Not so long ago libraries in healthcare institutions were tucked away in the post-graduate medical centre and the nursing school and were only accessible to doctors and nurses whose professionalism their exclusiveness seemed to endorse. Nowadays we are all health information users - even, of course, the general public.
This book is well timed to help us look again at the place and function of the library and information service (LIS). Apparently there are only some 1,000 people working directly in the LIS, of which just over half hold relevant qualifications. The scope of their work is almost too wide. What is the balance between advising, providing and training?
The book is divided into three sections. First, Walton and colleagues set out the context, using the STEP analysis: sociological, technological, economic and political.
The second section concentrates on health information resources and their organisation and the third discusses the skills needed to make best use of the knowledge available.
As would be expected from experts in this field, the 50 pages of references are impeccable and the copious listing of Internet sites very useful. Although the Internet dominates the book, it is useful to be reminded that libraries fulfil more traditional functions, and despite the speed of the development in medical and other sciences, books still play an important role. Perhaps Booth in his chapter on organising information sources might have given more space to the current methods of book cataloguing.
A major question for the LIS professional (cumbersome title! ) is how to approach information: do they respond by amassing information 'just in case' it is needed or are they more reactive in a 'just in time' mode? In the former they educate their users as to what is available; in the latter they satisfy their users' immediate demands.
Indeed, how to focus their own skills is a major preoccupation. If they fail, their users go elsewhere but when they succeed they are likely to create a demand they cannot satisfy.
The LIS professional helps health professionals to realise the strengths and weaknesses of particular data sources. The chapters by Booth and by Falzon are particularly useful in helping the reader to refine searches. There are an estimated 100,000 Internet sites dealing with health. Once in the general area it is important to know how to use further filters. By the end of the book I had an uneasy feeling that information, far from being a liberator, would in the end throttle us all.
If this is a danger, we certainly need experts at least to cut away the undergrowth. This helpful book will provide a tool with its constant reiteration on both refining questions and the likely sources for answers.