9º World Congress on Health Information and Libraries

Salvador, Bahia - Brazil, September, 20 to 23 - 2005


4th Regional Coordination Meeting of the VHL

September, 19 to 20 - 2005


The Health Library, a physical space or a philosophical concept? (panel 4)

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With this answer, it will be able to define a new role for librarians, presenting an opportunity to reinvent themselves as “informationists”

Health libraries are changing very fast and facing new challenges and perspectives. After the advent of the internet, is there a need for libraries? MJ Tooey, President of the American Medical Library Association, pointed out that 95 million Americans over 18 years of age use the internet to find health information. Eighty percent of internet users have searched for it, and 65% look for specific disease and medical problems. Another 51% looks for ways to stay healthy. Now the question is, how good is the information they find? Do they understand it? This is what could define a new role for librarians, presenting an opportunity to reinvent themselves as “informationists”.


One of the major challenges facing health libraries in developed countries is staff recruitment and retention, as the new generation, the so-called millenials, has very different attitudes and expectations to those of the baby-boomers who are now manning the libraries and who will be retiring during the next decade.


The traditional librarians will need to transform themselves in order to attract their replacements. Education will be of the essence for all of them, new and old, if health libraries are to define their new role in society.


Developing countries face even more pressing issues regarding medical information stored in libraries. Anjana Chattopadhay, director of India’s National Library of Medicine, spoke of the poor coverage of poverty-related diseases in Western medical journals.


On the other hand, the South East Asian region suffers from a vast shortage of medical journals. All this results in a highly questionable picture of the real health conditions around the world.


In this context, Pedro Urra, director of the CNICM (Infomed) in Cuba, proposed the view of health libraries as a social space for access to health information, joining the local with the global. They must feed each other, as the global flows cannot exist without the local input.


Promoting the local context was also the appeal made by Ibrahima Bob, president of the Association for Health Libraries in Africa. He stressed that in the global village, local or national disparities will affect everyone, as diseases know no borders.


The health library status mirrors the digital divide and the health status of a country, as “the library is a living organism affected by its environment, following the social and economic model in which it exists”, in the words of Najeeb Al-Shorbaji, of the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean in Egypt. The digital and information divides must be bridged if health libraries around the world are to fulfill their mission of providing quality information for improved health.