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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Summer 1998

The Visiting Corporate Library

Melanie Ball
Clinical Information Consultant
Amgen, Inc.
mball@amgen.com

Abstract

In an effort to provide library services to more clients, the information consultants (IC) in the Amgen Libraries have taken the library to clients directly. The information consultants make rotating visits to various sites on campus bringing as many library services as can be arranged for each site. Starting with a three-month pilot program, the Visiting IC Program has developed into an important tool that can be used by the information consultants to expand library services, increase library visibility, and most importantly, to provide new and convenient outreach library services and information to those who need it.

Introduction

The idea of a visiting library or librarian is not a new one and there are now several variations that the service has undergone over the years. A popular public library outreach service is called a Shut-In Service and is usually offered to clients who do not have access to the library because of personal disability (Black 1981). These clients can include the physically handicapped, the blind, and the bedridden, chronically ill. Library workers bring books and other informational materials to clients, then periodically retrieve them while at the same time bringing in new selections.

Bookmobiles are a common sight in many cities and towns. These bright, big buses are fitted with shelves, computers, chairs and desks, mimicking the physical structure of a library building. They usually follow a fixed schedule and a planned route and can provide clients with practically all the same types of services as that of the originating library.

Another variation of the visiting library can be found in hospitals. Many hospital librarians have established a Clinical Medical Librarian (CML) program (Cimpl 1985). Rather than being a library fixture, the medical librarian leaves the library to go on rounds with a particular physician and other health care workers such as medical students, pharmacists, nutritionists, social workers and others and thus becomes an important part of the health care team. Back at the library, the CML has a better understanding of the team's needs and can respond to those needs by performing searches for articles relating to the medical cases being reviewed and making that information available to those on the team.

Colleges and universities have used Reference Rovers, such as library interns, students, librarians, or library assistants, who circulate through a particular assigned area such as a Reference Room or other point of use area. They seek out those who need help using library resources and provide a rich source of expertise (Ramirez 1994; Bregman 1992).

Finally, technical librarians, using ideas from the CML program, also have brought their expertise directly to the client especially by participating on research or product teams. Here they use their analytical skills, knowledge of the subject being investigated and their ability to gather information to further the work of the team and incidentally, gain acceptance as a colleague and team player (Reiman 1981).

The Visiting IC Program at Amgen is the practical distillation of these various outreach library endeavors tailored to work in the Amgen corporate environment.

Methodology

Amgen, Inc. is the largest independent biotechnology company in the world with approximately 5,400 employees worldwide, most of whom are located in Thousand Oaks, California. The Amgen Libraries are located in two buildings on campus and have a staff of 28, including 8 information consultants (ICs) who specialize in serving clients in various areas such as research, clinical development, business and patents. In order to remedy the problem of clients not being able to come to either library site and despite the fact that many library services are available from desktop computers, the Visiting IC Program was created.

Pilot Program

Basic plan: After library management approved the basic idea of a Visiting IC Program, a pilot program was run from September 1996 through November 1996. Visits were made weekly, each on different days, from 11:00 am-1:00 pm. The target client group was working in research. This target group was chosen because members were located in several buildings at various, often inconvenient, distances from both library locations and because they found it inconvenient or impossible to take time away from the laboratory in order to visit the library. No building was visited twice and the rooms chosen for the library set-up were in or near busy areas such as lunchrooms, conference rooms, departmental libraries, or open areas (atria). All these locations required computer network connections and at least one large table and several chairs. Two information consultants partnered on these visits, one who specialized in basic bio-research and the other in patent information, the subject areas thought to be most pertinent to research clients.

Equipment and supplies: The sites to be visited were equipped with a library-owned laptop computer for each IC. The computers were connected to both the intranet and Internet. Free, useful gifts such as library pens, note pads, library brochures, journal lists, bibliographies, and bookmarks were set out neatly for clients to take. Refreshments were served at each visit in order to draw people to the site.

Personnel: Several people were needed to make these visits a success. A library systems person set up the laptop computers, made the appropriate connections, and checked that the computers were in good working order. A library assistant reserved the various sites, ordered the refreshments for each visit, and made the advertising posters. The information consultants scouted various buildings to find the best room or area for the visit, chose the dates, and gathered the data to include on a announcement poster.

Advertising: In the pilot program, posters were the primary vehicle used to advertise each visit and they were placed in various busy areas at each site about a week before the visit date. An e-mail containing the same information as the poster was also sent a week in advance to the research clients in the building being visited. Balloons were displayed at some sites which, because of their location, needed some obvious display to catch the potential clients' attention.

Data collected: At each visit, clients were counted. Also, verbal comments from the clients were written down because no formal evaluation forms were created for this pilot. Of course, general, unwritten observations were made which included watching client traffic patterns, noticing how fast the refreshments disappeared, the types and number of questions asked, and how well the site was working for the clients. This informal data was later incorporated into the analysis of the program's usefulness and success.

Program analysis: After the pilot program, the two visiting information consultants met to discuss their observations and opinions about the program and to share their ideas for changes and improvements. These were then presented to the library information consultants team for their input and approval. A written report was then presented to management for consideration and approval of the program for regular use.

Observations

Much was learned from this relatively simple pilot program and used to make appropriate changes and improvements. The time of the visit was crucial for success. Because the number of clients who came to a site varied widely, from 5 to 25 clients, it was difficult to estimate the number who might arrive on any one day or site. It was noticed however that many potential clients worked until noon then went to lunch, bypassing the visiting IC's site in their rush to the cafeterias. The 11:00 am - 1:00 pm time slot was changed therefore to 10:00 am - noon. Other times, such as 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm, were planned as an alternate time slot in case a room could not be reserved for 10:00 am - noon. Also, the work involved in carrying out the program, though not rigorous, does take time and affects several staff members. With this in mind, the weekly visits were changed to monthly visits to ease the workload on the library personnel involved in the planning, set-up and visiting.

The cafeterias and some building lobbies were added to the list of possible sites and advertising was changed so that an attractive, colorful e-mail advertisement would be sent the same morning as the visit to the clients in the target building. Only two or three colorful posters would be produced for display at the site and on the doors to the site building and would be posted the same day as the visit. Clients seemed to forget the visit if it was advertised too far in advance or not repeated just before the visit. The idea of attaching balloons to the site doorway to attract clients was also considered as an additional advertising method.

An important aspect of this program is that it is flexible and open to variation and experimentation. Changes to each visit are relatively easy to make and new ideas can be easily incorporated into a visit. For instance, this year the information consultants have added to each visit a book display where books and other materials on topics of potential interest to the clients arranged attractively and made available for checkout. Also, an information consultant who is knowledgeable about bibliographic management software has joined the visits and has helped several clients establish and organize their own literature files. The program thus can be customized easily to serve client groups with different needs from many areas of the company.

A bonus of this program is that it is fun for the library participants and allows library personnel to meet new people, talk about their work, and visit other areas of the company to see where and how other departments work. It provides an enjoyable break from conventional library duties and moves librarians into a proactive role, expands their potential for comfort in areas other than the library, and gives them an opportunity to demonstrate their many important skills.

Conclusion

After the completion and analysis of the pilot Visiting IC Program, management and the information consultants have accepted the program as another important library service tool. Both the IC's and other library staff have used their imagination and their knowledge of client needs to vary the program' services, advertising, and sites to make them more useful. They are using the Visiting IC Program as a viable method to market library services, to show their interest in their clients' information needs, to demonstrate their own expertise in information gathering and analysis, to vary their work routine, to meet new clients, to enhance their own and the libraries' visibility, to add value to daily company operations, and to encourage library use.

Acknowledgements

I would like to acknowledge Hilary Bates, Patent Information Consultant, Darlene Beaty, and Mike McDevitt for their help running the pilot program. Also, I would like to acknowledge the many other library staff who have helped to make the program a success over the last 2 years.

Finally, I am grateful especially to the Amgen Libraries' management who encouraged and supported the practical application of an idea.

References

Black, Nancy, et. al. 1981. Visiting Library Services: A Survey of Ontario's Public Libraries. Ontario Library Review 65(4): 242-251.

Bregman, A. & Mento, B. 1992. Reference Roving at Boston College. College & Research Libraries News 53(10): 634-635.

Cimpl, Kay. 1985. Clinical Medical Librarianship: A Review of the Literature. Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 73(1):21-28.

Ramirez, JL. 1994. Reference Rover: the Hesitant Patron's Best Friend. College & Research Libraries News 55(6):356-357.

Reiman, Diane J. 1981. The Clinical Medical Librarian Model and the Technical Information Specialist. The Information Community: An Alliance for Progress. Proceedings of the 44th ASIS Annual Meeting 1981. Washington DC, October, 25-30, 1981.

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