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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2007

Book Reviews

Access to Medical Knowledge: Libraries, Digitization, and the Public Good

Ruth A. Riley
Director of Library Services
University of South Carolina School of Medicine
Columbia, South Carolina

Copyright 2007, Ruth A. Riley. Used with permission.

Access to Medical Knowledge: Libraries, Digitization, and the Public Good. Frances K. Groen. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2007. 281 p. ISBN 0-8108-5272-1. $55.00 Paperback.

As medical libraries face the challenges of emerging technologies, new service paradigms, and shifting scholarly communication models, the fundamental values that form the foundation of medical librarianship become increasingly important. Frances Groen's book successfully reminds medical librarians of the connection between these core values and the services they provide and choices they make in serving the public good. A highly respected medical librarian, Groen has served as President of the Medical Library Association and has extensive experience as head of McGill University's medical library and curator of the history of medicine at the Falk Library of the Health Professions, University of Pittsburgh.

The book is divided into four parts. Part I -- Librarians and Their Values -- addresses the three core values of the library profession -- access to information for all who need it, promotion of literacy, and preservation of the accumulated wisdom of the past. Groen makes the case that these values provide a conceptual framework for the practice of the profession when it is in such transition due to information technology and electronic information.

Part II -- The Origin of Medical Librarianship -- examines the history of medical librarianship, beginning with the late 19th century and the work of John Shaw Billings on the Library of the Surgeon General's Office and the Index-Catalogue and Sir William Osler's commitment to medical libraries. The history of medical libraries in the 20th century includes discussion of the MLA Medical Library Exchange program, the negative impacts of World War I and II on medical libraries, and the establishment of the National Library of Medicine and Index Medicus. A fascinating description of the dialogue between medical librarians and publishers in the 1930's about the high cost of medical literature is of particular note.

Part III -- Medical Libraries in the Age of the Internet -- is an interesting historic overview of the information communications and technology revolution and its relationship to changes in scholarly communication and medical libraries. This section also addresses how the universal availability of Medline and MedlinePlus revolutionized consumer health information services in medical libraries. Groen covers the proactive work of medical librarians in health information literacy and clinical information delivery and calls on them to engage in research about the impact of these services on medical outcomes.

Part IV -- Is There a Better Way? -- covers the economics of medical and scientific publishing and the impact of commercial publishing on libraries. Groen critically examines the pros and cons of the "Big Deal" concept and the erosion of the "fair use" concept. She also covers the history of the open access movement and the control of copyright.

In the conclusion, Groen recommends strategies for negotiating with publishers, and calls on medical librarians to raise awareness of open access publishing, establish institutional repositories, strengthen clinical information delivery, and preserve the history of the health sciences.

This book is a refreshing and inspirational read for medical librarians. It is also highly recommended for academic librarians as well as library science educators who teach courses in medical/science librarianship and core courses which address scholarly communication and professional values.

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