Edward E. Brickell Medical Services Library

Edward E. Brickell Medical Services Library

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Library Field Trip


I approached this paper worried that maybe I had already seen too many libraries to really get excited about one more. My experiences have lead me to work for several public library branches, a law library, a technical college library, and even what I believe qualifies as a special library, The Bayside Area and Special Services Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. I was not even sure where I could find another type of library that was different from any other I had worked in previously. After wracking my brain for a little bit, I remembered doing a program for senior citizens a few years back where I had a guest speaker. That guest speaker was Ruth Smith, The Outreach Services Librarian for Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS). I remembered how helpful and nice she was, and I knew I had never actually been in a medical services library. I visited to see what information I could get from there. I found Ruth’s email address and phone number, and I decided to give her a call to see what I could find out about their facility.

As expected, Ruth was willing and excited to help me in any way she could. We arranged a tour of the facility; she contacted her colleague, Renee E. Mansheim, the Technical Services Coordinator at EVMS, who handles the collection development for Edward E. Brickell Medical Sciences Library. I would like to thank both of these dedicated professionals for their time and expertise in their field. I ended up with more information than I could possibly relay in a three to five page report and had a great experience in general.

The Tour

I scheduled my tour of the library for Friday, April 16, 2010 at 11:00 a.m. I was prepared the night before with professional dress laid out and a Google map print out of the directions from my home to the facility at 740 W. Olney Road; Norfolk, VA 23507. I left with plenty of time to arrive according to Google, and the only problems I had resulted from this choice. I did end up getting turned around and almost had to go across the tunnel into Portsmouth. If you have never been to this area, all I can say is that this is something you do not want to do if Portsmouth is not your destination. Once I arrived, I also was surprised to find that the parking was a pay by the hour garage. I knew after the interview and tour that I would need to find some cash. I am not used to having to pay for much at a library, especially not the parking. This was the first thing I noticed to be very different from the public library environment that I have come to know and love. I did arrive a bit late, and I was worried, but Ruth said she knew about the construction, road improvements, and all the other difficulties I would have in getting there, and apologized for not warning me.

When I first went into the building, I was shocked. I had not been aware that the building was relatively new. It is located in a very old part of Norfolk, the Ghent area, and although there is a mix of very old and brand new construction, most people associate this area as an historical district. This building, which was roughly situated in the center of the campus, was an architectural beauty with lots of natural lighting, wide open spaces, and a comfortable atmosphere. I began on the first floor, and my first impression was that it would be the only floor. Perhaps it was because there was everything one would need to perform basic library functions on this floor. She showed me her office, as well as most of the other librarians’ offices. I met the librarian who works the information desk, Susan Harnett. We three had a brief discussion about the types of questions that most people ask. Their biggest problem question being, “what illness do I have”, to which they reply, “I’m not a physician, I can only help you find information on illnesses, if you need a diagnosis, please see your doctor.” They told me that 50% of their questions are from the general public and that they are supposed to charge $75.00 an hour if a patron from the general public still needs assistance after the first 15 minutes. I thought this sounded severe, but I was told that most of their funding does come from private sources, and very little of it comes from the state, even though it is public, in that anyone may utilize the facility. It did not sound as though they were expected to strictly adhere to this policy. They also charge five cents a copy for printing and copying, which is significantly lower than I have experienced in the past. The single most interesting thing that can be checked out is located on the first floor. They have real human skulls! I was given the opportunity to handle one (sitting down only is the rule). It was a very thought provoking experience that cannot easily be described.

The tour continued to a second, third, and fourth floor. I was amazed at how large of a collection they had, which I will discuss in the next section. What I would like to point out is that they had several study rooms on the second floor which could be reserved by faculty, and that students could use if not reserved. They were very large with nice board room style round tables in them. A couple of them had TV/VCR/DVD set ups. I thought this was nice because at our library we often get patrons who would like to preview a video before checking it out. Ruth did say that these were used for this purpose. I also thought that the shelving on the second and third floors were very interesting. They have the kind of shelving that many people have seen in their doctors offices that crank apart, but they were push button operated, and they have sensors that will not allow them to crush a person by accident. I love technology and I appreciated what must have gone into developing this idea. The fourth floor was mostly offices and the faculty lounge, which was the only thing I was not permitted to see. The only other room on the fourth floor was the most special room of all, the Dr. and Mrs. John S. Thiemeyer, Jr. Medical History and Reading Room.

The Dr. and Mrs. John S. Thiemeyer Jr. Medical History and Reading Room is made up of items donated by the family of Dr. and Mrs. Thiemeyer, as well as from other persons and places. It is always locked and usually reserved for special board meetings and the like, but I was permitted entry. The room was filled with antiques. From the furnishings, to the books, and the medical supplies, everything was very old. I was afraid to even stand on the rug. I told Ruth this and she replied that it was probably worth more than everything in her home! I was allowed to look at some Civil War era books, and I was in awe. There were many cases full of old fashioned medications and tools. Many of these were quite frightening, but I had to laugh that speculums have not changed in at least a century! The medications seemed to be things that would do much more harm than good, such as leaches and balms made from poisonous substances. I could have spent hours in there. The 15 minutes or so simply was not enough to satisfy my curiosity.

The Collection

The collection was almost entirely medical resources. There were very few fiction materials. The ready reference section on the first floor was in the process of being weeded. These shelves were nearly bare. When I asked about this, Ruth explained that almost everything that they had kept in their ready reference was now available through their online reference sources. These are also available to students and faculty online; however, the public can only use these sources at the library. This has something to do with the split funding as well. Some of their online reference sources include but are not limited to PubMed, LinkOut, MEDLINE, DynaMed, Access Medicine, MDConsult, and PsycINFO. Ruth said that these were frequently used, and that the librarians there face similar issues as the public library in that they are often not asked questions by students and faculty, because there is a belief that the computer will answer all their questions. Many patrons stop searching after a short while even if they have not found an answer without asking for assistance. Ruth suggested that it is actually kind of a good thing that not everyone can gain access via the web, because they often get questions from people who are forced to come in if they want to use these sources anyway.

The library also offers a comprehensive digital collection including STAT!Ref, a service for e-books. All of these electronic services are listed on their web-site. I can honestly say that their website is one of the most organized and comprehensive library websites I have ever encountered. It was attractive, fairly easy to navigate, and for every question I could not remember the answer for, I was able to locate it there. It became obvious to me that they did much of their business electronically. I spoke with Ruth about this and she seemed to believe that this was probably accurate. Probably the most comprehensive collection within the collection of as far as I could tell, was their reproductive medicine collection. This is because of their connection to the Jones Institute for Reproductive medicine, who is known for their discoveries and advancements in reproductive medicine. They indicated that this section did get lots of use, and that the use was from both the public and the EVMS population.

The entire collection is managed solely by one librarian, Renee E. Mansheim, Technical Services Coordinator, although there seemed to be some informal collaboration. When Ruth Smith first referred my questions regarding the collection to her, I assumed I would meet with her and have an informal discussion. I was mistaken, but not necessarily in a bad way. I would have liked to have met her, but she was helpful in a no nonsense way. She simply sent me a document entitled the Eastern Virginia Medical School Edward E. Brickell Medical Sciences Library Collection Development Policy Manual by email. This 42 page monster frightened me when I first opened it and saw how long it was. However, I quickly realized that it was a well put together manual that had more in it than just the collection development policy, such as the library’s Statement of Purpose, and information about some of the services they provide. It seemed to me the further I looked at the manual and tied it into the experiences that I had during my tour, that the library is a collection centered library. This may have been the biggest epiphany that I had throughout the experience. There is no way to separate their services from their collection. This is not exactly true in the public library atmosphere that I am accustomed to. In the public library we may give out helpful information to patrons regardless ofwhether our collection is supplying the information or not, just for the sake of being helpful. I do not see this as being the case here. Everything they do is tightly tied into promoting their collection and disseminating it to as many people as they can. I like the simplicity of that. Ruth even said that she had done some children’s programming where she had taken the skulls and other bones to show school age kids. Since the skulls and the bones are part of the collection, even in this case, she was promoting the collection.

Final Thoughts

The only thing I was not able to find out specifically from this manual, is how she felt about the collection, her ability to do her job developing the collection, etc. I can only assume that she is satisfied since everything is so nice and new and the collection is so extensive. They seem to be able to provide nearly everything their patrons want. They do have a policy for interlibrary loan, but as it was not highlighted during the tour, I can only assume that it is rarely used. They also do refer patrons to other area libraries, but it is mostly for items that would not be considered a necessary item for a medical services library. One of the nice things about living in a fairly metropolitan area seems to be that we can have more of these specialized libraries. For example, if a patron has a question that the librarian at EVMS finds a legal resource that would better answer the question that is not in their collection, they may refer them to a local law library that does. With this in mind, EVMS seems to have been able to refine their collection down to only what is considered the most valuable medical information available including medical history and a variety of electronic resources. They serve the community in a very valuable way. They do not seem to have been effected by the economy in any way, and I believe that one of the reasons for this is because of this ability to refine their collection to include only what is relative to medicine and medical research. I certainly will find my way back to the Edward E. Brickell Medical Services Library someday. It is comforting to know that a well established facility, comprehensive collection, and friendly staff will be available for me in my own community when a time comes that I need a medical question answered.

Jennifer M. Galeota