by Elizabeth R. Lorbeer (Library Director & Associate Professor, Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine)
What if you were given the opportunity to build a new health sciences library from scratch? Where would you begin?
I arrived at the end of May 2013 to Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine (WMed) in Kalamazoo to begin work on assembling the new virtual health sciences library for the new medical school. Because the medical school building on the W.E. Upjohn campus will not be completed until July 2014, the new faculty and staff are dispersed throughout the city, in two separate hospitals, a residence hall and the WMed Clinics. The library staff, which consists of the library director and a newly hired medical librarian, reside in the Pediatrics Department.
The new medical school is a collaboration involving Western Michigan University (WMU) and Kalamazoo’s two teaching hospitals, Borgess Health and Bronson Healthcare. It is a private nonprofit corporation supported by private gifts, clinical revenue, research activity, future tuition from students, and endowment income. This unique setup required the new medical library to be built from the ground up, and seeks out resource sharing options with its partner libraries when possible to support its startup. Unlike other developing health sciences libraries, where there was an existing academic or hospital library to build upon, the WMed library is a wholly separate entity from the academic campus with its own IP ranges, systems, and staff.
Prior to the development of the new medical school, what was in existence was the Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies, loosely affiliated with Michigan State University (MSU) and now known as WMU School of Medicine Clinics. It had a thriving residency program in which the clinical instructors and residents had adjunct faculty status at MSU’s College of Human Medicine or College of Osteopathic Medicine. This meant clinical faculty had access to library resources remotely, but there was no coordinated library outreach to the Clinics unless the user asked for help. With the arrival of the biomedical sciences instructors and new clinical faculty hires in the summer of 2013, besides myself, none of us had access to a health sciences library collection. New faculty hires were not considered for adjunct appointment to MSU nor were any of us WMU faculty, so this meant quickly assembling an online library collection before fall 2013. It was a humbling experience to find myself the library director of nothing. No Website, systems, content, or staff to manage. A month after my arrival, I went to the Michigan academic health sciences librarians meeting where all the library directors provided an update on their library’s activities. Mine was pretty quick as all I could do was introduce myself and point to myself as literally being the library. I was a practicing librarian without a collection, but in these early days I was able to rely upon PubMed and Google Scholar to complete expert literature searches and retrieve articles through Open Access repositories.
Prior to my arrival to Kalamazoo, I came with a startup plan. My action list included meeting with department chairs, associate and assistant deans, department heads, and greeting new hires each week. I sought out membership to every committee that would accept me which included having input regarding the curriculum, instructional technology, clinical research, inter professional education, and training to interview future students as part of the Multiple Mini-Interview for medical school admission. Most importantly, I made it my mission to market my existence, my skills, and instill confidence in the faculty and administration that I would have a fully functional library ready before the inaugural class started in the fall of 2014.
My professional training and past experiences managing collections prepared me well, and by early August 2013, I was able to quickly launch a virtual medical library using Serials Solutions 360 Core. I harvested Open Access collections and tapped the Michigan eLibrary (MeL) to start with an opening day collection of over 10,000 unique titles. Nothing to boast about yet, as this collection did not fully meet most health professionals’ needs, but it gave me a chance to customize the PubMed interface and Google Scholar search engine with identifiable holdings. Through partnerships with the libraries at Borgess Health, Bronson Healthcare, and WMU, we began to identify content of shared interest and when feasible, partnered in resource sharing agreements. Mainly, this consisted of aggregated full-text content or publisher packages. Last, a Get It Now article delivery account was set up to access content not assessable through aggregators or the Open Access repositories. As of January 2014, the library has 69,000 unique titles with an unmediated article demand service. The library’s interlibrary loan system is still under development, but DOCLINE service began in January 2014. I still spend most of my time sorting out configuration issues with the new EZ Proxy software, testing access on multiple devices, browsers, and operating systems, and calling product development teams requesting enhancements for mobile applications.
The electronic book collection is a decent size, for a core medical collection, with over 1,500 core medical titles and access to 14,000 academic titles. I decided early on not to install an integrated library system, as I found the Serials Solutions A to Z list easily located textbooks by keyword searching. Since all the electronic books purchased are treated as titles in a database, it is easy to maintain holdings within the Serials Solutions system. Plans are in progress to pilot a patron-driven system with the hospital libraries to gain access to more book content.
For years, I have dreamt of building an entirely virtual collection free of a legacy print collection and the traditional academic ideal of what a library ought to be. I have always felt constricted by the maintenance of physical objects and space, and prefer the fluidity of electronic information and being able to move about my community to provide information services. At our medical school, medical education has been transformed from traditional lecture-based learning and students are now part of team-based learning communities. We teach students how to access and sift through volumes of biomedical information quickly using tablets and smart phones. WMed adopted the Apple iPad to distribute content for the new medical curriculum. Everything we do has to be accessible and usable from the iPad. Class textbooks are purchased through Inkling.Com, besides instructors creating their own Apple iBooks to replace traditional class lecture notes.
Many of my colleagues ask if there is a physical space for a library at the new school building. The answer is yes, with an adjoining information common, but no physical space for print material. The library space is fluid in which the students pass through as they move back and forth between the main lecture hall and their learning communities. This is prime real estate in the new school building and a gift from the Dean who strongly supports library services.
Through this entire experience of building a new library, I took advantage of several opportunities that arose. First, I happened to be tapped to help with the student admissions process. Each month I have the opportunity to meet candidates on interview day, to introduce myself and talk about the new virtual library. It has been a tremendous opportunity to discuss my ideas and get feedback from the candidates besides writing a monthly column in the admissions newsletter on the library’s progress. I feel that I am creating a connection with the incoming students even before they arrive and I know this plays a role in ensuring the library’s fledging success. My office is conveniently located in the Clinics, and I am often tapped to provide brief updates on library development at journal clubs, morning reports, grand rounds, and noontime meetings. I contribute content to the School’s social media outlets, internal and external newsletters, and recently asked to create a learning module about the library which all employees are required to complete each year. I am trying my hand at lecturing at an upcoming grand round on research literacy. In a survey taken at our last strategic retreat, development of the medical library ranked at the top. I jump at every possible opportunity to embed myself in the new school going beyond the traditional boundaries of a librarian as I am committed to the success of the new school.
Right now, the library is focused on building virtual reference services utilizing Web conferencing tools, SpringShare online chat widget and individual consultations in the Clinic, student learning communities, and future laboratory and simulation spaces. The WMed librarians, with their hospital librarian partners, frequently make house calls to clinical faculty and support staff to address individual information needs. It is common for the librarians to provide services at multiple locations, equipped with tablets and laptops to quickly support the needs of users. There are no traditional reference hours or desk; the librarians are available on demand during clinic hours both in person and virtually.
My library’s motto is “Climb to the top.” My five-year-old daughter came up with this phrase one summer evening as I was working on the library’s marketing plan. She drew a picture of a tree with several happy stick figures dancing around the words she inscribed. Every day I look at her picture and it inspires me to build the very best library for my users that I know how.
Fact Box: More about the Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine
Target enrollment is 50 medical students in the inaugural class, increasing to a class size of about 80.
First class begins: August 2014.
The building, widely known as Building 267, was once part of the Upjohn, Pharmacia, and Pfizer downtown campuses. It was donated to Western Michigan University by Mattawan, Michigan-based MPI Research in December 2011 for use by the new medical school.
In June 2012, it was announced that the site had been named the W.E. Upjohn Campus, in honor of the founder of the Upjohn Co. and the great-grandfather of MPI’s chairman and CEO, William U. Parfet.
The school received over 3,570 applications to fill 50 spots in its first class.
Leah was appointed Executive Director of the Charleston Conference in 2017, and has served in various roles with the Charleston Information Group, LLC, since 2004. Prior to working for the conference, she was Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions for the College of Charleston for four years. She lives in a small town near Columbia, SC, with her husband and two kids where they raise a menagerie of farm animals.