Traditional librarian activities such as communication, collection development, education and training, writing, and intranet services are equally necessary to support research in bioinformatics, as in any other field, but the diverse set of resources and requirements for extensive domain knowledge in multiple fields places new demands on health information professionals supporting the success of this field. Training and continuing education will enable health information professionals to reach beyond traditional roles and become integral participants in biomedical, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and vaccine research projects.
Considerable technical knowledge must be gained by the health sciences librarian to contribute to bioinformatics research as a bioinformaticist. The learning curve is shortened for information professionals who can learn enough about the field to participate in knowledge management activities, such as organizing and maintaining access to accumulated research materials on an intranet platform. Knowledge management will continue to be a challenging area in biotechnology research, and environmental scanning and maintenance of up-to-date intranet knowledgebases will continue to be key elements to the success of research projects. This reason is one of the strongest for bringing information professionals into the field and encouraging multidisciplinary training in the informationist-to-bioinformaticist direction as well as from the scientist-to-bioinformaticist direction. Bioinformatics may not be an appropriate fit for every health sciences librarian, but it can, and should, be developed as a viable career path for those who wish to pursue it.
The authors thank and acknowledge the help of Frederick W. Stoss, associate librarian, Arts and Sciences Libraries, Science and Engineering Library, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, and Christine DeGolyer, outreach librarian, E. G. Miner Library, University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York.
*Based on a presentation at MLA '03, the 103rd Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association; San Diego, California; May 5, 2003. Slides from the presentation may be viewed at http://www.mlanet.org/am/am2003/e_present/schwartz.pdf.
†The Healthlinks BioResearcher Toolkit may be viewed at http://healthlinks.washington.edu/bioresearcher.
‡The Weill Cornell Medical Library's Molecular Biology & Bioinformatics Resources Web page may be viewed at http://library.med.cornell.edu/Library/HTML/molbiol.html.
§The Spencer S. Eccles Health Science Library's Molecular Biology and Genetics Web page may be viewed at http://medlib.med.utah.edu/library/helixhelper/molbiol_tx.html.
**Information about NCBI News may be viewed at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/About/newsletter.html.
††The current issue of the Genomics & Health Weekly Update from the Centers for Disease Control may be viewed at http://www.cdc.gov/genomics/update/current.htm.
‡‡The current Database Categories List from the Nucleic Acids Research may be viewed at http://www3.oup.co.uk/nar/database/c/.
§§The American Society for Information Science and Technology Special Interest Group's Website may be viewed at http://www.asis.org/AboutASIS/asis-sigs.html#SIGBIO.
***The Website of the Molecular Biology and Genomics Special Interest Group of the Medical Library Association may be viewed at http://medicine.wustl.edu/%7Emolbio/.
†††The Website of the Genomics Working Group of the American Medical Informatics Association may be viewed at http://www.amia.org/working/genomics/main.html.
The University of Washington Health Sciences Library improved communication between the library and bioinformatics researchers and students through a number of strategic efforts. These included recruiting a biologist with a doctorate degree to act as a liaison, conducting needs analysis surveys, attending meetings of research groups, giving demonstrations of bioinformatics resources, and holding discussions with clients about desired resources and services .
An essential communication activity in university, research, and clinical settings is that of consultation services. Information professionals have discovered that reference consultations range from basic questions, such as how to locate databases or software programs, to inquiries requiring the librarian to know “the range of problems that can be answered by more advanced bioinformatics tools”  or to provide “in-depth assistance with data analysis” . To establish and maintain credibility as research partners, librarians will need to pursue a level of training in bioinformatics that will prepare them to anticipate their clients' consultation needs.
Many excellent resource guides have been created to support university bioinformatics programs, such as the HealthLinks/BioResearcher Toolkit at the University of Washington,† the Molecular Biology & Bioinformatics Resources guide at the Weill Cornell Medical Library,‡ and the Helix Helper for Molecular Biology and Genetics at the University of Utah.§
On a larger scale, academic libraries, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Rochester, are currently experimenting with the use of DSpace as a means to “collect, preserve, index and distribute the intellectual output of an organization” . Cooperative resource sharing minimizes costs and pools efforts. In New York State, universities and corporations have launched AMDeC Microarray Resource Center, a cooperative initiative to share the costs of expensive bioinformatics analysis tools and equipment, help manage and archive the results of microarray analysis, and speed up the pace of research efforts .
Learning organizations focused on research and development and marketing, such as pharmaceutical companies, continuously work to improve information and knowledge management. Lamb, manager of the Knowledge Resource Center of Buckman Laboratories International, uses technology “to facilitate knowledge sharing when appropriate,” in the “form of online discussion forums or publishing on a corporate intranet” (see “Intranet Systems Development” below). She sees the purpose of any knowledge management effort as making “knowledge visible and accessible throughout the entire organization” and recognizes information professionals as “unique individuals who understand how to capitalize on information technology, maintain a synergy between traditional and new information practices, and facilitate knowledge sharing” .
At the Weill Cornell Medical Library, librarians offer workshops to students, researchers, clinicians, and other librarians on molecular biology searching tools and resources . Librarians at the University of Washington Health Sciences Libraries offer workshops on specific tools for microarray analysis including the GeneSifter Webware package and Vector NTI package .
As in other areas of medicine, science, and technology, current awareness is essential to the rapidly growing area of bioinformatics. Examples of current awareness resources are newsletters, such as the quarterly publication NCBI News,** the Genomics & Health Weekly Update from the Centers for Disease Control,†† the annual database issue of Nucleic Acids Research that includes a categorized list of databases;‡‡ electronic lists such as Sigbioinform-l from the American Society for Information Science and Technology; §§ and Websites of groups involved in bioinformatics such as the Molecular Biology and Genomics Special Interest Group of the Medical Library Association*** and the Genomics Working Group of the American Medical Informatics Association .†††
Experienced health sciences librarians constantly integrate writing skills with communication and delivery of library services for teaching, program promotion, and grant writing and by participating in committees and associations. Information professionals lacking a science background can adapt their writing skills to collaborative science research projects by taking courses in medical terminology, technical writing, or science writing. For example, Northeastern University offers graduate courses in biomedical writing, science writing, and the rhetoric of science , while many schools offer both online and local classes in technical writing for local and distance learners.
The University of Washington Health Sciences Libraries staff have developed their intranet services to include access to licensed sequence analysis software, electronic full-text reference titles, an extensive Web pathfinder on molecular biology resources and tools, and Current Contents . Bishop lists general competencies for “content managers” primarily concerned with digital information management and intranet development and contrasts these with the skills required of “knowledge managers”  (see “Knowledge Management” above).
Alison J. Helms, Graduate Student (MLS June 2004),1 Kevin D. Bradford, MLS, Information Analyst,2 Nancy J. Warren, MLS, Systems Librarian,3 and Diane G. Schwartz, MLS, AHIP, FMLA, Director of Libraries and Archives4
Universities and medical research institutions are hard at work training researchers in bioinformatics, a multidisciplinary field comprising molecular biology, genetics, mathematics, and computer science. Bioinformatics specialists with undergraduate and graduate degrees find their skills are in high demand in a range of research and development environments, including universities, teaching hospitals, and the industrial sector, including pharmaceutical, vaccine, and biotechnology companies. Researchers in bioinformatics currently receive strong support from library and informational professionals in geographic areas where biotechnology corporations are established. However, stronger support and collaboration will be necessary as the field matures. Health information professionals and science librarians with backgrounds and aptitudes in biological, chemical, and computer sciences; genomics; proteomics; and data analysis are ideal candidates for professional involvement and specialization in bioinformatics.
Professional librarians seeking to contribute their talents to the field of bioinformatics must also expand their depth of knowledge in the biological and computer sciences. Additionally, interested librarians need to systematically evaluate and expand traditional roles and services to include the new resources and tools that are emerging worldwide. The aim of this brief communication is to assist health sciences librarians with finding training programs and to give examples of how some libraries are currently expanding services to support bioinformatics research. The authors have identified six key areas of responsibility where information professionals can expand beyond traditional roles to meet the information needs of bioinformatics researchers. These core areas include communication, collection development, knowledge management, education and training, writing or publishing, and intranet systems development.
Source: J Med Libr Assoc. 2004 October; 92(4): 489–493.
Two very different roles exist for health information professionals supporting research and development efforts in bioinformatics. The first is the more traditional role pursued in academic health sciences libraries and corporate libraries. In this role, professional responsibilities typically focus on collection development and teaching, although these activities require additional education or training for the librarian supporting bioinformatics clients. The second role is more often seen in research and development facilities or clinical settings, where the information professional is actively involved in the research process and project management. Responsibilities of this role may include involvement in searching the primary literature or genomic sequence databases, data and knowledge management and communication, and collaborative technical writing. Significantly, this second role most closely resembles that of the “informationist” as set forth by Davidoff and Florance , where the information professional possesses both significant domain knowledge in information science and specific technical or biological skills, including an understanding of applied knowledge in the research or clinical setting.
Specialized training and continuing education will enable health information professionals to reach beyond traditional roles. While it is still easier for librarians with science backgrounds to advance into the field of bioinformatics, new degree programs, fellowships, and workshops are increasingly available for information professionals of any background. The Education Web page of the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) , the Resources Web page of the Molecular Biology and Genomics SIG of the Medical Library Association , and Alpi's article, “Bioinformatics Training by Librarians and for Librarians: Developing the Skills Needed to Support Molecular Biology and Clinical Genetics Information Instruction” , offer additional information about training and education opportunities.
Several models of advanced training in bioinformatics currently exist in the library and information science domain. For example, a “certificate of specialization in bioinformatics” is awarded in conjunction with either a master's of library science or a master's of information science from the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill. Coursework comprises a battery of required courses in information and library science together with courses in biology and biostatistics . Hemminger's list of the major bioinformatics programs in the United States provides information for those seeking master's level training in bioinformatics . Another option is a master's degree in chemical informatics, such as that offered through the program in chemical informatics and bioinformatics at Indiana University .
Health sciences librarians who develop greater depth of knowledge in bioinformatics have much to offer researchers in the key areas of communication, collection development, knowledge management, training and teaching, writing or publishing, and intranet systems development. Responsibilities of the health sciences librarian can be extended by embracing the role of the “informationist” and pursuing additional training or by seeking contacts in research and clinical settings. The greater the depth of knowledge in these fields, the more deeply involved health informationists can become in team-based research projects.