machine has a prominent place.
Miner has changed with the revolution in technology and curriculum and faces more changes to meet the needs and requirements of students, scientists, physicians and patients.
“We have become, and will remain, both a virtual and a physical library. We won’t be barring our doors anytime soon,” Sollenberger said. “We think of ourselves as the heart of the Medical Center, and that’s the way our customers think of us as well. We are located in the middle of the Medical Center. We’ve been here since 1925. We are intellectually the heart of the Medical Center, and we strive to continue to be that. As the world changes and social networks and cafes are the places people want to gather, we want to be that place for collaboration and research and intellectual networking.
“We’re not about just resources. We’re also about education, teaching our students, faculty and staff how to stay up to date in their field and find evidence for patient care and research,” she said. “And we see ourselves continuing to expand, obviously beyond printed books and journals, but even beyond book and journal resources to other technologies that are necessary for academic pursuits, education and patient care in the Medical Center.”
Housecalls and prescribed information
Susan Andersen, administrator of Medical Center libraries and technologies, says she sometimes wishes for a word different than library that would do away with outmoded ways of thinking about today’s Miner.
“Librarians are not just sitting at a desk,” Andersen said. “They are out there in the medical school departments, on the hospital floors and in the community.”
Miner librarians serve as liaisons to departments and clinical areas. They attend department meetings to learn where a department needs information and resources. Librarians work with faculty to provide content and resources for Blackboard, the virtual learning program used more and more in medical school teaching and in continuing education in the Medical Center. Miner also manages the Blackboard technology and oversees the system that makes grand rounds videos available online.
Miner staff members regularly teach classes on a variety of subjects, including using the PubMed interface, finding evidence-based answers to clinical questions, conducting better Google searches, getting the most out of the Blackboard, organizing references and bibliographies and developing library skills. Almost 120 people took classes in October.
Librarians, who regularly update their skills in technology and use of information resources, will even make personal visits to individuals at their office to detail ways to use Miner. The service is named “Housecalls.”
Miner also offers the “Ask a Medical Librarian Information Prescription Service.” Physicians, nurses and social workers in the Medical Center can write a “prescription” for a patient or a patient’s family for information about a disease, diagnosis or treatment. A Miner librarian will deliver the information, which can be reviewed in advance by the care provider.
Lauren Bruckner, M.D., Ph.D. (R’99, FLW’02), an assistant professor of pediatrics and an oncologist, utilizes the information prescription and many of Miner’s resources.
“I use Miner for my own education on almost a daily basis,” Bruckner said.
“I am constantly looking up clinical information on Micromedex, UpToDate, Ovid, and electronic books and journals. The prescription service is an excellent way for me to provide written appropriate medical information. Before the service was available, I was spending 30 minutes or more per patient obtaining such information, and I don’t think my written information was as thorough as what Miner provides. Patients and families appreciate the service, and feel empowered by being able to find impartial information.”
Since 2006 when the prescription service began, Miner has provided information to more than 200 families. The service is now only available in the Department of Pediatrics and the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center.
“When people are going through crises, it is tough to go to the Internet and find what you need that is accurate and understandable,” Sollenberger said. “We are trying to expand it. It is important that librarians be seen as part of the patient care team effort, but it depends on the providers to remember to use the service and view it as a critical addition to the patient care plan.”
Miner also views the Rochester-area community as a customer. For example, library staff helped develop a Web site and service that provides health information to immigrants to the Rochester area from Myanmar, using their language, Karen.
“Miner’s mission includes serving the community,” said Andersen. “We are very involved in trying to be sure that the public has the health information that they need. If you need health information for yourself or your family, look to Miner.”
Miner’s expansion plans
A quarter of a million people walk through Miner’s doors each year. The switch to digital has not affected that number significantly over the past decade. But thousands more utilize the library’s virtual doors.
One set of numbers clearly illustrates a singular change for Miner. In fiscal year 1990, the library subscribed to 3,120 print journals. By January 2010, Miner’s print journal collection will consist of 150 core journals, while the library subscribes to almost 2,900 electronic journals.
Statistics show that Miner’s resources are used heavily. In a one-year period ending June 30, 2009, electronic books were accessed through Miner more than 71,000 times. In the same period, there were more than 1.5 million articles downloaded from Miner’s electronic journals and more than two million uses of databases.
Budget cuts recently have required that Miner cut some subscriptions, but the library still spends almost $2 million annually on books, journals and databases.
“Prices keep rising faster than the cost of living, even though we have moved from print to digital,” Sollenberger said. “When you had a print title, every library paid the same thing. Difference in the size of the institution did not matter. Now, instead of buying that journal, we have a license and we pay to access articles through a publisher’s Web site. The terms are not usually to our advantage. They base the charge on number of full-time employees and students, what hospitals we serve and, in some cases, in-patient admissions.”
An evidence-based medical information resource like UpToDate, which can provide quick answers to a clinician’s questions, also is accessed through Miner. “We are pleased that these kinds of point-of-care resources are now available because they support the high-quality care we provide to our patients, but they are very expensive resources,” Sollenberger said.
“Faculty, staff and students in the Medical Center would not have the resources they need if the institution did not pay for them,” she said. “If you are on the Medical Center campus, you can get on the Web and get the publication you want, if we have a subscription. If you are off-campus, you have to go through our interface because that’s how we authenticate users. People think the access must be free because they get to a journal so easily. Except for the new open-access journals, it is not free. Without the library making decisions, with faculty input, about what we should be getting, and building the interface and authentication system and bringing all the resources together so they are easy to find, people could not access these resources.”
For medical students, Miner Library remains a popular and important place.
“We can access all the books, journals, and electronic resources we need and the library offers a variety of places and environments to study comfortably,” said William Gensheimer, a fourth year student at the School of Medicine and Dentistry.
But, in addition to maintaining key journals and resources, Miner needs more computers with access to the Internet and more space for study and discussion, Gensheimer said.
Miner already has turned a large area where journals were shelved into a bright and open area for quiet study. But to better meet the needs of a 21st Century medical library, Miner’s leadership has proposed a renovation that would expand the library from about 38,000 square feet to about 44,000.
The proposal calls for the conversion of the main reading room into a “collaborative space,” where people could meet and converse and students could study 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The plan also calls for recreating a “grand entrance” from the Crittenden Boulevard street level to recall when the room was Strong Memorial’s lobby and the entryway “helped define the strength and spirit of a thriving institution.”
A renovated Miner would include at least 10 group study rooms for interactive learning. Miner would get a technology upgrade, including abundant electrical outlets for laptops and other devices and enhanced wireless access.
The proposal recommends creation of a new entrance to the library from the Medical Center’s South Corridor and a History of Health Sciences Suite that would better preserve, display and make available Miner’s extensive collection of rare and historic books and manuscripts. The plan also would introduce a café with “natural light, comfortable seating and technology.”
“Miner offers meeting places now, but our customers tell us they need something more, something different,” Sollenberger said. “To teach faculty, staff and students how to leverage technology and access electronic resources, we need sufficient computer classrooms. To support collaborative learning, we need sufficient group study areas. We want Miner to be an open and inviting place where people can come together to work and to think and to envisage the future. Those who know us and have used our services think we are pretty great. We want—we need—to keep being great. A great academic medical center needs a great library.”
Multimedia in this issue:
Brad Berk talks about his recovery from a cervical fracture.
The Sights of Reunion 2009
View a slideshow of the event.
The Heart of the Medical Center
View and listen to a narrated slideshow about the Miner Library then and now.