Director’s Viewpoint

What’s in a Name?

Marianne Burke, Dana Medical Library

Marianne Burke, Dana Medical Library

What do the words Circulation or Reference mean to you? A few years ago we took down the large letter signs over the service desks at the front of the Library that said “Circulation” and “Reference”. The terms seemed obscure, especially in a medical library (Circulation, defined as the continuous movement of blood through the heart and blood vessels.)  “Circulation” was where library users checked out and returned books or journal volumes.  “Reference” was the desk with the knowledgeable medical librarian who readily found answers to questions as they arose.

Since research journals, textbooks, and multi-format media are now available on mobile devices and desktops, thousands of downloads of UVM Libraries licensed content are completed each year without a visit to the brick and mortar library. Along with electronic delivery of services (article delivery requests for example), many queries are now answered remotely .

Yet, students, faculty, and clinicians do visit the library every month. They come to the library to study, seek services, find a book, and consult with a librarian (See “Dana Survey asks…” article). In fact, 13,409 items were checked out in FY2015.  As we evaluated services and library use, we learned that most questions, including topic-based collection queries, were answered effectively by the professional staff at the front service desk. Librarians, as liaisons to medical & health science campus departments and education programs, are frequently out of the library.

In January, the front desk (formerly known as Circulation) was officially renamed the Main Desk.  The Reference Desk was taken down, replaced with on-demand librarians for complex queries and research consultation by appointment.  (See Main Desk article.)

Medical libraries are changing, and our names are changing too.  Does the term “reference librarian” still apply without a reference desk? Many academic health science libraries don’t think so.  Depending on their position, librarians are called knowledge managers, research informaticians, information literacy specialists, and informationists.

What do you think? What’s in a name?  Do you prefer the traditional nomenclature and services of the library or can you envision with us an exciting, unfolding future?

Marianne Burke MA AHIP, Library Associate Professor

Director, Dana Medical Library

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