Thursday, December 10, 2009

Role of health & medical library associations - Marguerite Nel

The role of health and medical library associations in the facilitation and sharing of information and knowledge by Marguerite Nel (HICSA, 24 November 2009)

Never before have there been so many opportunities for involvement in an information-based society as we are experiencing today. New challenges in electronic and multi-media publishing, local, national and global networking opportunities, new developments and tools for accessing, sharing and creation of knowledge and the increasing array of computers, communication and technology networks emerge to create new options for information capturing, storage, retrieval and delivery. Then there is a new focus on open source information and more and more databases with free access to medical information appear constantly. Even with Google – information is only a click away.
All these factors play a role when assessing the need for a heath information interest group. One may ask the question, with all this information and opportunities, is there still a need for us to getting involved in social networking (as we did this afternoon)? Is face to face meetings still important? What about the challenges for collaboration on the interactive web? Maybe a facebook group – or discussions on Twitter?
These are the questions I want to address this afternoon. And at the end of my presentation I want us to discuss the future of HICSA.

When looking at this definition for social networking, as discussed in an OCLC membership report, we can say that the main functions of a group, like HICSA, are to establish and enhance relationships based on our common interest in health information as well as the sharing of ideas, skills and interest. The Internet made this communication more effective without boundaries of time or geographic location.

Interactive communication through social networking tools on the Internet are now possible. Just think how easy, quick and cost effective meetings through Facebook, Twitter or even on our Blog will be. It may be necessary to investigate all the possibilities of these social networking tools for the sharing of information and knowledge in an interest group, such as HICSA. The opportunities are countless, but are we willing to interact only through these means of communication?

My intention, however this afternoon, is not really to discuss the challenges and maybe threats of a virtual health association. I rather want to focus on the need for such an association in South Africa. But first, I think it is important to look at other health library associations around the globe - their functions in the profession and what they are able to deliver to their members.
One of the interest groups of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the United Kingdom, is the Health Libraries Group. It has 1500 members.
A very well known, well-organised group in Europe, is the European Association for Health Information and Libraries. I was fortunate to attend their 9th annual conference in Santander, Spain, during September 2004. Their next conference will be next year, in June in Lisbon, Portugal.
Still in Europe, is the Health Sciences Libraries group, a section of the Library Association of Ireland. Like HICSA, this group also has only one annual meeting and they focus a lot on professional development and training through the presentation of workshops.
As you know, everything is better and bigger in the USA. The MLA is one of the largest medical library associations in the world. One of the many functions of the MLA is to assist medical librarians in continuing education.
Back on the African continent, is the Association for Health Information and Libraries in Africa, AHILA. This group is very active – especially on the sharing of information and knowledge through the listserve. They publish several information products, such as the African Index Medicus and has a conference every year. Some of us attended an AHILA conference in Swaziland, a few years ago and found it very interesting and informative.
In conclusion on what we just learned from what other associations are doing, we may suggest the following functions or objectives of a health information or library association:
One of the main objectives is to share information and expertise. In HICSA’s case, this is done through our regular meetings, such as this one as well as through communication on the listserve. Our conference every four years also contribute to the exchange of experiences and knowledge. HICSA also tries to present regular workshops. There were, for example our workshops on Blogging, creativity, Web 2.0 tools and Gaming – to mention only a few. At this stage, HICSA doesn’t really play a role in advocacy, recruitment or leadership in the profession.

Most of the discussed associations offer a rich array of benefits for people in all stages of their careers and in many fields relating to health sciences information. These benefits are promoted to their members. At this stage, HICSA only provides a platform for information and knowledge sharing through networking.

Currently HICSA has a well functioning listserve. We also use Web 2.0 technology, such as our Blog (created and maintained by Erica) and we also used a Wiki for our previous conference. We have an annual meeting, a conference every fourth year and we presented a few successful workshops.

I think the main problem with HICSA is, that it isn’t promoted to all role players in the field of health information and librarianship. Time is one of the biggest constraints and people feel that HICSA doesn’t contribute anything to their career or profession. This is just my opinion – but it will be interesting to further investigate or discuss this issue.

The question now is, do you think HICSA has a role to play? Do you think we must continue – and maybe put in more effort, developing it into a new direction where it can play a more important national role. What about the opportunities of the interactive web? Maybe a Facebook group? Or must we continue the way it is. The other option is to just discontinue any efforts to make it work.
The floor is now open for your opinions.

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