Shhhh! It’s a quiet revolution.



Dramatic architecture in the Becker Library atrium.

Download Bernard Becker Medical Library: An array of services, a world of resources

“One of my favorite places to take a break from studying is on the second floor of the Becker Library. From the library's diverse humanities collection, I often grab a book on the history of medicine, sink into the soft recliners, put my feet up, and immerse myself in hours of reading about how this field I now study developed and expanded through time.”

Laleh Jalilian,
First-Year Medical Student

“It is very important that sudents learn how to use the medical literature to answer specific clinical questions. Librarians meet regularly with small groups of students throughout the year to teach them how to put the electronic tools of evidence-based medicine into practice. The collaboration with library personnel enriches the students' learning experiences.”

Robert J. Rothbaum, MD, Coursemaster, The Practice of Medicine I

“A microarray study may have hundreds of thousands of data points that have to be analyzed by the researcher. Clearly, this can't be done 'by hand'; software is required. I was able, quickly and easily, to work with the Becker Library to set up ongoing training for Spotfire -- software designed to manage complex number sets. This is precisely the kind of thing a medical school library ought to be doing -- facilitating science to be stronger and more efficient.”

Seth Crosby, Director, Microarray Facility, Genome Sequencing Center

AS EVERY JOURNEY BEGINS WITH A SINGLE STEP, the staff of the Bernard Becker Medical Library understands how a mental journey — whether a term paper, journal article or clinical diagnosis — may begin with a single question. These days, that question may arrive face-to-face across the reference desk or from someone on the other side of the planet.

Since its founding nearly 100 years ago, the School of Medicine’s library has housed a continuously contemporary collection of medical lore. But the library is more than just books and journals; it maintains the cultural heritage of the School. While Becker Library remains a brick-and-mortar place where people can browse or study, it is evolving to become a virtual gateway to — and catalyst for — the panoply of human knowledge.

TechTalk Technology has enhanced today’s library experience, and it provides an abundance of convenient, powerful and timesaving tools.

“Every current user of Becker Library, with the exception of those who come in simply to use it as quiet space, has to use technology,” says Paul A. Schoening, director and associate dean of the medical library. “The relevant role of the library is to facilitate the use of that technology to manage and access information that helps people do their jobs more efficiently.”

The mounting scope of library technology now provides faculty and students with easy access to bioinformatics software training, application development, digitized university archives and even help using their e-mail accounts. About one-third of the library’s 100 employees works in the information technology group.

Librarians  The heavy influx of technology over the past decade hasn’t replaced the need for librarians; in fact, it’s actually made them even more valuable.

“There has been a huge surge in both electronic and print resources.” says Schoening. “Our job is to comb through it all and figure out what’s the most relevant and meaningful to the research and clinical missions of the School of Medicine, and then acquire them for our collection.”

Librarians explore the thousands of available volumes using many of the same technologies available to library users. As expert users of the various searching software available, librarians are always on hand to answer many types of questions, face-to-face, via phone or e-mail.

“We’re answering fewer of the simple questions, but when we do get a question, it’s much more complex,” says Barbara Halbrook, associate director for access services. “It’s often about how to use a particular genetic database or a particular software, or even a complicated statistics question.”

Facility  Fewer of the questions posed to Becker librarians these days are coming from across the counter. The rise in technology has brought about a commensurate decline in foot traffic. Still, nearly 265,000 people visit the library each year. And, says Halbrook, library usage has not declined, it has just been modified.

“The biggest change has been in the use of journals and the photocopying of those journals,” she says. “In-house journal usage used to run about 200,000 separate volumes per year. This year, we’re probably not going to reach 9,000 physical volumes used. Those are almost all available electronically now.”

Book usage has remained about the same, with around 35,000 books circulating each year. Another 30,000 are used in-house.

“Everybody learns differently,” says Schoening. “Some people are readers, some people are listeners, some people are doers. We’re committed to giving them media in whatever form they need.”

Regardless of how they get to the Becker Library — by walking in or by clicking a mouse — the library’s users will continue to find the same things there that they have sought for years: information, answers and history.

The emerging field of bioinformatics — combining biology, biomolecular sciences, biomedical science, computer science and information technology — helps researchers to interpret and analyze vast quantities of biological data. An important subdiscipline within bioinformatics is the analysis and interpretation of various types of data including nucleotide and amino acid sequences, protein domains and protein structures. Bioinformatics specialist Lili Wang assists faculty, postdoctoral students and research assistants in finding and utilizing these analysis tools. Wang, who is both an MD and a librarian, enjoys assisting researchers and clinicians with their work. As head of the Becker Library’s bioinformatics training facility, she regularly teaches four bioinformatics courses and also provides group and individual consultations on an as-needed basis.

Bioinformatics specialist Lili Wang, MD

Collection’s timeworn tome

The oldest book in the collection has weathered fire, water, bugs and mold since it was printed in 1477. Now it’s safely stored under climate-controlled conditions in Archives and Rare Books. The book of botanical remedies, which dates from a time when early print culture and manuscript culture overlapped, lacks the elegant initial letterforms which would have been inscribed by hand. ORTOLF VON BAYERLAND. ARZNEIBUCH, 1477.