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Archive for May 2012

Struggling to Build a Digital Repository for Community Engagement

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In “A university library creates a digital repository for documenting and disseminating community engagement,” William A. Miller and Marilyn Billings describe an effort to use the institutional repository in a win-win for community engagement (CE) initiatives and for university libraries (JHEOE 2012;16(2):109-21). The equation was meant to be: universities want to measure community engagement + faculty want to get credit for engagement activities -> the repository becomes a record of both. Thus, differing but aligned incentives from two key stakeholders would provide sufficient support for sustaining the project. The authors do not say so outright, but it seems that the project died: “Staffing for the initiative was redirected … when the Outreach Division at UMass Amherst was eliminated in 2010. It is clear that the community engagement section of the repository will be very difficult to maintain and impossible to expand without the benefit of dedicated staffing” (117). That’s right: “impossible to expand.” Today, it looks like portions of the CE section are an empty shell; see, for example, Photovoice.

What happened? Well, the university ditched a CE program. Why? I’m certain U. Mass Amherst would insist that its commitment to CE is unwavering, but walk-the-walk, people. More specifically, the project likely hoped to benefit from a number assumptions about the academic culture: 1) that the university values CE, 2) that promotion and tenure (P&T) committees at the university would value CE activities, 3) that P&T committees would value self-archived gray literature as a record of these activities, and 4) that faculty would seize the opportunity and spend a significant amount of energy to develop and then submit materials. (In my experience, even if 1-3 are proven, faculty are shy about submitting–partly, I think, in fear of embarrassing themselves or of overexposing their community partners, while also hoping to save their best work for peer-reviewed publication.) Although a university may value CE in its mission and even in its funding of programs (1), changing the culture of P&T (2-3) is another matter; thus, the faculty (4) are slow, very slow, to follow.

Nonetheless, I read Miller and Billings with great personal interest. I am currently involved in developing a similar open-access repository, and, truth be told, would have preferred to use an implementation of DSpace, as did the authors with ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst. My team, however, opted to use a software that was not developed with digital libraries in mind. The CE side of the team wanted something with data fields to capture key tasks and activities in CE programs. They also wanted something that would look-and-feel “community friendly.” Now we are laboring with a system that is easier to customize, but less stable, less interoperable, beyond the reach of OAIster, and difficult for new contributors and administrators. On the other hand, we still have staffing and, for a little while, funding too!

Written by Jere

May 30, 2012 at 4:58 pm

A Social Contract for Medical Librarians?

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I continue to read Wicclair’s Conscientious Objection in Health Care. In the second chapter he, somewhat doggedly, examines multiple ethical theories of the health professions. The formula is: name a theory, describe it, show how it does not necessitate a position of conscience absolutism (that one’s conscience must over rule all other factors in every decision), nor does it necessitate a position professional incompatibility (that one’s professional duties must over rule, in every case, the dictates of one’s conscience).

Inadvertently, the chapter gives a pretty good overview of the ethical theories which guide moral decision making in the medical professions. I can’t help but think about my own “profession.” (I suppose I really should make an effort to finish reading Preer’s Library Ethics.) What are the grounds upon which the medical library profession has established its codes? How is it that medical librarians navigate ethical dilemmas? Or, that is, what self-knowledge as a librarian guides them through these dilemmas?

Do medical librarians have an “internal morality” … one grown organically from the nature of the services that we provide?

Do medical librarians have an understood social contract? In other words, does society expect something from us in exchange for granting us professional authority? (Which begs the question: what do people expect from us?)

Or … do we (merely?) practice, by association, borrowing the ethical frameworks of our institutions? Hospitals, clinics, academic medical centers?

I suppose I am still struggling to understand who medical librarians are as a profession. Depending on the circumstance the medical librarian may be professionally embedded in clinical care, teaching students, conducting health research, or providing the services which are common to all libraries. Thus, it would seem, that no one ethical or professional self-conception would guide them.

I also worry that efforts to transform the profession–such as re-branding ourselves as “informationists”–will serve to alienate the professional from the historical practices which guide ethical reasoning … but that is a digression for another day.

Written by Jere

May 14, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Rebeginning again and reading

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I have read less of the history of medical libraries that I had planned. I have read less of everything than I had planned, but that is a fact of life. I am 3 pages deep (and months stalled) into Gertrude L. Annan’s “The Medical Library Association in Retrospect, 1937-1967” (Bull Med Libr Assoc. 1998 Apr;86(2):270-8.). I vaguely recall an impression that the beginnings of the profession were inauspicious, born of print-based indexes, and (later) necessitated by unfriendly databases. And the whole thing leads one to wonder, what would be the state of medical libraries were it not for the creation of the NLM? But I’ll return to that train later.

Now I am reading “ethics.” And the saddest sentences of the day (after noting that physicians making “justice-based” refusals may be said to be acting on conscience only if they meet three criteria: 1. they have a core set of moral beliefs; 2. justice is one of those beliefs; 3. providing care would conflict with the doctor’s concept of justice), Mark Wicclair writes:

Without questioning the sincerity of physicians with justice-based objections to providing medical treatment, it is unlikely that many will satisfy the second condition. If a person’s conception of justice is among her core moral beliefs, she is likely to experience guilt, remorse, loss of self-respect, and/or shame if her actions are incompatible with her conception of justice. Regrettably, however, injustice is something that many physicians and non-physicians alike have learned to tolerate and live with.

Wicclair, M. R. (2011). Conscientious objection in health care: An ethical analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p.8.

Written by Jere

May 1, 2012 at 11:20 am

Posted in Conscience, Ethics, Libraries

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