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J Med Libr Assoc. Jul 2006; 94(3): 284–285.
PMCID: PMC1525316

FOCUS ISSUE INTRODUCTION: Building the role of medical libraries in bioinformatics

Renata C. Geer, MLS, Technical Information Specialist1 and Diane C. Rein, PhD, MLS, Molecular Biosciences Specialist and Assistant Professor of Library Sciences2

The increasing influence of molecular approaches to biological research and medicine has resulted in an expanding array of new kinds of databases, retrieval tools, and data analysis technologies to handle the exponentially growing data arising out of genomic and proteomic sequencing efforts. Bioinformatics, inherently an interdisciplinary science, requires access to a wide range of different datasets and information resources to enable the novel scientific discoveries and experimentation that currently define biomolecular research. Bioresearchers are challenged daily in their ability to efficiently and effectively locate, identify, and make sense of those bioinformatics resources that best fit their needs.

Libraries have begun to assist users with these resources in a variety of ways, ranging from occasional reference assistance, to curriculum-integrated instruction, to a full suite of bioinformatics end-user support services encompassing the creation of specialized Web portals, development and implementation of educational workshops, individualized research consultations, and more. These services are provided by library staff with a variety of educational backgrounds, from degrees in the humanities, to doctoral degrees in biology or medicine, to dual science doctoral and master's of library and information science degrees.

This focus of this issue of the Journal of the Medical Library Association provides broad coverage of the growing role of library-based bioinformatics services from a national perspective. It aims to act as a guide for both library managers and for individual librarians when implementing and/or providing bioinformatics programs.

  1. Geer [1] draws on eleven years of experience providing bioinformatics user services at the National Library of Medicine's National Center for Biotechnology Information to discuss the state of library involvement in bioinformatics and issues for libraries to consider as they endeavor to create bioinformatics programs or maintain existing ones.
  2. Messersmith et al. [2] analyze the bioinformatics end-user support programs nationally and demonstrate opportunities for increased library involvement in bioinformatics.
  3. The complex and changing nature of bioinformatics often creates a dilemma for library managers regarding how to initiate a bioinformatics program that is robust and sustaining. In her role as a library administrator, Epstein [3] provides an editorial perspective on issues involved in promoting library-based bioinformatics support to organizational leadership as well as strategies for integrating bioinformatics support into library operations.
  4. Each academic research setting is unique, and bioinformatics support services across libraries are similarly diverse in design and implementation.
    • Chattopadhyay et al. [4] detail how the University of Pittsburgh's Health Sciences Library System built a bioinformatics program incrementally, using a timeline approach. The Health Sciences Library System serves clientele in the medical school and six schools of allied health sciences, as well as seventeen hospitals of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).
    • Rein [5] illustrates a different approach taken by Purdue University Libraries, which hired a subject specialist to first assess bioinformatics needs “in context” prior to planning a bioinformatics service that resulted in the Purdue University Libraries becoming involved both at the level of individual research laboratories as well as in a university-wide bioinformatics initiative. Traditionally perceived as an agricultural and engineering school, Purdue University is now also involved in bioinformatics research with potential biomedical application.
    • Minie et al. [6] discuss the ongoing bioinformatics services program at the University of Washington Health Sciences Library and Information Center (UW HSLIC), Seattle, an early leader of library involvement in bioinformatics that began its bioinformatics support program in 1995. The UW HSLIC now serves a large, varied, and geographically distributed clientele situated in the hub of a growing biotech corridor, which includes the university as well as individual research laboratories and for-profit entities.
  5. As an interdisciplinary science, bioinformatics re search is often highly collaborative between different research groups, with each collaborator bringing a specific expertise to research projects. Lyon et al. [7] describe the establishment of collaborative relation ships between libraries and bioinformatics centers, bringing librarian expertise to bioinformatics user re search efforts.
  6. Bioinformatics services are integrated into the prac tice of libraries at many different levels. The articles by Chattopadhyay [4], Rein [5], and Minie [6] describe programs implemented by individuals with advanced degrees in science and positions dedicated strictly to bioinformatics support. To complement these types of programs, Osterbur et al. [8] provide a series of vi gnettes offering valuable insight into service imple mentations involving staff with varied backgrounds and job responsibilities and working in different en vironments (online only).
  7. The study of biology at a molecular level also af fects clinical medicine and consumer health. The focus issue therefore concludes with a discussion of two re sources, GeneTests [9] and Genetics Home Reference [10], designed to deliver genetic information to the clinical and consumer health communities.

A wealth of information exists in the growing array of molecular biology databases and can be unlocked through the effective use of these tools. Many libraries have recognized the need to provide bioinformatics educational services and consultations to end users. As a centralized resource and source of information expertise, libraries can play an increasingly significant role in this important field. This focus issue provides a synthesis of issues and a cross-section of models to help libraries establish bioinformatics end-user support programs or enhance existing ones.

REFERENCES

  • Geer RC. Broad issues to consider for library involvement in bioinformatics. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006.  Jul; 94(3):286–98. E-152–5. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Messersmith DJ, Benson DA, and Geer RC. A Web-based assessment of bioinformatics end-user support services at US universities. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006.  Jul; 94(3):299–305. E-156–87. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Epstein BA. A management case study: challenges of initiating an information service in molecular biology and genetics [editorial]. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006.  Jul; 94(3):245–7. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Chattopadhyay A, Tannery NH, Silverman DAL, Bergen P, and Epstein BA. Design and implementation of a library-based information service program in molecular biology and genetics at the University of Pittsburgh. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006.  Jul; 94(3):307–13. E-192. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Rein DC. Developing library bioinformatics services in context: the Purdue University Libraries bioinformationist program. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006.  Jul; 94(3):314–20. E-193–7. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Minie M, Bowers S, Tarczy-Hornoch P, Roberts E, James RA, Rambo N, and Fuller S. The University of Washington Health Sciences Library BioCommons: an evolving Northwest biomedical research information support infrastructure. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006.  Jul; 94(3):321–9. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Lyon JA, Tennant MR, Messner KR, and Osterbur DL. Carving a niche: establishing bioinformatics collaborations. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006.  Jul; 94(3):330–5. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Osterbur DL, Alpi K, Canevari C, Corley PM, Devare M, Gaedeke N, Jacobs DK, Kirlew P, Ohles JA, Vaughan KTL, Wang L, Wu Y, and Geer RC. Vignettes: diverse library staff offering diverse bioinformatics services. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006.  Jul; 94(3):306– E-188–91. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Pagon RA. GeneTests: an online genetic information resource for health care providers. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006.  Jul; 94(3):343–8. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
  • Mitchell JA, Fomous C, and Fun J. Challenges and strategies of the Genetics Home Reference. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006.  Jul; 94(3):336–42. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

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