High-Performance Medical Libraries: Advances in Information Management for the Virtual Era


Extended catalogs, digitized image databases, intelligent retrieval, online document delivery, and distributed collections are all elements of what we have come to think of as the “virtual” library and constitute some of the topics discussed in this work. Those of us who are involved in trying to build “libraries of the future” need, if not a “how-to” guide, certainly some sort of outline of and tutorial on the activities that must be undertaken and the issues that must be considered in this building process. High-Performance Medical Libraries is a good step in that direction. The book represents a survey of projects or case studies undertaken by a variety of libraries that, in effect, set the stage for the development of the virtual library. The case studies are written by authors recognized for their contributions to the field, and several of the chapters originated with papers presented at the Computers in Libraries 1992 Annual Conference held in Washington, D.C. The work consists of eighteen chapters divided into seven parts: “Integrated Advanced Medical Information Systems and Libraries,” “NLM: The Unified Medical Language and Semantic Network,” “Network and Resource Sharing,” “Document Delivery and Full Text Systems,” “The Extended On-line Catalog,” “Integrated Hospital, Corporate, and Society Libraries,” and “Computer Training Labs and Medical Education Software.” Broering first describes the evolution of the National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) Integrated Advanced Information Management System (IAIMS) initiative. IAIMS, through its major role in enhancing medical libraries and its placement of them at the center of the transmission of medical information, can be seen as an organizing paradigm or framework for the development of the virtual library. The title of this book might well have been High-Performance Medical Library, as much of the material covered is related to the Dahlgren Memorial Library at Georgetown University. This is not a criticism. As Broering traces IAIMS developments at Georgetown: the Knowledge Network of Databases, Scholar Workstations, the Biomedical Information Resources Center for teaching, developments in system integration, resource sharing, the design of educational software packages, and so on, one sees that what has been accomplished there constitutes a prototype of the virtual health sciences library. The two chapters written by Betsy Humphreys and Peri Schuyler and by Alexa McCray cover the Metathesaurus and the Semantic Network respectively. The chapters are clearly written and a welcome addition to the growing body of documentation for these knowledge sources; they certainly belong in any volume discussing virtual library concepts. They also serve to remind us that if there is to be integration of a variety of bibliographic databases, patient record systems, factual data banks, and knowledged bases, there must also be translation between query language and entry language to these systems. Two chapters deal with infrastructure. The “administrative” part of networking and resources sharing is discussed by Trudy Gardner in terms of the Friends of LIS (FLIS), a group of libraries who have purchased the Georgetown University Library Information System (LIS). The activities of this group could help provide answers to some vexing questions that are now being raised. With the proliferation of health sciences resources on the Internet and with the increased availability through networking of both local and remote full-text databases as well as the more traditional online bibliographic databases, how does one design an institutional collection policy that allocates resources to both acquisition and access and, in fact, manages a “distributed” collection of this type? What sort of intellectual framework will encompass such a collection? Robert Larson notes, “It is necessary for hospitals and medical centers to automate their health sciences libraries with systems that can integrate easily to their clinical information systems” (p. 67) and then describes a model: LIS Net, a client-server architecture for the Georgetown LIS. An electronic document delivery system for the physical delivery of the actual documents or their surrogates following the citation search, an experimental project to digitize the full text of articles in selected genetic and cancer journals, multimedia education projects at the National Library of Medicine, and library-based development of educational software are the topics of other chapters of the book. Three chapters are devoted to what is coming to be the essential core of the virtual library: the management of information through what Helen Bagdoyan calls “the extended online catalog.” This is an evolutionary development of the online public access catalog (OPAC) and is characterized by features such as true authority control, powerful searching capabilities, links to other files, and access to external networks. This extended OPAC, applied to databases of indexed images, links catalog records to images, as described by Wilma Bass, and, at Washington University, manages access to the